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5 Best And 5 Worst Things About Venom

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, 2018's Venom might be the most surprising movie of the year. Starring Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, a.k.a. Venom, the film is a shockingly accurate adaptation of the infamous Spider-Man villain turned antihero — even though Spider-Man himself isn't even mentioned in the film. Making a movie about the evil version of a hero without actually using the hero himself seems like a recipe for disaster, but somehow Venom works.

Fans of the character can rest assured, at least, that Venom is definitely a big improvement over the last big-screen outing of the goth symbiote in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3. The new film is filled with humor, action, and a beautifully committed performance from Tom Hardy, but how good is it really? From the perfectly accurate page-to-screen transformation of the character to the disappointingly rote climax, here are the five best and five worst things about Venom.

Best: A bravura performance from Tom Hardy

It's no exaggeration to say that Venom wouldn't work at all without Tom Hardy's performance in the lead role. He betrays zero sense of self-consciousness or fear of looking silly, and inhabits the role with a dedication that's impossible to write off. It's a difficult role, too — Hardy has to balance Eddie Brock's sad-sack cowardice with Venom's uninhibited desires, and somehow he pulls it off with aplomb. Even better, the film reveals that Hardy's got a real knack for slapstick; one scene features Eddie compelled by the symbiote to jump into a lobster tank and eat it raw in front of his ex-fiancee and her new boyfriend. The manic delight in Hardy's eyes has to be seen to be believed.

It's that incredible dedication to a role that keeps Eddie Brock from falling into the usual Marvel-style superhero blockbuster protagonist — Eddie spends most of his scenes screaming and terrified, which helps make the contrast between him and the violent Venom even clearer. For years, Hardy has been a dynamite performer in movies like Warrior or The Dark Knight Returns, but Venom takes his acting to new heights. Like Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys, Hardy has absolutely no fear of using his A-lister status and good looks as part of the joke, and it's a sheer delight.

Worst: Not a strong start

Venom is at its best when it's focusing on Eddie Brock and the symbiote. Unfortunately, that means the first 20 minutes or so are a bit of a slog as we rush through Eddie Brock's rise and fall at the hands of a combination of his own hubris and Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). The biggest problem here is the dialogue, which is filled with some painful exposition. Things like Eddie's boss talking about Eddie's spotty past are a clumsy way to introduce the character.

Before Eddie gets fired and blacklisted for interviewing Carlton Drake, most of the characters are constantly telling Eddie about his own past behavior in ways that just feel like an earlier draft of the script never got a second pass. Luckily, that changes as we get to spend more time with him — especially once he develops a fun back-and-forth with Venom — but the movie's slow start has more to do with awkward writing than any lack of huge action set pieces.

Best: A superhero for the people

2008's Iron Man set the standard for the modern superhero movie with a wisecracking, charming character learning about his newfound powers and eventually fighting a villainous version of himself in the climax. Unfortunately, Iron Man's example ended up getting emulated by dozens of movies for the next decade. Oddly, this even extended to minor moments in the film; Tony Stark is a billionaire with nearly unlimited resources, and nearly every other Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero since has likewise been part of the 1 percent (or at least close enough to not worry about paying rent). Thor is an otherworldly prince, Captain America gets a comfy government salary, and even Peter Parker, the patron saint of not making rent every month in the comics, was reimagined as a young kid with a wealthy mentor and a fancy high school.

That's what made it so satisfying that Venom makes income inequality a plot point in the film. Eddie is friends with a homeless woman who gets conscripted into Carlton Drake's fatal symbiote experiments, and it's directly due to his friendship with her that Eddie ends up with the Venom symbiote. Drake is an Elon Musk-esque billionaire, and his wealth explicitly allows him to continue killing people in the name of his scientific advancements. Venom stands out as one of the few superheroes on the big screen that actually struggle to get by outside of a superhero identity, and it's great to see.

Worst: Sim-BEE-ote

Fans lost their minds when the first official Venom trailer was released. Unfortunately for Sony Studios, it wasn't entirely about the content of the film. Many outlets reported on the faux pas of Jenny Slate's Dora Skirth calling the symbiote a "sim-BYE-ote" in a bizarre mispronunciation. Unfortunately, while the mistake is fixed in the finished movie, the course correction reads as a bit of an overreaction.

The movie has some of the most obvious overdubbing seen in a major Hollywood release in years. The moment any character is set to say the word "symbiote," the camera cuts away to a different scene so as to preserve the illusion that the actors were always pronouncing the word correctly. It's definitely a minor complaint, but by the third time the camera lingers just long enough for a character to name an alien creature before cutting away just in time, it starts to get distracting. The real question is whether it would it have been any less distracting if the characters had pronounced the word correctly the first time footage was shot. For what it's worth, Merriam-Webster weighed in to say that either pronunciation is acceptable, so maybe they should've just rolled with it.

Best: Genuinely hilarious

The comics version of Venom is generally a pretty serious, gritty character even when (maybe especially when) he's threatening to eat someone's brains. Venom adds some much-needed humor to the character by ramping up the buddy comedy vibes of Eddie and Venom to hilarious degrees. Like an '80s cop movie, Eddie prefers to play it by the book while Venom is a renegade maverick on the edge, and combining those two tropes in one person leads to some hilarious moments.

Eddie pratfalls his way through his scenes, usually kicking and screaming as Venom shoots out tentacles to take care of bad guys. Crucially, Eddie himself isn't funny in the way MCU superheroes have been in the past — he's not cracking one-liners in between action scenes, and Hardy is confident enough to let himself be the butt of the joke more often than not. That all lets Venom feel distinct in an ocean of nigh-identically written superhero movies and makes the physical comedy even funnier.

Worst: Cleared the slate of Jenny Slate

Jenny Slate is generally a delight in anything she appears in. Her role as one half of the worst sibling duo in the world on Parks and Recreation was delightful, and her feature film Obvious Child showed that she had the acting chops to be a solid leading lady. Unfortunately, her appearance in the first Venom trailer is about as much screen time as she gets in the actual movie, which is a real waste.

To make matters worse, her character's death isn't even really necessary to the film. We've already seen that Carlton Drake will stop at nothing to achieve symbiote symbiosis, so his escalation to purposeful murder isn't really surprising, and Eddie doesn't even hear about her death. Her repeated references to having kids are possibly meant to engender more sympathy when she dies, but they're never seen, and no one in the movie seems to really care when she dies, so it's hard for the audience to care either. Anyone who dated Captain America deserves better.

Best: San Francisco set pieces

After the dozens and dozens of superhero movies released just in the last decade, it would be understandable if you were getting a bit tired of superhero movie set pieces. While Venom doesn't reinvent the wheel, it does go back to the basics with a savvy use of location and (of course) Tom Hardy's inimitable performance. When Eddie first gets the Venom symbiote, he barrels out of Drake's research lab with an unstoppable loping run that even Eddie seems to be surprised by. When armed men invade his apartment, Venom pulls Eddie clumsily around the room as he takes out each of the soldiers. That action scene continues out into a Bullitt-inspired motorcycle race through San Francisco as Eddie is pursued by exploding drones. Individually, none of the action set pieces are necessarily fantastic, but clear use of geography and the sense of motion is exciting and Eddie's terror is a nice break from the constant wisecracking of most superhero movies.

Worst: What can't these aliens do?

Venom is surprisingly zippy for its runtime, and that's largely due to the movie jumping from one action set piece to another. It's great from a pacing perspective, but a few plot threads are definitely lost along the way. Chief among them is the symbiotes' relationship to their hosts: Venom develops a real soft spot for Eddie, but it's not clear that that friendship did anything to stem Eddie's rapidly atrophying body — it's even mentioned when he goes in for a second MRI that his heart was adversely affected by the symbiote process.

Riot, meanwhile, spends six months in the body of an old woman in Malaysia before hopping into the body of a little girl and heading to America. It seems like the symbiotes can only last with their hosts for a short while, but there's never any clear sense of how long that is. Speaking of symbiote survival, the climax of the film even features Venom and Riot burning up in an exploding rocket, and yet Eddie and Venom seem no worse for wear by the end of the film. The plot holes aren't exactly deal breakers by themselves, but they definitely distract from the overall film.

Best: The big goo monster himself

Out of all the infinite possibilities in all the infinite multiverses, the fact that we got such a good film adaptation of Venom is nothing short of flabbergasting. For years, Venom has jumped from hero to villain in the comics, but the one constant has been his relationship to Spider-Man; whether it's as unwilling allies or mortal enemies, Venom is largely inextricable from ol' Web-Head. All that made it seem ludicrous that Sony was trying to launch a franchise entirely on the overly large shoulders of Venom with nary a reference to Spider-Man himself.

And yet, Venom managed to tie it all together. Venom himself looks absolutely perfect, as comics-accurate as possible. Meanwhile, the changes the filmmakers made to Eddie Brock to turn him into a viable protagonist are perfectly thought out; he's just as overzealous as his comics counterpart, but slightly more genuine in his pursuit for the truth. Contrary to what the naysayers always said, it turns out that Venom can absolutely carry a movie franchise himself.

Worst: Cookie-cutter climax

For all the fun, weird, messy parts of Venom that stick out in a sea of identical superhero films, the movie still ends with the good guy facing off against his vaguely-off-colored enemy in a CGI smackdown. It's a real shame that 10 full years after the release of Iron Man, most superhero films default to a CGI-packed third-act fight between the hero and his slightly larger villain. Venom is at its best when it's a zany love story between man and goo alien, not when it's retreading the same tired tropes that show up in every superhero movie.

Like some of the marketing materials for Venom advertised, "the world has enough superheroes," so why commit to following the formula anyway? Even the post-credits scene is right in keeping with the Marvel method, as Eddie meets the fan favorite character that he'll fight in the sequel. Venom might not technically be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but you sure can't tell it apart from most MCU movies during the final 30 minutes, and that's a real shame.