Way back yonder, when I rocked a Raiders snapback, partial high-top and a baggy set of Levis, I would have forgiven a movie involving Tom Hardy talking to himself. It’d be the mid-90s, and I, with my pubescent morsel of low information, would overlook the dime-a-dozen plot and say, This is OK.
Fast forward to my Old Navy wearing, supremely overweight present, and I’m just annoyed, confused and exhausted.
I really wanted to like Venom—that story about a snappy alien that bonds with the body of a loser reporter, Eddie Brock—with a stupid optimism. And I wanted to dig Ruben Fleischer’s adaptation as desperately as I digged 90s fashion like it hadn’t aged like eight dollar wine. Venom was a Marvel remnant from my beloved youth afterall; a complete trope, but an accepted one; barely a character, barely a personality, but still textured and Todd McFarlane-cool in a way that ushered in the 1990s boobs-and-blood comics—perfect for an adolescent mind. So movie wise, I expected to down this Sony 2018 remix, like it was a fresh bottle of Snapple to my 1990s Tang.
But sadly, Venom is a half-empty, backwashed dose of Sierra Mist. It’s bad, and not in an adorable sort of way. Like an uncle stinking up the joint with a 1990s sense of fashion and sensibility, Venom feels keen to strut into 2018 with the nonsensical-ness of Batman & Robin (1997), PG-13 gutlessness of The Last Action Hero (1993) and the waste-of-talent-shtick of a Con-Air (1997). The absolute fact that these ill-conceived movies get the nod in some endearing way was because they were hopelessly committed to a 1990s vision—high-tops were still cool in the 90s, and to some extent, so were these films. Venom is trying to be all that in 2018 , ignoring the several decades worth of failures and audience expectations (MCU, DCU).
During its debut on Friday, Venom racked in a cool $32.3 million with a final three-day estimate of $80 million. Big for October, but low for a Marvel property, even one with a 30 percent Rotten Tomato score. (Tom Hardy also did little help by seemingly bashing his own movie.) So it’s not old enough to be so bad that it’s good, and it’s too new to have an excuse. With all the green grass I’ve been exposed to on the side of 2018, a film fit to outfit itself from another decade that knew less has no place here. Venom doesn’t belong.
So what’s the problem? It begins with the loose plot: a random rocket crash-lands to Earth, carrying several loads of black gooey substance, one of which is known as Venom; though we don’t know why it names itself Venom. Said rocket happens to belong to a billionaire entrepreneur plucked straight out of a Roger Moore Bond film with what motivation? The sacrificing of human bodies to alien life forms, because that makes total sense.
Next, our long-tongued creature, with the habit for killing hosts, accidentally targets and possesses fired journalist Eddie Broke on some Jekyll and Hyde shit, because who the fuck knows why—they’re both losers, I guess. And also, Eddie happens to have a lawyer ex-girlfriend played by Michelle Williams who peeks her head in and out of this plot in one of the most thankless roles we’ve ever seen her take on—because who cares about Williams’ ability to be way more than a token love interest. And that’s just the script. None of the above speaks to the directorial habit of the Zombieland director to drag and drop talent from sluggish moments of tired exposition that I could give a shit about—like Eddie’s job and relationships that have no foundation—to the convoluted action scenes that coat moments of activity with a PG-13 glaze; the most violence happening offscreen. God bless this cast; they try their best to have fun with the basic script they’re given, but doesn’t make up for things as the flick keeps diverting.
Like the average/bad 1990s action movie, it’s a script that isn’t too invested in its own logic or cinematic standard. It has everything the 90s kid in me needed, a tonally out of whack PG-13 plot; heavy on action, with unequal doses of slapstick comedy—like Tom Hardy in a fish tank, eating a crustacean raw—and a Hollywood-ized, CGI heavy look that seems fabricated; a juggling act between what looks cool, and what makes sense.
When I look back on the silly, stupid and sometimes terrible movies of the past, I could always find forgiveness for the creators who believed they were doing something great and good (god bless them). Self-awareness was at a minimum here. They didn’t have the benefit of the three-dimensions of The Dark Knight, the grand epic blend of humour and seriousness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nor the tonally firm, but box office ready, rated-R success of the Logan and Deadpool. That particular kind of tone-deafness made them special for their time. Recent imitators of that past— The Meg, Predator, and Venom—don’t deserve the pardons of that period. They’re too new for that shit, whereby the currency of what’s now acceptable is built on what we’ve learned from the past.
Venom as a Marvel film, and film in general, would have been a half decent movie if it was dug from a time capsule of another decade. Without the dirt of having risen from that old retro ground, it’s a 2018 movie trying way too hard to be something antiquated. By now, with all that we’ve been exposed to in the world of cinema and culture, Venom has no right to rock a 90s outfit to a 2018 party. That’s not unintentional, it’s just dumb.
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.