Movie Review – Venom

My oldest son has been excited to see Venom, and since his successful completion of his most challenging series of midterm exams to date, I decided it would be a nice reward to take him to see it.  Although Venom is very successful, I think there were six people total in the theater on a Monday mid-afternoon.

Warning, there are probably some spoilers ahead..

On the way there we talked a little about it.  I’ve never been a big comic-book/superhero  fanatic.  Never had the money for them on the one hand, and just never had any good entry into that whole arena, which has moved from being the realm of nerds and escapists to being incredibly sexy and profitable.  I don’t know the whole Marvel/DC universes and couldn’t probably tell you which superheros belonged to which one.  That didn’t make a lot of difference in watching the movie, but I’m sure that there were little surprises and hints and nods for those who are familiar with these things (such as the mid-credits scene, which made no sense to me but my son was able to explain the significance of).

We talked about how the concept of an alien symbiote seemed like a good metaphor for sin.  It’s part of us but only to a certain extent.  It is killing us even as we are led to trust it and think that it isn’t as bad as it really is.  And while certain sound frequencies might be lethal to the alien symbiotes in the movie, sin is only removable from us in real life by God.

I left the movie with questions.  It wasn’t a great movie, although I thought Tom Hardy gave a good performance.  Definitely the opportunity for a bit more nuance than some of the other roles I’ve seen him in, such as Mad Max or The Dark Knight Rises.   Michelle Williams had very little to work with, character-wise.  Riz Ahmed gave a very good performance as a new villain archetype for the 21st century – the uber-rich, uber-suave, uber-dedicated-to-good-causes tech giant.  Earlier arch-villains were just bad people.  But now we know that some of the most dangerous people in the world are those who are committed to what they see as good and necessary goals and causes, and who are willing to work through the system to accomplish their ends.  Ahmed’s character Carlton Drake is willing to stop at nothing in order to accomplish a higher good – saving the human race from almost certain self-destruction.  But he’s willing to follow the rules – such as having his victims sign waivers before he does experiments on them.  A good reminder that just because you’re following the rules doesn’t mean you’re doing good things.

Being a comic-book movie, there are a lot of implausabilities and willing-suspension-of-disbelief sorts of things.  Hardy’s Eddie Brock can be snuck into a high-tech, highly secure compound that has no cameras monitoring things, so that the only way the villain can find out he was there was by cajoling his accomplice?  Come on!  But hey, it’s a comic  book, and it’s only two hours.  You gotta cut some corners to move things along.  Fair enough.

There are definitely some interesting theological aspects to the film, ranging from subtle to not so subtle.  There’s an in-your-face critique of the Judeo-Christian God, courtesy of a motivational speech by Drake to his first human testing victim that draws on the story of God and Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22.  I don’t agree with the interpretation and application presented but many people probably have similar responses to this very challenging story.  And he makes the very telling statement that, unlike God, he – the compassionate but ruthless tech god – won’t abandon humanity.  He will save us whereas God cannot be trusted to.

Which is a good reflection of how our culture treats technology and science at this point.  Clerical garb has been replaced by lab coats in terms of symbols of hope and salvation.  Science and technology will save us, our culture repeats.  Unless they destroy us first.  Many of the characters in this movie display a loyalty and trust of Drake that seem to be driven by the hope that he inspires, hope that his ruthlessness will result in the ultimate greater good of salvation.  You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette, after all, right?

The relationship of Brock to his alien symbiote is confusing.  At first it’s a lethal combination, but by the end of the movie there’s a happy medium?  Brock is in control.  He calls the shots, whereas the symbiote did so initially.  Why the change?  Wishful thinking?  The intrepidness of humanity?  Who knows.  But it was a rather jarring change in tone for the sake of a happy ending.  And the basic idea of a ruthless investigative reporter simply taking the word of his symbiote because it’s convenient isn’t very realistic either.

Or is it?  Hmmm.

Finally, the movie concludes with an assertion about the two types of people in the world – good people and bad people.  We are assured that you can tell the difference between a good person and a bad person, it can be intuited, if  I’m remembering the precise word he chose.  Good people can’t be eaten/judged/destroyed, but bad people are fair game.

Yet the line between good and evil and our perceptions of these things can be incredibly thin and difficult.  Is that person evil, or do I simply dislike what they do?  We’re introduced to two side characters in the film.  One is a security guard in a high-rise office complex, and the other is an extortionist demanding his payment at gunpoint from a shopkeeper.  Despite the fact that the security guard prevents Eddie from doing something that is very important and necessary for him to do, Eddie insists that the symbiote (Venom) can’t simply eat the guy.  Eddie knows him – he knows the guy works three jobs to care for his family.

On the flip side, when a SWAT team shows up to deal with Venom on a rampage, it’s acceptable for Venom to crush them and kill them if necessary just because they’re annoying and threatening.  Likewise, the extortionist is obviously a bad person because they’re doing a bad thing to somebody Eddie cares about.  You can guess what happens to this guy.

Our culture struggles with the issue of good and evil and how to tell them apart.  Essentially this has made us more distrustful of people who do good things and more empathetic to people who do bad things.  Villains are more convincing now when they’re operating out of arguably altruistic motives.  They still have to be defeated, of course, and we’re supposed to cheer when they are, because they are definitely evil people, and not people just doing bad things.  The idea seems to be that if you’re doing bad things, you should be willing and able to stop doing them.  And if you don’t, then it’s evidence that you’re evil and fair game for destruction.  All of which promotes an idea that most people are basically good.  Good people who sometimes do bad things and therefore just need help to see the error of their ways.  But if that isn’t successful, or if they don’t acknowledge that what they’re doing is bad, then they deserve to be destroyed.

So the symbiote metaphor for sin definitely breaks down.  Sin is not something we can completely control.  It isn’t something that can be tamed to socially responsible ends.  Our attempts to do so inevitably wind up by redefining good and evil to make the bad things we do seem less evil – or to even declare them good.   Without any solid moral baseline, these films inevitably portray vacillating and contradictory notions of redemption and condemnation, good and evil.  They strive to confuse us on these issues before feeding us the predicted outcome of true good destroying true evil.

This isn’t one of the better superhero movies, in my opinion.  The characters are not overly sympathetic, whether human or alien.  There was humor but it was more forced than the banter that defines the Avengers franchise, but you’ll still probably enjoy the movie if you are a comic-book fan or just like to turn off the brain for a bit.

But don’t think for a second that your sin is something you control, that you manage, that you outwit.  Or that your sin can be justified because of good intentions.  And hopefully give thanks that a promise has been given in Jesus Christ that one day, the sin that rages in us will be removed, permanently.  Not by sound frequencies but through the death and resurrection of the Son of God on your behalf.  That’s something to truly look forward to, even if Eddie Brock thinks he can make peace with his inner demon.





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