Sony’s attempts to get some Spider-Man tie-in movies off the ground have had a bumpy history, but this weekend finally sees one — the only one, in fact — hitting theaters. Director Ruben Fleischer teams up with Tom Hardy for the villain-protagonist superhero/super-villain release Venom, which hopes the popularity of Spider-Man: Homecoming and the superhero genre in general will provided added boost to a project with one foot in the dark-humor-and-violence territory staked out by Deadpool and Logan while remaining in the PG-13 camp to retain a semblance of proximity to audience expectations for Marvel-branded content.
Official poster for Sony’s “Venom”Source: Sony
But make no mistake, Venom — despite whatever rumors & attempted muddying of the waters you’ve heard — is not set in the MCU. Sony might hope to parlay any box office success into a crossover between this Venom and the newly minted MCU-based Spider-Man since Sony retains the rights to Spidey and the studio’s deal with Marvel Studios technically ends with Spider-Man: Far From Home, but everyone expects a renewal of the deal, which in turn will undoubtably translate into keeping Sony’s other supposed Spidey-centric spinoffs clearly outside the realm of the larger MCU and the new Spider-Man movies created by Marvel Studios.
Spider-Man’s six solo movies have combined for a massive $4.8+ billion in global receipt over a 16 year period with three distinct incarnations by various actors (Tom Holland currently portrays the wall-crawler in the MCU). The lowest gross of any Spidey flick was the $709 million cume of 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, which translates into about $750 million in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars.
The character Venom appeared in Spider-Man 3 way back in in the ancient superhero cinema days of 2007 (I’m torn between thinking “has it been that long?” versus “was it really that recently?”). That incarnation faced much derision from critics and mainstream audiences, and vast disappointment from fans of the character. But that bad reaction didn’t stop the film from garnering a massive $890.8 billion worldwide at the time (which would be more than $1 billion in today’s dollars), still the all-time best box office performance for a Spider-Man solo picture.
Tracking has suggested Venom will open domestically in the $55-65+ million range, with some bullish predictions pegging the film’s bow closer to $70+ million. But I’ve been skeptical of those numbers, and feel a $50-55 million opening is more likely for a dark superhero-horror mashup that fans recognize is adjacent to Spider-Man but without actual tie-in content recognizable by mainstream audiences who aren’t comic readers and who won’t necessarily recall Spider-Man 3 (and the studio sure better hope average folks don’t make the connection before Friday).
Thursday night’s previews took $10 million, which is great and set a new record for an October release. That said, front-loading is common with a lot of these films. The Martian and Gravity both made far less from their Thursday previews, yet still landed in $55 million range, but they also had fewer screens and started hours later than Venom’s basically wide-release half-day Thursday with its screenings starting at 5pm.
We’ll need to see Friday’s full numbers, and then how it holds into Saturday, before we know whether the Thursday data points to a record-setting weekend or a front-loaded mid-range to low-range performance. A film like Venom sees its most eager fans lining up Thursday and Friday, which is why it’s harder to gauge the meaning of the Thursday box office.
The target audience is mostly young male fans seeking the next edgy super-antihero adaptation, and older male fans who grew up loving the Venom character in 1990s comics. But besides the fact those demographics are the same ones upset by the previous failed adaptation of Venom in Spider-Man 3, there’s also the fact sports programming this weekend could take a bit of a bite out of Venom’s box office hopes. Add to this the fact female audiences and date-night audiences (including a lot of those male viewers Venom is counting on) will be hearing tremendously positive buzz about A Star Is Born and opting for that movie instead.
Plus, with early social media reactions coming in decidedly mixed to negative, followed by reviews overwhelmingly trashing the film (even the positive reviews are really a mixed bag, many of them saying Tom Hardy is what saves the film from otherwise being unworthy of a viewing) — and with the film’s supporters in the fan-site and film reviewer crowds already gearing up to defend it against what they assume will be mostly negative media and mainstream audience reactions — there’s additional reason to believe Venom will have a tough time keeping its legs under it.
None of those problems — nor even a combination of them — necessarily causes a movie to fail, as Transformers series and Suicide Squad for example demonstrate. But being “critic proof” or otherwise getting good legs for a blockbuster run despite B-grade audience reactions requires a film to have something that hooks mainstream audiences and helps drive continued new business and/or repeat business outside of just a loyal fanbase. And I don’t think Venom is mainstream enough, or alternately envelop-pushing enough, or has enough direct observable (for average audiences) tie-ins to other popular content, to expect a Suicide Squad or Deadpool type of run.
Which could all add up to problems for Venom if it opens in the $50 million range in North America, has a typical 2.5x final multiplier pushing it to $125 million domestic repping roughly 33% of its business. Because that would translate into a $250 million international run, and a final worldwide total of about $375 million. With a production budget of $100 million and perhaps $75 million in worldwide marketing (to give it some benefit of the doubt and help widen the range for it to turn a profit) that still means break-even point sits somewhere around $350 million, give or take. So anything beyond that, take about 50% and call that Sony’s initial cut, and then assume there are some backend points for stars and others — Marvel included — that cut further into the profit margins. At $375 million, then, Sony would initially come out roughly $12.5 million ahead, and then have to divide that money up among anyone with their hand out for their cut too.
The point is, I think Venom needs to play closer to $400 million to really return enough money to Sony to make the endeavor worthwhile. But for Venom to be called successful enough to earn a sequel and declare “we’ve kicked off our Spider-verse tie-in movies, now we’ll make more,” this film needs to play much higher than $400 million. And the worse the critical reviews are, and the lower the audience scores, the higher the box office should be to pad the “victory” and alleviate concerns a sequel might flop.
On the other hand, if the film actually opens in the $70 million range, is popular enough to leg out to a 2.8x multiplier, and has a similar 33%/66% breakdown of domestic to foreign box office, then it would hit near $200 million domestically and $588 million worldwide. Those are much better numbers, and if it combined with decent B+ or A- audience scores, then the critical reviews will matter much less. If the reviews are good too, then the whole equation shifts even further in favor of Sony’s future spinoff plans. This, I feel, is where Sony really needs to hope the movie falls — at the higher end of opening estimates, strong legs, north of $550 million, and acceptable audience scores.
Highest-end, it’s possible the movie could open to $75 million in North America, enjoy a 3x multiplier and a $225 million domestic run, get extra love in Asia Pacific markets where Spider-Man is popular and Marvel branded content is beloved, and run up a 70% foreign share of global receipts. That would put the film squarely in $750 million territory, which I think pushes hard against the highest end of realistic possible outcomes. But I think while possible, this outcome is unlikely.
The moderate expectation would be a $60 million domestic bow, a 2.5x final multiplier for a $150 million stateside cume, and a 33%/66% split that puts international numbers at around $300 million and a final worldwide total of $450 million. To offer a rough range of performance in the vicinity of that precise figure, I’d say $400-450 million represents a reasonable moderate outcome territory.
Sadly for fans and the studio, I don’t know if Venom will get to those numbers if reviews plus tepid audience scores plus strong competition combine to cut against it. I’m already anticipating a lower opening than tracking suggests, the critical reception has been poor, and I think audiences will wind up grading it in the B-range. I’m expecting a $50-55 million opening (with a chance to fall short of that figure if word of mouth is bad enough and if A Star Is Born significantly overperforms), a domestic total of $125-135 million, a foreign cume of perhaps $250-300 million, and a grand total of $375-425 million in global ticket sales (I’m eyeing $400 million or slightly less as my precise guess).
I’ll be mildly surprised if it tops $450 million, but I’ll be outright shocked if it manages to top $500 million (unless it has a crazy-big run in China, which could skew the final results). Because it’s got too many things working against it, and it simply isn’t good enough to perform like a major popular superhero release. Why not? Read on for my full review…
Venom has been in development a long time, and for a few years I frankly didn’t think it would ever really be made, mainly because I thought it wasn’t a real project — I suspected Sony would use the threat of making a separate standalone Venom movie as a negotiating tool to get Marvel Studios to offer a better deal for Sony in exchange for delaying that project, or alternate that Sony sought to boost the perception of value for their collection of Spider-Man tie-in characters in order to set a higher overall price for Marvel to buy back the total character rights.
So when this film actually began shooting, I was mildly surprised. However, the build-up to it was a tale of increasing reason to trust that it could really be a good project — first they got a great director, then Tom Hardy signed on, then Michelle Williams joined up too, and Riz Ahmed came aboard. I started to actually get excited for the project and looked forward to the first trailer. When that trailer dropped, I had a few quibbles with it but still felt there was plenty of good stuff in it, so I maintained hope it would wind up being a unique, pleasant surprise further expanding the genre’s potential and reminding studios you can make a good superhero movie with a $100 million budget.
Then I saw this year’s indie action-horror release Upgrade, starring Logan Marshall Green in a story about a man whose body is taken over by a parasitic intelligent entity capable of granting him superhuman abilities as he hunts down and graphically kills the people involved in the conspiracy that created him and that threatens society at large. Green bears a physical resemblance to Tom Hardy, and the story of Upgrade bears a resemblance to Venom. Even the dark humor and evolving relationship between the protagonist and his parasitic buddy was spot-on in Upgrade, and akin to what I expected Venom to examine in its own characterization.
As it turns out, Upgrade was a highly entertaining, well-made, well-acted low-budget action-horror mashup that gets the concept exactly right and knows when to hold back and when to go all-in on the action and violence of its concept. And that’s the moment I started to wonder about Venom and whether it could top the electrifying delivery of a similar premise in Upgrade. If Upgrade could be such an excellent rendition of the concept, then I felt Venom better top it by a wide margin and do something better and unique with the material if it didn’t want to pale by comparison.
When word hit of significant edits to Venom, and the rating changed to PG-13, I wasn’t too concerned, since films undergo plenty of editing before release and I feel PG-13 tends to offer plenty of room for darker, adult storytelling and violent action. However, I’ll admit that Venom is one of the few concepts that I think benefits from pushing past boundaries to embrace the extremism of the character’s behavior, notably his tendency to eat humans and engage in rampant violent destruction and murder. So I did think this was a case where an R-rating would be earned organically on the merits of storytelling best suited for the content.
The eventual PG-13 rating, then, surprised me and I wondered if Sony was concerned the film’s quality wasn’t good enough to ensure a big box office result if it was rated R. When it turned out screenings were limited and slated so close to release, with a late-lifting embargo to boot, buzz started swirling that maybe Sony was indeed worried, but I try not to read too much into such things since I’ve seen plenty of late screenings with last-minute embargoes where the films were perfectly fine.
Then came the bad social media reactions, followed by brutal early reviews. So my expectations couldn’t help but be affected, since I’m a rational human being who doesn’t walk through life like a robot incapable of caring or paying attention to external influences and other humans’ reactions. Yes, I know this sound like the evil “bias” so many fans rant and rage against while they insist everybody should watch movies without attention to what anybody else says, and that our subjective opinions and reactions should instead be emotionless robotic assessments akin to mathematical calculations always resulting in agreement with whatever the fan personally feels.
But that’s infantalized thinking. We live in society with other people, we rely on one another’s ideas and reactions to help us make choices and consider our best options all day long. And somehow, we manage to remain individuals with our own opinions, even if we listen to what other people think and develop expectations that can then be proven or disproven by our own personal experience later. We are all biased, period, no matter how much some folks think their own bias is legitimate and acceptable because they like it and think it’s the only “right” bias.
So sure, I had preconceptions about Venom before I saw it. First, my preconceptions were that it sounded like a promising project full of talented people. Then my perception was that it had a good trailer but needed to show us a little more. Then my perception was that the more I saw, the more it looked like it could be a good film that successfully launches a larger franchise. And as long as my preconceptions were positive, none of the fans eager to see Venom complained or told me I was biased for judging the film before seeing it, or to wait to form my own opinion after I saw the finished movie.
I say all of this precisely because we were treated to a week of nonstop defensiveness by sites and fans and critics who not only liked Venom but also insisted everyone should ignore bad reviews or negativity because it’s some sort of sheepish, slavish devotion to collectivist thought.
The intensity of this advance offensive to defend the film against other reviewers ignored the fact there wasn’t a bunch of lead-up negativity toward Venom, it wasn’t subjected to lots of anticipatory bashing or handwringing, and in fact most coverage and fan discussion was decidedly positive and eager. When you’re making a case for some sort of vast negative backlash effect that can’t be trusted because it undermines rugged individualism and subjective freedom of decision, you better have more than just “when some people saw the trailers they’re enthusiasm went down a bit, and when I saw a press screening a lot of other press didn’t like the movie after all.”
I’ve always said that of course entertainment journalists are just like everybody else when it comes to having personal biases and preferences, and that we are likewise like all other journalists when it comes to the fact sometimes there’s a lazy tendency among a significant portion of writers to hop on bandwagon narratives or to avoid taking a position too far afield of consensus opinion (aside from that corner of the media that thrive by being contrarians who decide their “opinion” based on what will look controversial and generate more clicks on articles and outraged sharing of articles). So I’ve complained if and when I perceived a bandwagon effect transpiring and could identify the stages of it across a period of time.
But like any claim, it’s not fair to simply toss around the accusation just because everybody else hates something you like, or vice versa. And in the case of Venom, the pretense there is a pile-on or bandwagon effect is not supported by evidence and seems driven largely by disagreement about the actual quality of the film. Besides, too much of the defense sounded an awful lot like the precise sort of collective narrative-building and opinion-influencing motives/claims that these folks were arguing against in the first place, right down to repeated catch-phrases and terms from one post/review to another. And all of it is rooted in a simplistic misrepresentation of how film review — and mainstream public consumption of film reviews — works in the first place.
Remember, the average person only sees a handful of films each year, and with ticket prices in the $8-10 range for a regular screen — and much higher for 3D and IMAX — people are smart and right and reasonable to want some sort of general guide to help them figure out which movies are worth spending their hard-earned dollars to watch in a theater instead of waiting to rent it on TV in a few months. People tend to have their own preconceptions, and then they look at what reactions a film received from other people, and they weigh their preconceptions against other reactions to decide if it’s worth risking their money to see the film in theaters right now. Which is rational and perfectly fine.
The bottom line is, if you really need someone to explain to you that reviews are just the personal opinions of writers, and that you can form your own opinions regardless of what a reviewer said, then welcome to planet Earth because I assume you’re an alien creature who has no understanding of how humans behave. You don’t get browny points for shouting “that’s just your opinion” at movie reviewers, any more than you look thoughtful if you scream at Yelp restaurant reviewers, “I’ll eat there and decide for MYSELF whether I like rats in the kitchen!”
Now I’ve seen the movie, and nothing I heard in advance — good or bad — altered how I reacted to Venom. The movie itself is what formed my opinion, not imaginary bandwagon hatred or bias against Sony (I’m among the few reviewers who liked all of the Spider-Man films and defended them vigorously, including Amazing Spider-Man 2), nor an evil secret conspiracy of Lady Gaga fans determined to destroy Venom and ruin the happiness of fanboys across the world. So what did I think of the film?
Venom is a weak B-movie with A-list talent working gamely to try to elevate the material. They succeed sometimes, and even when they don’t their efforts are often admirable. Tom Hardy in particular never tries to coast through a scene, he embraces the weirdness and absurdity of the situation and characters with a performance that deserved a better project around it, particularly in the first 40-45 minutes While the story is relatively flat, Hardy makes it interesting and keeps his sense of humor, boosting the watchability of that early portion of the film. When we get his first full “Venom sequence” in his apartment and then a vehicle chase, that’s when it quickly starts to go downhill. But Hardy won’t give up trying to keep us interested, to his credit.
Sadly, though, he had the project he had, and in the end it’s too much of a mixed bag of tone and erratic plotting to escape its own limitations. And I walked out thinking my earlier fear was correct — Upgrade did it already, and did it much better for a fraction of the budget.
Hell, I’d recommend fans who want a better quality (although less literally faithful to the comics, obviously) Venom experience should just rent Life (the 2017 sci-fi/horror film starring Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, and Jake Gyllenhaal) and Upgrade, watch them back to back, and mentally pretend the alien symbiote from Life disguised itself as a computer chip in Upgrade and that it’s all the same story arc. It’s a stretch, yeah, but the result is still a superior experience. Plus, Life and Upgrade are both pretty cool and entertaining — but fair warning, most critics liked those two films and Upgrade in particular got enthusiastic reactions from audiences, so if you’re in the “popular opinion is evil” camp then maybe you should just skip them.
But here’s the problem for Venom — the creature-hero persona simply isn’t likable enough to work as a hero we buy into and root for consistently, yet also isn’t allowed to be monstrous or villainous enough to win our morbid curiosity or fascinated fear-thrill. And the setup is already weak, but when the “big threat” is finally revealed, it’s a rushed nonsensical plot point tossed in right before the climax simply to HAVE a climax. Venom doesn’t give us any reason to understand or buy into his own arc, to the extent he even has one.
Another problem is the Eddie Brock character, the human personality infected with the Venom symbiote. Eddie is a hard-charging investigative reporter who risks his life and sacrifices his relationships (work and personal) to expose corporate malfeasance, yet he becomes absurdly inept at solving problems because the script needs him to avoid the obvious answers that would quickly solve a lot of his problems. His moral outrage at the loss of life among the homeless community is undermined by how little he winds up doing about it and by his greater interest in checking the “help wanted” section in the newspaper for a new job. Which is all the more unforgivable from a character who has literally become a walking representation of the exact corporate-spawned threat to public safety Brock supposedly dedicated his life to preventing and exposing.
The choice to play up laughs and downplay horror after the first 45 minutes simply doesn’t work, causing a sudden tonal dissonance that grows increasingly worse for the remainder of the film.
None of the actual plot winds up being interesting, so the characters need to deliver and draw us in — but that doesn’t happen consistently enough with Eddie, or much at all with Venom. Meanwhile, we spend too much time frustrated by everybody’s ridiculous choices, including Eddie’s early violations of trust with his fiancé and everybody’s else’s reactions to it, which is just one of several things making it hard to connect or like just about every character from one moment to the next.
Again, Hardy is struggling mightily to make each scene work, but therein lies much of Venom’s problem — it feels like “this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens” storytelling instead of an organic transition from moment to moment driven by character choices with a larger thematic point. Eddie is smart and capable one moment, delivering thoughtful lines while doing some detective work, then becomes a one-liner straight man to a sequence’s slapstick action the next moment, and so on. His reactions and persona fit the tone of individual scenes, each of which ricochets between thriller and superheroism and horror and comedy for the back hour of the story, so Eddie morphs into different personas accordingly, turning his arc into that aforementioned meaningless recitation of “this happens, and then this happens.”
Venom gets more of an arc, to the extent it learns some self-control and appreciates its relationship with Eddie, but since Venom is neither a superhero nor an outright villainous monster here, he winds up just a CGI creature effect with occasional funny lines — mostly when it’s Hardy talking to himself as both personas. On the one hand, the physical concept of Venom is fine, just a black oil slick that slithers and flexes slimy-veined muscles while a ridiculous mouth full of jagged teeth threaten to bite off nearby heads. However, the squiggly instances of fluidity and extra appendages lashing out of Eddie’s body are mostly just black CGI lines and shapes moving around, and after the first couple of times it happens, we get it and it offers nothing really interesting or unique.
As a result of the limitations of portraying Venom visually in a film of this sort, when the action scenes come, they’re mediocre filler rather than highlights to which the story has steadily built. A huge problem is that Venom is a sort of deus ex machina — there’s not much he can’t do when he’s fighting regular people, and when he does this or that particularly effective shape-shift and attack to save the moment, we have to wonder why he doesn’t just handle every situation like that. No danger is a real danger, unless he’s fighting an equally powerful opponent — and when that happens, it’s almost impossible to even tell what’s happening on screen, the fast-cuts and CGI shapes are a big, blurry mess that’s boring to watch — and boring is the last thing you want an action scene to be.
And thus we have to talk about “the Spider-Man problem.” Venom up against Spider-Man, in a story with a lot more visually weird and fascinating elements, would look better and could retain more interest since he’s not the singular visually outrageous character with the only visually outrageous powers. We’d also get to see more examples of Venom doing things overtly related to his connection with Spider-Man, such as web-swinging and other mimicry. Oh, and he’d have the white spider emblem on his body, to help break up the visual aesthetic of “he looks like a body builder with shiny pitch-black skin.” But there is no Spider-Man here, at least not this time around.
In Venom, Eddie and his alien buddy are mostly just fighting people with guns (I won’t spoil things, but you probably can guess he doesn’t go the entire film without facing a different opponent at some point), getting into car chases, and other typical action-movie situations. None of which, unfortunately, are even of the above-average variety for an action film, it’s standard stuff. The only thing unique about them is when Eddie/Venom uses his powers, which quickly stops being interesting up against normal gun-toting baddies, especially since Venom has to keep things in PG-13 territory, which is fine for normal comic book violence but feels restrained and inadequate for a horror-monster character of this sort who has to win our interest and sustain it through the entire film without another comic superhero to shoulder some of the burden.
If Venom wanted to be a PG-13 buddy-action-comedy film, it should’ve chosen a different story and setting and portrayal of the main characters. For example, Eddie Brock as a war photographer who accidentally gets exposed to a military prototype symbiote and becomes Agent Venom (in a mashup of the Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock characters from the comics) could’ve worked much better in a humorous PG-13 comic book action film, delivering something akin to the first Iron Man movie. Venom as a secret agent soldier in war zones, struggling to constrain his appetite lest his military handlers and his host Eddie start distrusting Venom’s loyalties and usefulness, would been an interesting approach, and opens the door to an evolving relationship in which Venom could turn into more of a monstrous creature unleashing his worst tendencies while Eddie fights to regain control.
But by instead going for the horror template and trying to swivel between horror and slapstick without a firm commitment to either, the film loses its edge and its potential in both regards. It has the same problem as Tom Cruise’s The Mummy last year, trying to put one foot in PG-13 action and the other foot in PG-13 horror, while getting neither right enough to work, and thus leaving us dissatisfied scene after scene. However, The Mummy at least maintained its tone throughout and kept its character motivations and actions consistent.
In fairness, though, I have to admit that the comics are generally PG-13 territory anyway, so if you’re a fan of the 1990s Venom solo comic stories then I will admit this movie is probably what you’re looking for. It’s “edgy” compared to some other mainstream PG and PG-13 superhero movies, akin to the Venom comic stories being comparatively “edgier” while still falling within the boundaries of acceptable mainstream comic storytelling. If you can imagine a weak 1990s Venom solo comic in live-action, that’s close to what this film is, except imagine someone spilled water on the last few pages of the climactic battle so it’s all blurry and smeared and illegible. If you just want to see Venom in live-action and portrayed similar to the comics in a PG-13 fashion, and you don’t mind a weak plot and visually boring action, you might be satisfied by the movie even though you probably will also be a bit unsatisfied with the overall experience.
One quick note about the whole “Spider-Man’s not in a movie spinoff based on the Spider-Man comics” thing — while Sony is unlikely to risk tainting their freshly minted Tom Holland MCU Spidey any time soon, there IS another sneaky option the studio might use to pit Venom against Spider-Man. I think there’s a greater-than-zero chance Sony producers have considered and talked about the idea of using Miles Morales for a versus/team-up movie with Venom. That’s just a guess, but if Venom scores a big enough opening weekend and a final cume in near $500 million, then I won’t be surprised if we start hearing hints and speculation that Sony is thinking about this option for real.
With a $100 million budget, an all-star cast, a name character brand, and the Marvel brand logo, it’s crazy that Venom still somehow turns out to be a B-movie. Yet there it is, and even a lot of the reviewers and fans who like the movie are noting it’s a B-movie.
Mind you, it’s not as if I’m incapable of enjoying a B-movie, even a mostly bad one, if I think it’s entertaining. I’ve defended bad B-movies I enjoyed when most critics hated them, and I can admit when a film I happen to personally enjoy watching also happens to be a bad film. Here’s an awful example: Fantastic Four from 2015 was pretty bad, but it reminded me of a David Cronenberg body horror flick (with overt homages to Scanners) and I really liked the cast a lot. So for me, it was a crazy indie-horror version of the FF that didn’t totally fall apart until the last 15 minutes. Faint praise, I know, and I willingly admit you’re 100% correct if you say it’s bad. And it wasn’t even remotely the Fantastic Four movie I wanted, and I am glad they didn’t make any sequels to it. But I can’t deny I enjoyed a lot of it, to varying degrees, even while I realized it wasn’t very good. It was a bad B-movie that I still kinda sorta liked anyway.
No doubt, we all like certain movies everyone else dislikes, because they speak to us on some level or simply entertain us so damn much we can’t help liking it. It doesn’t mean the films really are good just because we like them, any more than it means films are bad just because everybody else hates them. But the point is, liking one bad B-movie doesn’t invalidate disliking a different bad B-movie, any more than liking one such film invalidates disliking another. If you like Venom, you can hate Fantastic Four, and vice versa, in other words. It happens.
So to all of you who need to be regularly told that it’s okay for you to like things that you like — yes, I can confirm it’s fine for you to like things you like. Why it’s the job of film critics to tell you simplistic condescending claptrap like that, I have no idea, but apparently some fans seem to increasingly need and demand affirmation of their “right” to like things (akin to their need to point out film reviews are just an opinion, in case we all forgot the definition of opinions). Are we all clear on that now, then? Good. Now you can watch Venom or skip it if you want, and like it or hate it as you wish, with solid assurance it’s your right to do whatever you want because I’m not the boss of you.
None of that stuff is the fault of the film, mind you, so let’s be sure to separate my criticism of how some corners of fandom have reacted, and my criticism of the film itself. Had there not been this larger context of debate and conflict among fans and critics leading into the film’s release, then this review would be shorter.
However, since there’s already more than enough negative reviews pointing out the film’s problems, I think it’s worth taking a broader view of the situation to include the expectations, reactions, and wider argument about how fans and critics interact, plus the debates within reviewer circles as well. If nothing else, it’s good to work through where artistic critiques come from amid the various influences — some passive, some active — that affect our awareness and presumptions before and after experiencing a film. It’s not often that I get a chance to dissect my own evolving reactions and thoughts on a film, while speaking about trends in fandom and film criticism overall, and how it all relates directly and indirectly to a particular film. The result is, I feel certain of my reactions to Venom and my assessment of what works, what doesn’t, and why.
Unlike a lot of the negative reviews I’ve seen, I can see precisely the things that will appeal to some viewers and I can even understand why those things will appeal to them. On the other hand, I’m hard pressed to say that I could understand anyone asserting Venom is an outright “good” or “great” film — this is where we need to distinguish between being able to enjoy something and admire various parts of it, without mistaking the sum of those parts for an overall good or great piece of work.
But sometimes that’s enough. It doesn’t have to be true that everything we like is also of good or great quality. It’s okay to like mixed bags. It’s okay to like bad movies. I do, sometimes. We wind up arguing in defense of things we enjoy, as if our own validity as a human being relies on the outcome, but it doesn’t. McDonalds Quarter Pounders are not good, well-made meals, but I could them til they come out my ears and I won’t apologize for liking them. So if you like Venom, I’m glad for you, no matter how much I disagree.
Box office figures and tallies based on data via Box Office Mojo , Rentrak, and TheNumbers.
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