Venom is (almost) the queer rom-com we need
Like The Dark Tower last summer, the people in charge of bringing Venom to audiences seem to have made several serious miscalculations. The first, and most notorious, was opting to not show the eponymous super villain in the first teaser trailer, instead choosing to focus on the human element of the movie. In the end, this proved to be an honest choice, but at the time all it did was piss off the potential audience, and sow even more worry about the film’s quality, essentially depressing the box office six months before the movie came out.
Now that Venom has been released to filmgoers worldwide, the cat’s out of the bag and critics have taken a huge steaming dump on it. Audiences are decidedly happier with the final product, which is usually a sign a film lacks nuance or craft, something audiences are far more willing to overlook in favor of charming performances, goofy laughs, or face splitting set pieces, all things Venom has in spades. What is missing in the abysmal 30% Rotten Tomatoes ranking is the fact that Venom could have been a great film. It had all of the most basic elements—great actors clearly having fun, a unique premise, and a surprisingly topical theme—yet the film falls short because, much like its protagonist Eddie Brock, it’s afraid to embrace its full potential.
Venom was marketed, and ostensibly built, as a mirror image of a superhero movie, an anti-superhero movie like Suicide Squad or the upcoming Joker movie, but in the end it’s a surprisingly funny and heartfelt queer rom-com, built out of horror comedy tropes. Unfortunately, the filmmakers (or the studio, more likely) seem uncomfortable fully leaning into either the rom-com or horror aspects to the degree that would have elevated the film as a whole. Nearly a third of the movie is spent establishing the main baddie, megalomaniacal Silicon Valley wunderkind Carlton Drake’s, villain bonafides. Rather than an earlier meet-cute, and more scenes with Venom and Eddie, we’re treated to a decidedly uninteresting Jurassic Park-meets-Predator build up that could have been sewed up nicely with a few well-plotted scenes.
Once the two anti-protagonists finally get together, the film picks up significantly and proves charming as hell. Eddie Brock and Venom (both played by Tom Hardy) have a chemistry that most rom-coms would kill for, and with the addition of ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams making the most of limited screen time), the romantic tension builds to a solid emotional core that makes the audience care about this broken reporter and his murderous alien love interest.
Sadly, this is a comic book movie so naturally it all has to lead to a big action set piece, which, while well-designed and sometimes gorgeous, feels hollow given the surprising charm and emotional heft of the middle third. Sony was clearly trying to make a Suicide Squad-type film to capitalize on the renewed interest in the Spiderverse, especially given they can’t, you know, mention Spider-Man for the time being. But, with such an interesting premise and great actors, they should have modeled Venom on a few recent successes: Logan and Deadpool. Logan, in particular proved there is significant appetite for heartfelt, literate superhero movies that eschew rote action set pieces for human moments and humor rooted in natural relationships. By centering the story more thoroughly on Venom and Eddie, and perhaps giving them something more productive to do, Venom could have risen its symbiotic head above the superhero pack. After-all, while Deadpool 2 flirted with the edges of mainstream LGBTQ romance, but Venom dives head first, including a big romantic kiss between the two protagonists (err, I mean between Eddie and Anne, *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*). This could have been a huge step forward for Hollywood action films, but Venom doesn’t quite commit, to the detriment of the movie as whole.
The last issue is that it’s simply not bloody enough. I understand the appeal of PG-13 for mainstream audiences, but if the success of the Deadpool films have proven anything, there is a significant audience for funny and gory films. In its place, Venom spends a lot of time talking about eating heads, instead of showing some head eating. A gory, funny, heartfelt queer buddy flick is the movie Venom was trying to be, and this incredible premise is shackled by the genre tropes it’s so clearly trying to buck. Whether that was the plan all along or normal studio fuckery, Venom is an entertaining and solid start to the Venom-verse, but falls far short of the greatness it might have achieved.
With Tom Hardy and a crazed Woody Harrelson both apparently on board for Venom 2, let’s hope the studio finds some courage next time around and uses the assets it has to deliver the anti-superhero movie audiences deserve.