A Staff Divided: Venom

Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures

By Claire Pak and Matthew Kim

A Staff Divided is a column in which two Scene+Heard writers take opposing views on a controversial piece of art or entertainment. In today’s installment, Claire Pak and Matthew Kim take on Venom.

Okay, so apparently Venom has topped the box office for the second week in a row, beating the likes of Oscar favorites First Man and A Star is Born, and is currently estimated to have collected around $378.1 million globally. Which is a lot, for a mid-budget movie produced by Sony Pictures, whose last entry into the Marvel universe was the much maligned Amazing Spiderman 2. In short, you probably want to prepare yourselves for more Tom Hardy and his CGI black goop bromance buddy because there’s going to be a sequel, possibly two.

Which is fine, of course, but is the movie any good? Well. That’s a good question. The article today is going to present two opinions on the movie, and hopefully they’ll give you a better idea of the answer. Note that they’ll be spoiler-free — a podcast that’ll be published a little later is going to talk about the film in more detail.

With that in mind, let’s take a look!

Con - Matthew Kim

Ruben Fleischer’s Venom fails to deliver a fresh and captivating anti-hero origin story, as the film plays it too safe to successfully leave any novel impression on the superhero genre. Venom’s poor dialogue and weak screenplay make the movie tough to sit through. Plus, the story is full of numerous plot holes and offers nothing that other superhero origin films have not done better. Initially, the relationship between Eddie (Tom Hardy) and Venom shows a lot of potential, as their brash personalities play off each other well, creating a somewhat entertaining dynamic. However, this potential quickly fades as Eddie and Venom try much too hard to shove in as many corny jokes as possible, hoping one will stick (needless to say, few do). It’s as if the writers had a checklist, crossed  “copy Marvel-style jokes” off the list and called it a day. It also doesn’t help that supporting characters like Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) and Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) barely receive any screen time, leaving the personalities significantly underdeveloped. The blandness of these characters resists any emotional investment whatsoever, reducing them to mere plot devices. To make matters even worse, the antagonist of the film, Drake (Riz Ahmed) delivers the most over-the-top and hammy dialogue possible, rendering his scenes unintentionally hilarious. It’s clear that these actors tried their hardest to work around a flimsy script, but not even Tom Hardy’s solid performance could salvage it.

From a technical perspective, Venom’s cinematography is competent but unremarkable, which is surprising coming from cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who worked on Requiem for a Dream and Pi. Most shots lack traces of creativity or originality and I cannot recall a single scene where the framing of the film assisted in the storytelling. It did the basics well but nothing more. The editing was subpar, and the overuse of slow motion during action sequences highlighted the poorly rendered CGI, thus breaking any sense of immersion completely and effectively removing any tension.

In an oversaturated market of superhero films, Sony Pictures has, once again, attempted to create an iconic character that they hoped would leave its own mark in the hall of fame recently invaded by Marvel superheroes. Disappointingly, neither Tom Hardy’s stellar performance nor the few moments of amusing banter are enough to sustain the otherwise mediocre, run-of-the-mill superhero action movie that will be forgotten in a matter of days after viewing

Pro - Claire Pak

Venom is a mess. Important plot points take place offscreen, character development is a tacked on afterthought, talented actors are wasted on underwritten roles, the CGI is weightless and fake-looking, and the tone bounces between graphic body horror to MCU-style quips and jokes with hardly a second thought.

I think I might have liked it?

I’ve heard people talk about Venom as having a possible “cult classic” appeal, and I can see why. For all its many, many faults, there’s a sort of absurd, cheesy fun to the whole thing that’s pretty entertaining to watch. Part of that fun is channeled through Tom Hardy’s performance as both the eponymous Venom and his unfortunate host Eddie Brock. Hardy sells the chemistry between the two characters, even though he is literally talking to himself, and his physical performance as Eddie is full of manic energy and bodily ticks that really shows off Hardy’s ability as a compelling actor, especially in the more surreal, memorable scenes (tater tots, anyone?).

There’s also a sense that the movie, despite its moments of violence and gore, isn’t taking itself too seriously. There are a few jokes that are actually very funny, usually when the characters are making fun of each other. What’s great about these comedic moments is that they don’t come from a disdain or contempt of the characters. Instead, they allow the film to gently make fun of itself and its silly edginess, even as it embraces it wholeheartedly and completely unironically.

There’s probably an argument to call it one of the most comic-book superhero movies ever made. That’s might be a little unfair to superhero comics, which have over and over again proved themselves to be capable of really impressive, artistic storytelling. But Venom embraces its roots in a medium meant to entertain, one that is wholly absurd yet gleefully consumed by its audience anyway.

There was a little boy at my screening, probably no older than six, sitting in the front row with his parents and his little brother. The lights dimmed, the production logos came and went, and when questionable black CGI goop appeared on screen the boy tapped her mother’s shoulder and said, “Mom, that’s Venom!”

I’m not really sure if little boys should be watching a movie where people’s heads are being bitten off, or if there aren’t any better movies that he should be watching instead. Then again, maybe that’s the kind of audience the film is for, anyway. Someone who doesn’t mind a little bit of entertaining nonsense in their lives.

FilmSteven Norwalk