When I sat down in the theater to watch “Venom,” I fully expected to hate it. I resented (and still do resent) Sony’s attempt to launch its own Spider-Man spinoff movie without actually connecting it to Spider-Man himself. The trailers and marketing of “Venom” had left a sour taste in my mouth. In an interview with youtube channel ComicsExplained, Tom Hardy, whose presence in the movie convinced me to give it a try, had gone on record saying that his favorite 40 minutes were cut from the film. However, I didn’t hate “Venom.” I genuinely enjoyed Tom Hardy’s performance and the action was enough to keep me somewhat interested. Still, that was not enough to stop me from largely disliking “Venom” overall, as it simply has too much working against it.
Based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, the plot of “Venom” is a simple one: reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) investigates disturbing rumors about the Life Foundation — think “Evil SpaceX”— run by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) — think “Evil Elon Musk”. While sneaking into one of Drake’s labs, Eddie comes into contact with a black mass of goo, which turns out to be an alien symbiote named Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy). Venom bonds with Eddie, granting him enhanced strength, durability and a monstrous appearance, all while manifesting as a voice in his head. Together, Eddie and Venom must learn to get along and put a halt to Drake’s plans.
It should be noted here that even this basic plot is nonsensical, rife with plot-holes, heavily reliant on clunky exposition, stuffed with inexplicable character motivations and just horribly cliched. One of the less spoiler-heavy aspects I can think of regards one of the main plot points of “Venom” — symbiotes apparently need to be perfect matches with their hosts to avoid killing them within a few days.
Eddie and Venom are one such pair, but the movie never describes why this is. Is it something to do with genetics? Maybe their personalities? This gets even stranger when the symbiote manages to stay bonded to a random host for the entirety of a six-month time gap, yet moves on to a new host when an opportunity presents itself. Director Ruben Fleischer himself has even gone on record saying that this moment makes no sense.
The entire first act is an incredibly tedious and boring affair, especially since it takes almost 40 minutes for Venom to actually make an appearance in his own movie. Instead, we get to hear the cast deliver mind-numbing exposition that had me wondering if anyone sitting in that movie theater actually cared in the slightest. The second act does manage to pick up the pace, as Eddie and Venom get to know one another, and hilarity ensues. This is also when the action begins to kick off in a variety of sequences.
These range from a somewhat-creative scene where Venom must protect an uncooperative Eddie to a completely uninspired motorcycle chase and finally to a viscerally satisfying scene where we get to see Venom cut loose for the first time. However, this then gives way to a third act that is incredibly cramped and unsatisfying, with a final fight that boils down to two extremely-similar looking masses of CGI goo battling it out. This becomes an even more unforgiveable pacing sin when one remembers how quickly the first act wore out its welcome.
Out of the entire cast, Tom Hardy is the only one who manages to be entertaining to watch. He channels a paranoia and nervous energy that suits Eddie well, particularly after he bonds with Venom. Hardy also lands the few moments of actually intentional humor in this movie, particularly during the scenes where Eddie is learning to share a body with a ravenous alien organism that wants to eat everything in sight.
However, he has absolutely no chemistry with his love interest, Anne (Michelle Williams). She may get more to do than a standard superhero movie girlfriend, but she’s just not that interesting of a character. Just as unfortunately, Riz Ahmed is saddled with his role as a standard corrupt corporate executive, an archetype that we have seen played out thousands of times over the past several decades.
Tonally, “Venom” is all over the place. It never seems to know what direction to take itself in, veering between serious, campy and ridiculously grim all at the drop of a hat. It definitely calls back to the age of 90’s/early 2000’s era shlock in that its more absurd moments rely largely on gross out humor, general crassness and as much brutal violence that can be squeezed under a PG-13 label.
Overall, it seems like “Venom” wants very much to be an R-rated movie, yet is constantly forced to cut away whenever Venom bites someone’s head off or the symbiotes’ body horror gets a little too extreme for a teen audience. I am not one of those commenters who argued that Venom is a character who can only be done with an R-rating, but it would have been the right choice for this particular movie.
As I said before, I don’t hate “Venom.” I would say that it’s a fine movie to stream or rent in a few months. “Venom” is just so fundamentally broken and boring that I cannot recommend that anyone actually pay to see it in theaters.
Honestly, I am frustrated that Hardy provides a few genuine flashes of quality in this otherwise disappointing movie. I would love to see him take this character into the mainline Marvel Cinematic Universe and face off with Tom Holland’s Spidey, but that does not seem to be in the cards. This sad fact only makes “Venom” even more frustrating and depressing to watch.