There’s a place for superhero films that try to take on B-level heroes, or try to take villains and antiheroes and slap them into mainstream media. With Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even as far back as Iron Man, studios have shown that under the right directors and writers, these heroes can transcend their niche fan-bases and catapult straight into blockbuster recognition. So studios are hungry to try and take on the next big property and start the next big franchise, with varying results per studio.
Sony has been trying to get their Spider-verse franchise off the ground for over a decade now, with reboot after sequel after reboot, repeat, with multiple Spider-Man castings and many failed spin-off attempts, with The Amazing Spider-Man spinoff revolving around The Sinister Six becoming the latest casualty. They recently made a deal with Marvel to hand over Spider-Man rights for crossover films, and now Sony looks to hold on to what hero exclusivity they have left by releasing the Spidey spinoff, Venom.
Sony is more desperate than ever to cling to superhero life on their own, and this film unfortunately displays this desperation with the subtlety of a fire poker to the groin. Venom is a complete mess, veering towards absurdity, the likes of which audiences have not seen since Green Lantern.
Venom is a symbiote: a parasitic alien life form that needs a suitable living host to survive and breathe in the Earth’s atmosphere. He finds one such host in Eddie Brock (played by a fervently committed Hardy) and quickly attaches to him. Brock, a down-on-his-luck, but nonetheless persistent investigative journalist, chases a story of yet another evil corporation intent on using the symbiotes for their nefarious needs, gets possessed by the Venom symbiote, and then plot happens.
The premise of Venom is a decent, if overly generic and uninspired, superhero origin setup. We literally have:
- An evil corporation run by an arrogant, idealistic billionaire (played a little too dastardly by the usually stellar Riz Ahmed),
- a romantic interest on the side (Michelle Williams, as Eddie’s girlfriend Anne), and
- and the quirky scientist/tech character (Jenny Slate, used unfortunately sparingly).
These ingredients make a superhero movie, but in 2018 — in an already over-saturated comic book film market — does it make an entertaining and worthwhile “cinematic experience?”
As Venom displays it, not really. Hardy has already been quoted as saying around thirty to forty minutes of the film were left on the cutting room floor, though he later cleared up the comments as saying they filmed “ about seven hours or more worth of footage of me playing as Venom and enjoying myself.”
The story is simply poorly paced and poorly told. The first act, around forty five-fifty minutes, is an absolute slogging bore. Once the Venom symbiote is finally released, the action and stakes ramp up a bit, but the tension is consistently deflated by dark comedy, which wouldn’t necessarily be out of place here if the dialogue didn’t feel like it were written by a thirteen year old. Gems like Venom referring to a criminal as being “like a turd in the wind,” or Brock consistently describing the Venom symbiote as being “up his ass” give the film a faux comedic tone that just doesn’t work.
Of this film’s three writers, I’d like to think one wanted to write a dark comedy, one wanted to write a generic superhero film and make a paycheck, and one wanted to write some weird romantic horror hybrid, judging by the consistent shoehorning of romantic interests and weird sexual innuendos. And yes, the rumors are true, there is a scene where Venom and Eddie Brock make out. There is more context for that scene as it happens, but even as it happens with the provided context, it still feels forced and silly. Finally, the ending feels rushed and slapped together, and the mid-credits scene features an interesting cameo that is once again deflated by teenage fan-fic level dialogue.
Tom Hardy is clearly having a blast in the role, at least, as he plays both the host and the Venom symbiote, and he attempts to single-handedly carry the film on his back. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past, there are times when even the greatest actors cannot make a film good by virtue of their performance alone. One scene involving him being frantic and beastial within an upper class, reserved-seating-only style restaurant was particularly entertaining to watch, in a joyously over-the-top, raucous kind of way.
The other actors don’t really fare as well, but to be fair they’re not given much to work with. Michelle Williams and Jenny Slate play themselves, as their characters aren’t really given interesting personalities. Riz Ahmed has proven capable of fantastic work in projects like Nightcrawler and The Night Of, but here he feels miscast and misdirected. His lines veer into cringe territory almost as often as Hardy’s lines, as he consistently refers to humans as “fragile designs” and advising his underlings that they should not dare “insult the higher level life form.” He may as well have donned a ’40s accent and a corner-twirled mustache.
Lastly, the physical aspects of the film aren’t anything to write home about. The quality of CGI varies, from passable to Michael Bay Transformers-level terrible. One scene toward the end which I won’t spoil (but if you’ve seen the film, takes place near a rocket) has a fight that just is so filled with bad CGI that the entire bit should have been left on the aforementioned cutting room floor. It’s as if the writers had a much more complex resolution in mind and Sony just decided, “nope, we don’t need a third act. CGI fight, boys.”
When the score is not busy being generic, it’s bizarre and out of place — like when the soundtrack boasts hip-hop tracks (?) toward the end. I was transported to the cheese of the late-90s or early 2000s, disappointed by the decades of steps back Venom was taking with superhero score work.
Lastly, the cinematography is nothing special. D.P. Matthew Libatique has shown great work in the past, particularly in his Aronofsky collaborations, but here, he seems very much restricted by misguided direction and studio streamlining. I’m forgiving of films that may not have excellent writing if they are shot well, and this film drops the ball on both of these counts.
Venom is at the very least, entertaining in a low-brow way. It’s ALMOST so bad that it’s good, but not in the same level as something like Catwoman. It’s more of an X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where you see so much potential and so many opportunities for great comic book style storytelling, but the film just remains intent on capitalizing on none of them. It’s unfortunate, as a standalone Venom film could definitely work, and Tom Hardy shows that he is an actor capable of pulling the character off, but the Venom simply needs more capable guidance and directorial hands in order to succeed. It’s not the biggest travesty of the year, but it’s definitely not something you should rush out to see. If you like the character, you may enjoy a few scenes of this film, but for the average moviegoer, they will probably find this film a confusing and polarizing mess.
Verdict: Wait For Streaming
Disclaimer: I review movies based on a 5-tier scale: See in Theaters: Full Price, See in Theaters: Matinee, Rental, Wait for Streaming, and Skip It. If you disagree with this review, I encourage you to watch the film and as always, make up your own mind about it.