Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug. It’s an insanely powerful and persuasive mental phenomenon, which pretty much guarantees that, unless you’re super open-minded, you’re only going to pay attention to things that conform to your already-cemented beliefs about something. This applies to nearly everything we have opinions on, from politics to science, and, as I realized Friday night, to entertainment as well. Specifically, to movies. Early reviews and word-of-mouth gossip have a huge impact on how we end up viewing a film, regardless of what the quality of the film actually is. Yes, from the moment we buy our tickets at the door, we’ve pretty much made up our minds what we’re going to think
This was the exact mindset I was in on my way to see Venom opening day. Everything I had read, all of the sites and reviewers I normally trust, had all reached the same conclusion: Venom is terrible. Horrible, even. I saw comparisons to Halle Barry’s abysmal Catwoman and to both Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman, with some even saying that Venom was somehow worse than these notoriously bad examples. I knew going in that I was going to hate it. I was fully prepare for it. I’ve ignored negative reviews before, and it’s bitten me in the ass. And me, being the smug bastard that I am, reveled in the idea of being able to bash the living hell out of this movie afterwards. There was no way, I thought, I’d end up disagreeing with the general consensus that seems to surrounding this movie after seeing it.
And after seeing Venom, I have to say, in fairness, the opinions I had seen weren’t exactly wrong. There’s plenty of legitimate reasons to hate this movie. It is absolutely, objectively, and by all reasonable standards, a bad movie. The plot is utter nonsense. Apparently 40 minutes were cut from the film, and it shows. It has the most rushed and uninteresting exposition of any superhero movie I’ve ever seen. It basically just throws information at you: “Here’s the protagonist, here’s why his life sucks, and OOH LOOK, here’s an alien for him to hang out with.” There is zero character development whatsoever. None of the characters learn anything, and relationships form for no real reason other than the plot needs it to. Which is kind of a big problem, when the main premise of your film is focused entirely on the symbiotic relationship between its two main characters. The alien entity, Venom, possessing Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, decides he likes his new host, and therefore planet Earth as a whole, out of absolutely nowhere. There’s no build-up, no set-up, and as a result, no pay-off. And speaking of Tom Hardy, good lord. Eddie Brock, in the comics, is supposed to be a tough, bodybuilding, menacing New Yorker. In Venom, he’s a manic, neurotic, bumbling Three Stooges pastiche with the voice of a cartoon child. His pronunciation is seriously one of the most grating things I’ve ever heard. He’s also meant to be a brilliant reporter, which we’re told he is in Venom, but never shown. His entire journalistic skillset seems to boil down to solely his ability to take photos with his smartphone. Tom Hardy is an inspired choice for the comic version of the character, with is physicality and ability to play dark characters, yet none of that translates to the screen.
For the life of me, I really couldn’t tell you what the main villain’s real objective was, or why he was doing literally any of the things he did throughout the film. That is, of course, when Venom even bothered to remember it had a villain. There’s a human villain, who’s just sort of there, doing generic mad scientist stuff, experimenting on poor people and whatnot, and then a Venom-like symbiote villain, who randomly appears in the third act, seemingly just so there could be a fight scene at the end. A fight, which I may add, is borderline incomprehensible. It’s like two blobs of silly putty violently bashing against each other. Again, we’re told this villain, dubbed Riot rather offhandedly, is this insanely dangerous, genius psychopath, but we’re never shown it. It’s another terrible waste of a great actor, Riz Ahmed, who gets absolutely nothing to work with other than monotone monologue and maybe one scene of anything even resembling menace. On that note, how the hell did they rope poor Michelle Williams into this? Four Academy Award nominations, and she’s reduced to being the nagging ex-girlfriend character to a sub-par superhero.
A lot of the comedy is cringeworthy, and the majority of the action and the violence seems like a tame, corporate attempt at being edgy, rather than a genuine reflection of the comic character’s dark themes. There’s even a theme song by Eminem during the closing credits. Seriously, if there was ever a superhero movie that needed to be rated R, it’s Venom. All of the brutality that we’re meant to be feeling behind the character is completely lost in the watered-down, pre-teen friendly PG-13 realm in which he currently resides. There’s no blood, no gore, and no real sense of danger, despite the fact the character routinely bites the heads off of his victims. It’s a tonally-inconsistent mess. In short, there’s a lot wrong with this movie. So, needless to say, when I got home that night and started jotting down notes on what I wanted to talk about in this review, I had a lot of material to work with, and a lot of negative critiques to make.
But a really weird thing began to happen: Amidst the endless technical and narrative problems I had with this movie, some genuine bright spots began to appear. Moments that made me laugh, moments that I found genuinely exhilarating, and things that I actually really, really liked about it. “Oh no,” I thought. “I didn’t actually like this movie, did I?” The more I thought about it, the less convinced I became about how much I thought I disliked it. Was it really all that bad? Or was a just so swayed by all the negative press that I actively forced myself to hate it while watching it?
Despite all of its problems, I do have to admit there are some parts that actually worked quite well. The Eddie Brock/Venom symbiote relationship is fantastic. The dialogue between the two is often hilarious, and you really do get a sense for how these two view each other at times. Venom himself looks damn near perfect, and some of the early action sequences are actually incredibly entertaining. There’s something inherently satisfying about this big, toothy monster throwing thugs around like ragdolls. There’s even, in a few rare moments, an almost endearing sort of charm in Hardy’s strange, Woody Allen interpretation of Eddie Brock. He’s an idiot, but his reactions to the craziness around him are occasionally believable, and almost always entertaining. The whole movie is like that, in a way: Stupid, shoddy, and borderline incoherent, but somehow kind of charming.
I really think of it like Netflix’s Bright. It’s a terrible, jumbled mess of a movie. Yet the chemistry between Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, combined with the great world-building and unique concept, make it oddly watchable despite its flaws. I really think it’s destined to go down as one of the more inoffensively forgettable superhero movies out there, rather than being seen as a perpetual stain on the genre, like X-Men: Origins or Batman and Robin. It’s just entertaining enough to not make you hate yourself for seeing it.
At the end of the day, that’s what Venom is: Two-ish hours of generic, cliché superhero nonsense, but with a few genuinely funny and surprisingly well put-together moments that keep it from being a chore to watch. I strongly disagree with any reviews comparing this to Catwoman and Batman v Superman. Both of those films leave you with a bad taste in your mouth afterwards, like bad seafood. Their nauseating, and make you regret the meal. Venom is more like junk food. It’s terrible for you, but it goes down easy, and it tastes pretty good. Venom, in spite of its flaws, is a great time at the movies if you’re with friends, or if you just wanna watch something and shut off your brain for a bit. Don’t let the negative reviews detract you completely. If you like the character, or just dig superhero movies in general, give it a chance. It’s nothing special, but you won’t hate yourself for seeing it. A movie doesn’t necessarily have to be good to be entertaining. The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.
And that’s a lesson I think we all could stand to learn, especially in this day and age when everything is so aggressively polarized. Things are either terrible or amazing, genius or idiotic. But that’s just not how life works. You can like something while understanding that it’s objectively bad. And vice versa, you can appreciate something for being well-made, without necessarily enjoying it. Venom is a total grey-area of a film, one that’s really hard to reconcile in the divide between critics and audiences. But you don’t have to let anyone else’s opinion of it affect your own. I was so hell-bent on hating it, because I knew that it was, critically, the most popular thing to do, that it affected my viewing experience. I really regret that, and I can’t wait until it hits Netflix later on so I can watch it again, this time with more even-tempered expectations.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it was the drinks I had while watching Venom that ultimately made me enjoy it more than I normally would have (shout out to The Movie Tavern and their awesome themed drinks!). Maybe it’s my childhood love of the character, or my general love of superheroes and comic books. Or maybe I just subconsciously like being contrarian. Regardless, I still think Venom is worth seeing, if anything for just the sheer novelty of it. It’s not perfect, but it certainly could be worse. I’ll take Tom Hardy over Topher Grace any day.