Venom is a Beautiful Disaster

Venom is a broken mess of a film. Character arcs are absent, plot holes are frequent, and much of the dialogue sounds like it was written by an eight-year-old. Yet it is often because of these flaws that Venom becomes an immensely entertaining experience, and it even surprised me by having some actual quality content to offer as well.

The film centers on Eddie Brock, a go-getter reporter with no personality. If you want a more thorough examination of his character, then don’t search for it in the movie, because you won’t find it there. The one specific trait that I could ascribe to Eddie outside of his profession is that he’s a jerk, although that’s only at the start of the film, when he royally screws his entire life up by betraying his fiancé’s trust. After that, Eddie stumbles through the rest of the film as an inoffensive empty shell of a person, allowing the plot to drag him wherever it needs.

While Venom offers little to latch onto by means of its protagonist, the film’s primary antagonist, Carlton Drake, is the movie’s bizarre saving grace. Simultaneously the best and the worst aspect of the film, Drake spends most of his screen time (and I mean most of his screen time) monologuing about the weakness of humanity and the need to escape the dying Earth. His dialogue is so bad that the majority of my laughs in the theater occurred because Carlton Drake said some ridiculously cheesy line that highlighted what an amoral science man he is. This doesn’t make Venom any less of a train wreck—in fact, Drake actively contributes to the train wrecking-ness of this movie—but it does make it a train wreck that is super fun to watch. And while it seems that the writers forgot to make Carlton Drake at all relatable, sympathetic, or nuanced, Riz Ahmed’s performance as the villain does at least bring some charisma and believability to the character.

The plot, however, has no such silver lining. If the plot of Venom was a type of cheese, it would be Swiss, and a particularly tattered piece at that. For the sake of brevity, I won’t name every plot hole or convenience here, but know that there are many that I have left out or missed.

Let’s start with the big one: Venom opens with a spaceship containing multiple symbiotes crash landing in Malaysia. One symbiote, who we later find out is Riot, escapes and bonds itself to an EMT, and then initiates a brief killing spree in that body before Riot bonds itself to an old woman. Six months later, Riot is still bonded to that old woman and boards an airplane to San Francisco. What was Riot doing for those six months? Presumably, absolutely nothing, which really undercuts. But strap yourself in, because this B-plot is only getting started.

When we cut back to the old woman, we see Riot leave her for a new host, a young girl traveling with her mother. This girl’s mother fails to notice as her daughter calmly wanders away from a taxi they were getting into. When we cut back to Riot’s journey again, the little girl has entered deep into the Life Foundation facility and located Carlton Drake, who approaches her, puts a hand on her shoulder, and asks if she’s lost. Riot then takes advantage of this physical contact and jumps into Drake’s body, where he resides for the rest of the film.

Besides the obvious logical gaps in this subplot, what really infuriates me is the decision to have Riot possess a child. Not only is it difficult to believe that the girl just strolls down the street without her mother noticing at all, but this leads to an incredibly artificial interaction when Riot jumps to Carlton Drake’s body. It becomes clear in this moment that the writers didn’t know how to believably have Drake and Riot meet, so they had Drake unsuspectingly approach a child who had broken into his company’s compound, and only because Drake was taken aback by a lost child in his secure facility was he rendered vulnerable enough to be bonded with Riot. It’s absolutely absurd, especially given how the entire Riot subplot could have been cut by having him initially land in or near San Francisco. Is this criticism of the film a nitpick? Absolutely. But it’s a criticism that highlights how thoroughly the logistics of Venom were mishandled.

Here’s another one for you: why does Carlton Drake send drones after Eddie Brock that try to kill him when Drake specifies to his men that he wants Eddie alive? Furthermore, why is the drones’ only method of attack to collide with their target and self-destruct? Why would Carlton Drake design or purchase drones whose only purpose is to blow up? That can’t be financially efficient in the slightest.

There are, of course, many more questions that the film never bothers to answer. We’re told that Eddie Brock is an ideal host for the symbiotes, but we never find out why he meets the host criteria, or what these criteria even are (Carlton Drake, too, appears to be an ideal host). Eddie’s ex-fiancé, Anne, has no reason to like and tolerate Eddie as much as she does, and she also shows up three times throughout the movie out of nowhere when the plot requires her to be there. The symbiotes’ plan to be discovered by humanity so that they can return in the millions to overtake the planet doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny, and there’s also an inconsistency with how Venom’s symbiosis works. Once bonded with Eddie, Venom tells Eddie that he’s inside his head and knows everything that Eddie knows. Later, however, Venom asks Eddie who Anne is. Apparently, he didn’t know everything that Eddie knows, as he claimed. What’s even more absurd is that Dr. Skirth doesn’t need Eddie Brock at all to expose Carlton Drake’s unethical practices of using homeless people as lab rats; all Eddie does is take pictures of Drake’s lab and victims, which is something Dr. Skirth could have easily done herself.

As much as the complete lack of logic in the plot infuriates me, it does have a similar effect on Venom as Carlton Drake does: the movie is made more enjoyable on account of its poor quality. When Anne shows up out of absolutely nowhere at the end of Eddie and Venom’s showdown with a SWAT team, and she is largely unfazed by the fact that an alien creature has physically merged with her ex-fiancé and given him superpowers, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. This isn’t to say that I only laughed at the film, because something truly strange happens in the middle act after Eddie Brock bonds with the Venom symbiote: the movie becomes good.

The film transforms itself into this dark action-comedy with genuinely funny jokes and engaging action scenes, all thanks to the fantastic interactions between Venom and Eddie. It took me a few minutes into these sequences before I realized that I was having fun, and not solely because I was laughing at the movie. Tom Hardy’s performance as both Eddie Brock and Venom particularly shine here, as Hardy’s apologetic and befuddled interpretation of Eddie Brock throughout this section really serves to amplify the comedy. Witnessing Eddie struggle with even mundane issues is made captivating by his need to bow to the physical and verbal demands of his alien buddy Venom, whom only Eddie can hear. The action scenes, too, use this dichotomy to their advantage by striking an impressive balance between calculation and improvisation. Venom uses his superpowers to steer a panicking Eddie out of trouble in a manner that is impressive but not overly flashy. We also see Venom utilize the environment to his advantage on multiple occasions, something that highlights his intelligence and resourcefulness. The second act of this movie is what Venom was meant to be, or at least what it could have been, and it’s a shame that the inventive fun of the middle of the film fades back into mediocrity in the third act.

Here, the usual superhero movie third act tropes rear their heads: the villain has a plan to destroy the world and the hero has to stop them, and this culminates in a final battle between two CGI monsters kicking the stuffing out of each other. Riot, Venom’s evil symbiote counterpart, is remarkably similar in color, size, and shape to Venom, and this feels like a blatantly overlooked design decision. While there are ways of distinguishing the two characters—the shape of their heads and the use of their powers—it can often be difficult to know what exactly you are looking at as the two battle. The minimal lighting in the film only exacerbates this issue, and in a fight scene between two CGI goo monsters that form, dissolve, and reform themselves constantly, clarity would have been sorely appreciated.

I don’t have much to say about Riot as an antagonist because the film doesn’t have much to say about him. He’s an alien who wants to bring more aliens to Earth to kill and inhabit a bunch of humans because… reasons? Half the time, Riot is killing people just because he can: his killing spree at the very beginning of the movie in Malaysia was entirely unnecessary and accomplishes nothing (in fact, it only serves to draw attention to him), and he carves up a room full of scientists in the third act because…he likes killing people? Whichever way you spin it, Riot is underdeveloped and uninteresting as an antagonist and character.

I had a ton of fun watching this movie in the theater, even if most of that entertainment was on account of the movie’s terrible writing. Yet as much as I enjoyed Venom, and as much as I think that it falls beautifully into the “so bad, it’s good” category, I can’t help but feel that my enjoyment didn’t have to be ironic. There is clearly a high-quality film with a truly original, creative spark behind it buried somewhere in this trash heap of a script. And given that Venom has performed exceptionally at the box office, a sequel is inevitable. I wouldn’t say that I have faith in Sony after the disasters of The Amazing Spider Man films and Venom, but I’m glad, at least, that this disaster was one that I could enjoy.

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