The devil made me do it!
This line never worked on my parents. But it doesn’t stop me—or, maybe, most of us—from trying to escape blame by making excuses when we can. I was running late! we’ll tell the police officer as he writes out a speeding ticket. You didn’t remind me! we’ll tell our spouse when we forget to pick up a pie. The dog ate my homework!
But Eddie Brock really has the king of all excuses: I was being controlled by a hungry alien Symbiote at the time!
And he has a point. It’s not like he asked to be possessed by the thing. It’s not his fault he was an ideal host. He was just minding his own business and doing absolutely nothing wrong.
Well, OK. So maybe he did secretly break into a super-sinister laboratory populated by evil scientists, dead test subjects and sentient piles of alien goo. And maybe he did smash through a lab room where one pile of said goo had possessed a not-yet-dead test subject. But did he actually invite said goo into his body? Ask it to start a running internal dialogue with him? Certainly not. Nope, if anyone lost their heads over this situation—and I mean that quite literally, given that the gooey Symbiote has a thing for biting them off—it’s not Eddie’s fault. He’s just a bystander. Sort of.
But as Eddie and Venom (that’s what the Symbiote calls itself, because it apparently studied English before its arrival and perhaps had ambitions of becoming a lead guitarist in a hip metal band) get to know each other, their relationship becomes less one-sided. Eddie suggests that not everyone deserves to be eaten, that Earth itself might be more than a gigantic, disposable buffet table. Venom, for his part, teaches Eddie the finer points of devouring live lobsters and throttling assailants with gooey tentacles.
In short, they become less a blatant example of multiple personality disorder and more of a team.
Good thing, too, because Eddie and Venom are being chased by a villain with a penchant for grand rationalization himself: medical and tech visionary Carlton Drake. Sure, I brought a few Symbiotes to Earth, he’ll admit. Yeah, maybe they killed a few people. And OK, so they may want to subjugate, enslave and eventually eat the entire human race. They won’t get that far … I don’t think. Sure, some folks may be killed and eaten, but it’s really for the betterment of all. And hey, if I’m wrong … well, it’s not my fault.
The Symbiote made me do it.
Eddie and Venom team up to try to save the world, of course, because superhero movie. But honestly, I think the most admirable character here is a guy named Dan, a rival for the affections of Eddie’s ex-fiancée, Anne.
When Anne spies Eddie lurking outside her flat, she introduces him to Dan, who greets Eddie with genuine warmth. And when a Venom-possessed Eddie makes a scene in a swanky restaurant—including sinking into a lobster tank to devour a few of the sea critters raw—Dan discourages folks from calling the cops and takes Eddie to the hospital instead.
Dan, a doctor, knows that Eddie and Anne have a complicated history. He knows that Eddie’s made some mistakes in the past. But when it comes to taking care of the guy (as best as he’s able), Dan never waivers.
Another standout: A whistle-blowing scientist, Dr. Dora Skirth, risks her career, family and life to bring Drake’s excesses to public attention.
Eddie really does feel bad when Venom takes over his motor functions and starts beating people to a pulp. He’ll even apologize to folks who are trying to kill him, and Eddie even scolds Venom at one point, as if he were a wayward puppy. “You do NOT eat policemen!” He tells him. And Venom, as mentioned, eventually takes a shine to Eddie, Anne and Earth as a whole, too.
Just before infecting a guy named Isaac with a Symbiote, Drake goes into a longish spiel about the biblical character Isaac, and how it was he, not Abraham, who was making the real sacrifice. He then tells Isaac that given all the world’s problems, it’s clear that God has deserted humanity … but that he never will. (He later says that humans are victims of “such poor design.”)
We hear a passing reference to meditation.
Eddie and Anne are engaged early in the movie, and they apparently cohabitate during their extended courtship. We see them talk companionably in the morning, then kiss and fall into bed in the evening. (The next morning they wake up together, though both are fully garbed.)
Venom, separated from Eddie, inhabits Anne for a bit—transforming into a shapely, obviously feminine version of Venom. (When in full Venom mode, the Symbiote seems to come across as an almost naked humanoid, but that impression of nudity is especially strong in this form.) Anne/Venom and Eddie kiss passionately, which doubles as a mode of transference for the Symbiote. They talk about the kiss later, and their conversation contains a double entendre or two.
Symbiotes are violent critters, and we earthlings get pretty violent right back.
Venom (and Eddie, of course) is attacked by Drake’s henchmen and regular police officers, with many of those melees involving lots and lots of weaponry. Venom’s shot countless times by police, apparently without effect, and shrugs off grenades, too. In return, he tosses the armored officers like ragdolls—action that you’d think would kill or injure some, though the film never explicitly says so—and he nearly bites the head off of one before Eddie makes him stop.
A motorcycle-riding Eddie/Venom races through the streets of San Francisco pursued by Drake’s lackeys and by a squadron of weaponized drones. Cars crash and explode (in blue, for some reason), property is destroyed, and the chase culminates in Eddie breaking his legs: He’s sprawled out on the ground, his lower appendages grotesquely twisted. No matter, though: Venom seems to heal them instantly, and Eddie goes on his way. Symbiotes fight each other, too—one sporting a variety of spikes and blades, though most of the fight looks more like sentient Jell-O in an MMA bout.
The only thing that hurts Symbiotes such as Venom is a certain frequency of sound (which is clearly painful and sends Symbiotes fleeing from their host bodies) and fire. (We see at least one alien burned to a crisp in said manner, along with his human host.) Oh, and just the regular ol’ atmosphere of Earth, too, if the Symbiotes haven’t bonded with a host.
Symbiotes snake into their hosts/victims via osmosis-like roots and tendrils, or sometimes enter or exit their mouths via one long gooey cable. Symbiotes are picky about their hosts, though: One man dies in agony after a possession attempt, and we see the corpses of several similarly failed hosts as well.
Once possessed, humans can deal with some very serious injuries: One such subject begins walking, even though a bone is grotesquely jutting out of her shin. Hostile Symbiotes are parasitic, and they eat their hosts alive, an organ at a time. (Even Venom has a thing for organs: He eyes a terrified assailant, ticks off the name of several of his, then says, “So many snacks, so little time.”)
Venom has no moral compunction about eating people. He lops the heads off a couple of folks (off camera) and threatens the dismemberment of others. Rockets explode and spaceships crash. In a news report, Eddie references dead bodies buried in landfills. People are punched, kicked and head-butted. Live eels and lobsters are eaten. Guns are pointed. People are threatened. In an end-of-movie cutscene, someone writes Eddie’s name in his own blood.
If swear words were years, Venom’s s-word count would be legal, with a full 21 of them uttered. I counted two f-words, too, along with loads of other profanities (including “a–,” “h—,” “d–n,” “p-ss,” “d–k” and “p—y.”) God’s name is misused about 10 times, including three times with “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused four times.
We see people drink wine and beer: Eddie seems to drink a lot of the latter.
Eddie’s contact with the Symbiote troubles his stomach a bit at first—so much so that when he first devours some leftover chicken, he runs to his bathroom to vomit (and, it seems, barely makes it). He eats grotesquely elsewhere, too.
It’s not easy to make a whole movie about one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains without including, y’know, Spider-Man. But since Sony has loaned that friendly neighborhood web-spinner to Disney for its Avengers movies, Venom’s forced to go it alone, and in so doing become the movie’s hero. Or, rather, it’s menacing but oddly softhearted antihero.
It’s a curious setup from the get-go. And, as a character from another Disney franchise might say, things just get curiouser and curiouser from there. The movie, perhaps like Venom itself, seems a little confused about its goals. Is it a traditional superhero flick? A brooding, action-oriented horror story (as suggested by the trailers)? An off-kilter buddy comedy?
The movie works best as the latter. Eddie and Venom share some on-screen chemistry in addition to bodily biology. And that’s when the movie can feel a teensy-weensy bit fun.
But as a superhero story, Venom ironically lacks teeth. And I’m not just talking about the fact that the fight scenes feel like the most boring parts of the movie, or the fact that we really don’t care about any of the characters or what happens to them.
Most of us tend to give superhero flicks a little more leeway than some genres, more or less excusing the casualties left in their wake. Saving the world is bound to be messy. But Venom is a more malevolent hero, and Eddie’s efforts to rein in his excesses can be a bit whimsical. Don’t eat policemen, he says. But when Venom takes the head off a gun-pointing thug, Eddie shrugs it off. “I’ve got a parasite,” he explains to a horrified onlooker after Venom kills the hold-up guy. It’s not my fault!
Even if you believe the guy had it coming, scenes like this lead to a very squishy sense of in-movie justice, the inherent overreach that justice without law inevitably leads to. Maybe Venom restricts his snack time to murderous villains today, but what’s to stop him from dining on the guy who cut Eddie off in traffic tomorrow? (Hey, sometimes when I’m on the freeway, the worst part of me would love to have a Symbiote to take care of my problems.)
Venom isn’t as horrible as some have suggested. But it isn’t good, either, either ethically or aesthetically. And in this, the Golden Age of superhero movies, we can find better.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.