Soon as the credits rolled on Venom, I turned to my buddy Vic and said what we were both thinking: “That sucked–beautifully.” And it did. Despite committing countless storytelling sins, Venom somehow managed to be ridiculously fun and generate genuine hype for a sequel it doesn’t deserve. But how did it do that?
Good “Bad” Movies
I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love Rocky IV. It’s one of those masterfully absurd movies that hits the right notes hard despite failing miserably in so many areas. The first ten minutes, for example, include an unnecessary recap of Rocky III and a cringeworthy birthday party where Rocky gifts a PG-rated sexbot to his brother-in-law. Not long after that, former champ Apollo Creed decides he wants come out of retirement and fight a Russian Olympian who can flip a parked car with one punch.
Okay, not really. But Rocky IV does get ridiculous. It’s more a superhero movie than a sports movie, and the Russian supervillain Ivan Drago is the reason why it’s so good. The movie dedicates much of its 90-minute runtime to building Drago into this sort of folk legend that audiences love to hate. When he and Rocky finally meet in the boxing ring, it’s epic. They trade roughly 42,573 knockout blows–all of which could probably kill Wolverine–while Vince DiCola’s “War” plays heroically in the background. You can’t not love it. Then the movie ends on Rocky’s infamous “If I can change…” speech, a moment that should probably undermine the whole film but doesn’t.
Because Rocky IV may be bad but it’s just too damn good.
Why Venom sucked and succeeded
Rocky IV delivers an epic superhero-like showdown when you come in expecting a sports drama. Keep that in mind while we talk Venom. While Venom doesn’t build toward an epic showdown (at least by superhero movie standards), it blows up our expectations in a different way.
Venom opens with setup that Spider-fans has seen a thousand times: spaceship brings home an alien symbiote, the black goo seeks hosts, and madness ensues. Nothing new here. But rather than dragging out the “What is this thing?” non-mystery, the movie just unleashes the damn thing. Within five minutes the creature begins taking hosts and massacring people a la John Carpenter’s The Thing. By the end of the opening tease we have a threat, action, and momentum.
The tone is set. Rather than making us snooze through an origin story we already saw 11 years ago in Spider-man 3, Venom send a message. This won’t be another carefully calculated superhero epic. This’ll be an action-horror mashup that aims to please.
But then Venom does something odd. It spends an awful lot of time introducing Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as a goofy yet charismatic investigative journalist. We meet the guy, grasp his ethics, and get a sense of his love life. Then we watch him squander Michelle Williams by trying to expose a cartoonishly mad scientist who looks like M. Night Shyamalan. It takes a long time to develop, and it leads you to believe a shit movie is about to tarnish your weekend.
Once we hit the second act, though, magic happens. The movie transforms into–of all things–a buddy comedy. That’s the heart of this movie. Luckless goofball journalist meets wacky murderous goo. Whereas they could’ve taken this in a more serious direction (Eddie fighting desperately to exorcise Venom), they shoot for stupid and nonsensical fun–something absent from current Marvel movies. You won’t find anything like Venom‘s lobster scene in the MCU, nor will you any other Marvel titans calling each other “Pussy” for taking the elevator instead of jumping off a building. And as for the Venom kiss, has anything since Spider-man 1 even come close?
From Bad to Good
I’ll admit I needed to adjust to Venom‘s style. But once I loosened up, I was sold. And I was sold because the movie commits to its unexpected genre choice, much like Rocky IV commits to being an over-the-top superhero/boxing epic. The only way a bad movie can be good is by committing to its stylistic choices.
And lucky for audience, Venom committed.