Venom is a weird movie. Let’s just get that right out of the gate. Call it a tonal mess or an experiment, it certainly doesn’t flow well in its entirety. Critics all around the world have been slamming the movie hard. And the Rotten Tomatoes score? One look at it and you’ll know it’s been dividing the gap between critics and audiences fast. So, where does my viewpoint fall in? Somewhere in between.
Venom is directed by Ruben Fleischer. Sounds familiar? He’s the genius behind the much-adored Zombieland. So when the announcement was made that Fleischer would direct this film, the first thought that came to a lot of people’s mind (mine included) was (and still is): Is he really the right person to take the helm of this character? Zombieland has some similarities to the world and the character of Venom. Both include body horror tropes and people eating other people. And they’re dark movies. But what about the comedy aspect of it? Surely Venom is a very serious character who doesn’t need jokes hitting its audience in the face every 2 minutes? Well, Fleischer doesn’t think so.
Starring Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, the film is set as an adjunct, more on that HERE, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and follows Brock as he first comes in contact with the symbiote and becomes the anti-hero we all know and love. You know the rest of the story, except this one doesn’t include one key ingredient: Spider-Man. Yeah, a Venom origin story without Spider-Man. Who would have thought?
After a crash landing by a space crew, lead by Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake, brings the symbiotes to Earth, Brock is pulled in to a web of conspiracies by the Life Foundation (also, led by Drake) and eventually comes in contact with the Venom symbiote. But the thing is, it takes a good deal of time to get to that point. Nearly half the movie in fact. And that’s where the problems start.
As I stated at the start of the review, Venom is a tonal mess. Part body horror, part superhero adventure, and pure dark comedy, the film shifts its tone when the script demands it. However, if you’re oblivious to the character’s comic book origin and just want to relax after a hard day at work, this might just work for you. The best way to describe Venom, as hard as it may sound, is that it’s a dark comedy. Venom, Eddie Brock’s alter ego, is a loveable goofball, and I’d love to chill out with this version of the human eating monstrosity. The character’s design is lifted straight out of the comics, minus the spider insignia for obvious reasons, and boy does it look great on screen. Remember Topher Grace’s rendition of Venom in Spider-Man 3? Yeah, the design here alone redeems that mistake. And the voice is just as good too. If only the movie had more of it though.
The interplay between Brock and the symbiote is no doubt the highlight of the film. From the moment Tom Hardy starts talking to the voice in his head, the movie dials its gears to 11. Is it scary? Kinda. Is it funny? Definitely. Is it both? Heck yes. Hardy is a great actor and the one beam of light in the tunnel of darkness that is this movie. While not exactly comic accurate, he passes just fine for this movie to work. The first act establishes him well as the investigative journalist that he was in the comics. And while I’d love to see him butt heads with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker in Daily Bugle, what we get here works just fine. In fact, the ego and the stubbornness that the character is known for is used efficiently enough to jumpstart the movie, as he interviews Ahmed’s Drake and pisses him off enough to start an enmity.
Speaking of Carlton Drake, Ahmed has given a decent performance here but the writing just kills it. If you saw the trailers and went “There’s the generic bad guy” you were right. He’s the generic bad guy. Nothing more than that. And in an age where the antagonists are getting more attention than the heroes in their films, Ahmed’s Drake falls flat. His line delivery feels rushed, which by the way is how the whole movie feels like. And by the time we get to Riot (his symbiote alter-ego), the audience will have lost interest. Riot’s design is more or less the same as Venom, but bulkier. And a tad bit more scary looking. And his abilities? Varied. A little too varied, and the same goes for Venom.
Due to the exclusion of Spider-Man, Venom doesn’t shoot webs or climb walls. He’s more of a Hulk combined with the powers of Green Lantern, in that he’s got brute strength and a huge arsenal of weapons that his body parts can turn in to. That makes the action sequences less imaginative since the rules of the fight aren’t ever established well. The editing doesn’t help either, with too many quick cuts and the PG-13 rating prohibiting the awesome sequences of Venom biting people’s heads off. The result is a botched mess where you can’t see what’s happening, and for a movie which is primarily in the action genre, that’s bad news. The introductory chase sequence where we get to see Venom/Brock’s different abilities is pulled off fairly well, but that’s about it.
As for Michelle Willaim’s Anne, she surprisingly gets more to do here than your average superhero love interest. Her chemistry with Hardy isn’t something to sing praises about, but her performance gets the job done. The romance between Eddie and Anne takes a pretty important chunk of the movie. That meshes well enough with the main plot regarding the Life Foundation. She-Venom fans, you might wanna look out.
Tom Hardy revealed in an interview that a good 30-40 minutes had been cut from the film, and it shows. The pacing here is fast, with the 112 minutes of run time flying by in a breeze. But the rushed nature of the movie doesn’t hide its faults. There are tons of plot holes and weird scene (& tone) transitions, with one involving Willaim’s character that is criminally undercut. The constant shift between action-horror tropes and comedy doesn’t help either.
As Sony’s first installment in its own cinematic universe, Venom fails flat on its face. If this is the vision that the studio has for its future installments, then it’s a cause for concern. The film’s marketing is also at fault. While most of us expected it to be your run-of-the-mill superhero escapade, it turns out to be a body horror/action-comedy hybrid. And that’s not a bad thing, provided you keep your expectations at bay.