I saw the above poster for Venom at my local theater months ago, and I thought, “oh, God, no.” I nudged my room mate and said, “look, there’s nothing on the poster because this thing is in production Hell, they have nothing to show.” He grunted.
I repeated the same thing to him after the first Venom teaser trailer played. As I recall, it was in the same showing that the Upgrade trailer played. Maybe this was Pacific Rim: Uprising? Anyway, if you like, I’ve gotten you two trailers to watch back-to-back, as I did in the theater, and compare.
I’m not the first person to make this comparison, but it’s worth pointing out, because so rarely do we get to draw direct comparisons like these. These films began their marketing at roughly the same time, and have roughly the same premise. Upgrade, a Blumhouse film, naturally has a much smaller budget. Venom, a Sony movie using Marvel characters, has not only a greater budget, but a greater historical and political context (that is, Sony’s Marvel movies are almost exclusively bad and their ambitions for their Marvel properties have been infamously cringy). How would Blumhouse’s scrappy, low-budget Upgrade fare in comparison with apparently bumbling Sony’s next floundering attempt at making a decent movie from the Spider-Man universe?
I kinda liked them both, and they were both kinda shitty.
Before we proceed, I have to point out that there has been and will be no better, funnier breakdown of this film than the one made by the Chapo Traphouse fellas, and you can listen here:
Now, as for what I think: it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.
It is not as boring as The Amazing Spider-Man. It is not as bombastically, deliciously bad as The Amazing Spider-Man 2. And while it is sometimes charming in its badness, it doesn’t get all those bonus points that underdog Upgrade gets for its humble roots.
Blumhouse is a fascinating company to me, and I think they may be the new Canon Films. And Canon Films didn’t exclusively produce garbage. They had a few good films. But their mindset was not to lose sleep over expensive, ambitious productions, when you could put more films out on shoestring budgets and have a better chance at striking gold.
Blumhouse puts out a lot of garbage. And every now and then they put out a good one. We never did a podcast about it, but I really enjoyed Happy Death Day. Indeed, I also enjoyed Upgrade, even though the acting was spotty, the ideas unoriginal, and the script a little hokey and a lot predictable. I’ll say this, at least: in an age of franchises and cinematic universes, I’m glad to have a Blumhouse out there throwing a good-enough budget at everything they can and seeing what works.
Venom is the weird, nega-Upgrade. It had all the budget, and big name stars, including Tom Hardy, one of our best living actors. It had state-of-the-art CG (and still managed to just make its hero and villain into big, black goops of Nickelodeon Gak). And yet, while I won’t say it was necessarily a whole lot worse, it certainly didn’t manage to be any better than Upgrade.
There are worse ways to spend 112 minutes than with Venom, but the whole thing is such a joke, isn’t it? One doesn’t know how to feel about it. It’s not painfully bad, so one can’t get a healthy dose of “so bad it’s good” entertainment out of it. It’s also not good enough to say, “well, you know, it deserves its due credit.” Really, the best thing this film does is to walk the tightrope of quality admirably. It manages to make it from one end to the other without falling on either the so bad it’s good or so bad it’s bad side.
I want to give this a light recommendation. But not without first pointing out what kind of movie this is:
This is the kind of film where someone asks Eddie Brock, “hey, aren’t you Eddie Brock?” and he responds, “I used to be.”
This is the kind of film where the goop living in Eddie Brock’s head encourages him to kiss the girlfriend from whom he is estranged.
This is the kind of film where the villain, also with a goop up his ass, is prepping a thing for villainy, and a subordinate says, “you can’t [do that villainy] alone,” and the villain, nearly mugging the camera, says, “I’m not alone.”
This is not Suicide Squad or Justice League bad. It’s not Batman v. Superman boring, either. It’s entirely palatable. It’s also not good.
It makes it fairly easy to overlook the film’s detachment of Venom from Spider-Man, which was a big concern for me. It manages to make the idea of Venom as a generic anti-hero character something you shruggingly approve of. But it is also really, laughably bad.
So go and enjoy it for what it is. Or don’t. You’ll be fine, either way. Honestly, I think I can live with this film in the world. If I could flip a switch and erase it from existence, I don’t think I would. And that’s got to count for something, right?
★★☆☆☆ It’s clearly Bad, but you might not regret watching it.