Now, more than ever, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to superhero movies. The enormous box-office successes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has studio executives spilling their coffee left and right as they scramble to find the next character to throw onto the big screen. Up to bat next is antisocial anti-hero Venom. Unfortunately, we get none of the charm of modern Marvel movies in a film which is shockingly reminiscent of the early-2000s comic book adaptations.
Venom follows off-the-wall, tough-guy reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he tries to expose the criminal misdeeds of enterprising, new-age billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). After breaking into Drake’s lab, Eddie becomes bonded to a lump of alien goo that increases his appetite for raw seafood, gives him a grisly internal monologue, and enhances his already monumental abdominal muscles.
‘The script is both illogical and simplistic, featuring dialogue so awful that you can visibly see the actors cringe trying to say it’
It makes sense to begin where it counts: the plot. This film features a barebones storyline filled with padding and dated CGI. The script is both illogical and simplistic, featuring dialogue so awful that you can visibly see the actors cringe trying to say it. The character motivations are vague and there seems to have been no attempt to give any scientific reasoning to Drake’s plan other than “yeah, space aliens probably cure cancer, right?” The action scenes have no consequences and the anticlimactic final showdown has all the coherency of two jellyfish in a tumble-dryer.
These problems with the story are scarily, yet predictably, like the mistakes made with the two Amazing Spider-Man films. It seems like it pays to be more than ‘in association with’ Marvel Entertainment and, since Sony still owns the rights to Venom as a character; the constantly-shifting tone is a far cry from the likes of Thor Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy. This wandering tone is one of Venom’s key problems. Just like the bickering between Eddie and his alien parasite, the movie itself seems unsure of what it is trying to be.
‘The one surprising part of the plot comes right when the credits roll as audience members jump out of their seats asking, “Was that really the end of the film?”’
Other than the ever-shifting tone, the most glaring weakness of this movie is its pacing. A cheeky “Mornin’ Sunshine!” is about all the introduction we get to Eddie and Anne’s relationship before suddenly she is throwing her engagement ring in the gutter at the three-minute mark. The first act is dull and by-the-numbers and, while the film does pick up slightly once Eddie is infected by the symbiote, the story remains uninteresting. The action scenes drag as Drake’s goons fail to realise their attempts to neutralise a bullet-resistant alien with automatic weapons are proving ineffective. The one surprising part of the plot comes right when the credits roll as audience members jump out of their seats asking, “Was that really the end of the film?”
Hardy’s Eddie Brock is brimming with charisma but, as for character depth, the script severely lets him down. Hardy has more on-screen chemistry with his alien parasite than with his supposed love interest; Four-time Academy Award Nominee Michelle Williams is crammed into the stereotypical ‘perturbed fiancé’ role, an incredible disservice when you look at her career and astounding emotional range. As for Riz Ahmed’s ‘Evil Genius™’, it appears that the writers have put all the ‘rich villain’ tropes they could think of into a hat and then drawn every single one back out again. This combination of cliched characters and wasted on-screen talent is disappointing as there is clearly potential for a much stronger, funnier, more impactful movie hidden behind an awful script.
The most obvious question that potential audience members probably have is: “Can Tom Hardy hold his own as the lead role in an MCU-era comedy superhero flick?” The answer is… kind of? Hardy and the detached voice of Venom develop a pleasant back-and-forth which makes up the most entertaining parts of the film. Unfortunately, the other actors seem to have missed the memo explaining that the movie is meant to have at a least a slight comedic element. Despite the casting of Jenny Slate, who possesses comedic talent by the bucketload, Fleischer comes nowhere near recreating the effortless comedic timing of his modern cult classic, Zombieland.
All in all, I would only go to see this movie if you feel like watching a by-the-numbers superhero origin story with a few laughs here and there, but no scope for any further scrutiny. I’m afraid to say most viewers will forget about this movie quickly, and the prospects of a sequel seem dubious. Hardy himself said his favourite parts of the movie were cut and I believe it. I don’t hate it, but, frustratingly, it seems movies like this never learn from their mistakes.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Sony.