I’ve pretty much sworn off seeing comic book movies in theaters anymore (though I will rent them on DVD). However, my wife uncharacteristically insisted that we go see the new Venom movie, her sole reason being that it was a box office hit in her home country of China and she was curious to see what all the hubbub was about. I was hesitant at first because the reviews were hardly stellar, but I’m a big Tom Hardy fan so I decided to give it a shot.
Overall, I’m glad I did. Tom Hardy’s performance was very entertaining, and I found it refreshing that his character wasn’t the typical bullied-in-school-and-then-gets-a-superpower-and-becomes-awesome trope. The movie isn’t anything spectacular but it made for a fun afternoon. Below are some minor spoilers so if you haven’t yet seen Venom and plan to soon, please read no further.
Venom did a great job of making a villainous character as sympathetic as possible while making it crystal clear that it is still a villain. In most superhero films, the central character has a mission – a disaster to avert or a bad guy to defeat. In Venom, Tom Hardy spends most of his time trying to work out an equilibrium with the monstrous entity that has taken over his body. Destruction ensues, good guys get killed, heads get bitten off, and Tom Hardy wants nothing more than to be rid of this “parasite” as he calls it. He doesn’t go crazy or become drunk with power and “cross over to the Dark Side.” He tries to convince Venom to tread as lightly as possible, with mixed results. Only in the last half hour does another adversary show up, a stronger alien called Riot (these creatures must get their names from punk rock bands). Riot wants to bring back a horde of hungry critters and consume the Earth, while Venom, who is admittedly a “loser” on its home planet, realizes that it can be a big shot on our planet, but that means that the human race must survive in order for it to be at the top of food chain. Thus, Venom’s and Riot’s interests clash and the battle for the human race ensues, though the motives for each side are dubious.
I’m reminded of a quote from The Chronicles of Riddick, spoken by Dame Judy Dench’s character: “In normal times, evil would be fought with good. But in times like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil.” Hollywood likes pitting two evils against each other, and the “good guy” is the one with the quantifiably less evil motives. In the case of Venom and Riot, Venom just wants to eat people here and there (and only “bad guys” as Tom Hardy insists at the end of the film) while Riot wants to eat everyone. Thus, we are supposed to cheer for Venom. The lesser of two evils is the hero and the greater is the villain, because every conflict has to have a hero and a villain.
Does this notion translate into real life? Occasionally, though with hardly the same dramatic flair. During World War II, the New York Mafia took control of the ports in the interest of “national security,” though this arrangement greatly increased their illicit profits. Was national security protected? Perhaps, though it would hard to argue that the Mafia’s involvement was a good thing. There are numerous examples in history when an oppressed people or country turned to an outlaw tyrant to save them from their current tyrant, and things just go from bad to worse.
That’s the thing about evil: it’s always evil. And evil is ultimately selfish, hateful, and cruel. Evil cannot defeat evil; it can only replace it. Rom. 12:21 tells us to overcome evil with good. Nowhere in Scripture does evil supplant evil with good results. When confronted with a great evil, we should not cheer for another opposing yet still evil force, even if the promised results sound appealing. We should know that in the end, Venom is still the villain.