Adaptations are always a tricky thing to navigate, especially when the source material is a comic book. Hundreds of years of continuity, retcons, and reboots makes it virtually impossible to please everybody. Imagine how hard it would be to adapt Harry Potter if the last three books were spent retconning the first four books over the span of 40 years. It sounds confusing, but that is how comics have operated since their inception. With that being said, superhero movies are flourishing, with Marvel Studios leading the charge and everybody else trying desperately to make their own viable iteration of the cinematic universe recipe. After Marvel’s uncanny box office success with every character imaginable, from Doctor Strange to Ant-Man, Sony did what was best for business (and the fans) by integrating Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2016’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. But what about the rest of Sony’s Marvel properties? Sony still retains the rights to some Spider-Man adjacent characters that they bought in 1998 after turning down a deal to buy Marvel’s repertoire for only $25 million. However, there has been little interest in developing any new Marvel films at Sony since the Marc Webb’s poorly received Amazing Spider-Man series and the firing of Amy Pascal, the Sony exec who spearheaded the Sam Raimi iteration that began the superhero craze years before the MCU even began. But now that Spider-Man is thriving in his new home, what else could Sony do other but pull their long-delayed but Venom movie out of development hell. Originally poised to fall into Sam Raimi’s continuity, it was then scheduled for Marc Webb’s Spider-Man universe, and then was rumored to be in conjunction with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige has refuted any connection between Venom and the MCU, and thus any connection between Venom and Spider-Man.
With no Spidey, no MCU ties, and an Eminem title track, Venom has a lot running against it. However, in spite of those things Venom is a serviceable movie. There are no traces of Spider-Man or the MCU, but Venom does pull from the comic books. Borrowing from Bendis’ ultimate incarnation, as well as from some of Venom’s solo stories like “Lethal Protector”, Venom does utilize the source material. Even though the plot is too readily revealed in the trailer, the movie saves the action scenes for the big screen, and delivers on turning comic book fantasy into a reality. Tom Hardy puts in a good performance Eddie Brock, a former journalist at the end of his rope, much like his comic counterpart. Opposite Hardy is Riz Ahmed, who plays the villainous Carlton Drake. Ahmed brings an interesting and unexpected nuance to Drake’s public portrayal that fits the unique, horror-esque tone of the film.
Despite some enjoyably bizarre highlights, where the film feels like it truly knows itself, Venom often falls into the same tropes that have tired audiences of superhero movies in general. One such fault is with Carlton Drake and the action of the third act. All the things that are there to enjoy about Carlton Drake get swallowed whole in exchange for an evil version of the hero, or in this case, anti-hero. His foil for Eddie Brock/Venom is so obvious and overdone, it feels more like a phase one MCU movie, or some of Sony’s earlier superhero fare. It's such a stark contrast to other parts of the film that it feels like a mistake, or the remnants of the original script. Unfortunately, the length of the film only emphasizes its weird tonal shifts and awkward pacing. Coming at almost two hours, Venom still leaves a lot on the table. But with the nature of the cinematic universe, where each movie is merely an advertisement for the next, it is clear that Venom is just waiting for round two. But in some ways it felt like Sony didn’t even know what they’re building up to. Venom frequently harps on trivial plot points, while skipping more important ones. At its most basic level, Venom is just the superhero version of the recent sci-fi indie, Upgrade. The only problem is, it’s not as good.
While the post credits scene did end up being a bit predictable for most fans of the comics, it certainly piqued people’s interests and I have to admit that even I would be interested in watching the sequel. But because of how often new cinematic universes are started and stopped, I remain skeptical as to whether it’ll get that far. Without an appearance from Spider-Man, Venom sits in the category of superhero-spinoffs like Steel and Catwoman. But unlike those films, Venom smartly relied on its source material for much of its plot. While I wasn’t blown away by the film, the 12-year-old in me enjoyed left the theater excited for what was to come. If you’re a Venom fan, you should see definitely see this movie. But if you just want to see a broken loser at war with a sentient voice in his head, maybe just watch Upgrade. ★★★