The early 2000s will always be remembered as the era when comic book movies were reborn and finally started being considered as a sure bet at the box office.
Before the release of movies like X-Men (2000) or more importantly, Spider-Man (2002), comic book movies were far from certified audience favorites. Few of them outside of those featuring Batman had a substantial budget or profits.
In fact, franchises were so diminished in certain instances that Warner Bros. even allowed Cannon Films, a production company known for low-budget films based on established IP (such as my dearly beloved Masters of the Universe) to produce a Superman movie.
This practice would be completely unthinkable in our day and age, but, you know, it was the ’80s. This changed after certain studios gambled on comic book movies in the early 2000s. Then, the rest is glorious history.
The genre has come to shape event films for this century. Superhero mania has extended to countless TV shows, products, and conventions to an extent that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago.
The fact that characters like Thanos or Ra’s al Ghul are household names today is a true milestone for this niche of pop culture.
Comic Book Movies Had a Long Road to Get Here
We’ve come a long way since the superhero boom of the early 2000s, particularly due to the way talented filmmakers have brought their own spin to the subgenre.
This has prevented the inevitable “superhero fatigue” from completely taking over. And that is despite signs within the industry from people like legendary director Martin Scorsese. And, of course, that annoying friend we all have you has spit takes like “Another Batman? Seriously?”
Yes, that Venom.
The movie starring one of the biggest stars in the world, Tom Hardy, doing yet another weird accent. There was also one of the best actresses working today, Michele Williams, in an embarrassingly fake wig.
The same movie where the title character doesn’t even appear until an hour hast past. Venom clocks in at 2 hours, even though 20 minutes of that are closing credits featuring two teases of upcoming movies. We even got to see Tom Hardy swim in a lobster tank and eat a live lobster.
As Venom himself would say: “so many snacks, so little time.”
Because, despite being released in 2018, Venom is a movie of a time well past. While we all remember some comic book movies from the early 2000s fondly, the truth is that many of them do not hold up because of their lack of risks and creativity.
In the end, most of them were–in some way or the other–copying Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, due to its specific approach to the characters and lore. We should all know what did work in Venom was:
- A product of its time, which does not mean it still works today or works in every movie
- And, most importantly, was as basic and risk-free as it gets.
Maybe this is why many of us believe the Raimi films do not hold up as well these days, but that’s a story for another time.
What About the Road Ahead…
Venom is one of the comic book movies that check all the “generic superhero film” tropes from 20 years ago. Unfortunately, it is both jarring and headache-inducing.
- Villain is a super crazy scientist? Check.
- Villain has the generic motivation of “I’m doing this to save the world”? Check.
- Heroic powers come from an incident related to a lab experiment? Check.
- We barely get any scenes of the comic book character? Check.
- The third act is a CGI-infested sequence of the hero fighting someone with the same powers as him? Check.
But we’ve come so far since then! Superhero origin stories are told more creatively these days with films like Ant-Man. Here, the hero gets his powers from an aging mentor-like figure who used to be the hero himself. Surprise! Right?
What about Shazam? Another familiar trope alert: The origin is a plot device to get the main character to bond with his adoptive family.
The way Venom is structured is so predictable that it made my brain feel tired of the cliché-mania displayed on screen. The character and the mythology could–and should–have been handled much better.
Venom doesn’t work as a comic book movie in this new era. I would bet it might have been received poorly in the early 2000s for its lack of imagination. Regardless, this is completely unacceptable for this era. This is a time where filmmakers are going beyond constraints of the source material to tell all sorts of stories that deviate from established conventions.
Marvel is making movies where a talking raccoon and a tree are a part of the superhero team, and yet these people are afraid of going all-in with the antihero version of Spider-Man (their biggest franchise). There are moments of inspiration throughout the film.
One from the great imagination of Ruben Fleischer and Hardy’s insane scenery-chewing talent), but they’re overcome by this obsession to “play it safe.” That collective tapping of the brakes resulted in a film that only fully satisfied a few, even if inexplicably made over $850M at the box office.
I tried to give Venom another chance recently. I really did. But, as it turns out, the early 2000s sensibility is so old and overused that Venom in 2020 is flies out of your brain like a turd… rolling down the street in the wind.
If I could say something to the filmmakers, it would be this: let’s move forward, not backward.Me
I’m really hoping Sony learns from this and allows imaginations to run wild. Yet, based on their most recent trailer — still in the Spider-Man family — I’m not that hopeful. What about you?