So this was a terrible idea from the get go. The only thing that makes Venom interesting as a character is the connection to Spider-Man, with Venom starting out as a black suit for Spider-Man. Venom is so intrinsically tied into Spider-Man that it makes no sense to make a Venom movie without Spider-Man. But here we are, Sony, in their infinite wisdom, are using Venom as a jumping point to make a series of Spider-Man films that don’t feature Spider-Man. Even though this was a terrible idea, the film has a good cast on paper and there was the potential to make something unique. However, that was not the case, Venom is every bit the disaster it sounded like when it was first announced.
The film focuses on Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist who lost his job after making unsubstantiated claims against The Life Foundation and it’s head Carlton Drake that they were killing people with their experiments. Six months after that, Eddie is contacted by a scientist at the Life Foundation who makes Eddie aware of their work with symbiotes, which Drake is bonding with homeless people to try and enable space exploration, killing the people in the process. When Eddie goes to investigate, he is bonded with one of the symbiotes, who calls itself Venom, and they team up to stop Drake from getting Venom back, which also involves a rogue symbiote that escaped from the initial group Drake had. Now the plot of the film is a mess. Character motivations change throughout, the rules of the symbiotes are established and then torn up and changed in the next scene, and the main thrust of the film, the relationship between Eddie and Venom is never fully explored. The whole thing reeks of studio interference and, based on the interviews, that was most likely the case. This is especially true in that it feels like the second act is missing from the film, we see Venom on screen for the first time about 50 minutes into the film and then it has to rush to get to the ending. Not helping matters is that the first 50 minutes is insanely boring, with the non-existent character development and leaden pace of the film just making it chug along. The film itself, not including the 10 minute long (not including post credit scenes), is barely 90 minutes long (I checked my watch, the film starting playing at 5pm, the credits started at 6:30pm and I left the screen at 6:50) and the fact that Venom is barely in the film just makes the pacing feel dead. It also doesn’t help the chopped up nature of the film that the whole villain motivation is both overly explained and an afterthought. I don’t want to spoil the film but everything related to the rogue symbiote seems to be heading in one direction and then it doesn’t go that way. It also feels that any references to Spider-Man that were originally intended were cut out, at one point it is clear that The Daily Bugle was meant to be name-dropped and I completely missed that a character is named Jameson until I saw the character name in the credits. The whole thing gives the impression that the studio knew this was a dud and cut any Spider-Man references to the bare minimum so they can quietly abandon this film when going forward with their other Spider-Man adjacent films.
The big issue I had with the film though was the tone. The first third of the film is done in this serious, important feeling tone, having the feel that the film wants to be a dark, atmospheric antihero film. But as soon as Venom is introduced, the film goes to 11 in the goofy scale. Everything related to Venom is silly and at times, I didn’t know whether I was meant to find it funny or not. It feels like the creative team wanted to make Venom something of an allegory for mental illness or to give Venom more of a feel of a werewolf movie, but the lack of screentime for Venom and the laughable way it is executed makes any thematic weight to the film evaporate. There’s even a weird sexual element to the depiction of Venom which just doesn’t feel right and I was just left thinking what the hell was going on in the minds of everyone who approved it. Honestly, if the first half of the film wasn’t so boring, I’d almost be tempted to recommend Venom as a so bad it’s good film.
This feeling is enhanced by Tom Hardy’s performance in the film. Now in the first half of the film, before he bonds with Venom, Hardy is dull as he’s given so little to work with, but when he’s bonded with Venom, the wild gestures and body language of Hardy, especially in the action scenes, are hilarious, especially a scene in a restaurant that had me in fits of laughter (when I think it was meant to be played seriously based on the immediate aftermath). There is clear effort from Hardy, even if it is misplaced and makes the film funny. Michelle Williams meanwhile is given nothing to work with. Honestly, she could have been cut out of the film entirely and nothing would have changed. There is nothing in the film to make use of her talents and she just looks and sounds so bored throughout the film. There is one point where her character does something interesting, but this part goes back to the issue I had with the symbiotes being so poorly defined. This also holds true for Riz Ahmed as Drake, who at least fares better than Williams in that he’s given a one dimensional character rather than a no dimensional one, with his entire character arc being based on the zipper of his fleece. Reid Scott is just a blank slate in the film, so much so that, since his character here is named Dan, I just had it in my head that he was reprising his role as Dan in Veep and Jenny Slate again has one bit of character development but is completely wasted. It also feels that Ron Cephas Jones didn’t want to be associated with the film for his minor role considering that he went uncredited, compared to an actor who appears in a post credits scene who is prominently credited.
On a technical level, the film is a mess. The direction and staging of the action scenes is lifeless, there’s a motorbike chase that just felt endless to me and I was insanely bored watching it. At least I could tell what was happening in this scene though, unlike at the end where I could not tell what the hell was happening in the final action scene, again going back to the feeling of the ending being rushed. The music by Ludwig Goransson is forgettable and a far cry from the much superior music he did for Black Panther earlier in the year, whilst the Eminem song over the credits is shockingly bad. The CG for Venom itself is awful, I didn’t feel any weight for Venom and the scenes where Venom and Eddie merge together and where Venom’s head comes out to talk to Eddie are laughable with the poor CG. Special mention also has to go to the post credits scene where I burst out laughing because of one of the worst wigs I’ve seen in a film for a long time.
Overall, Venom is a complete disaster. It was a bad idea from the start and every decision made for this film was wrong. It makes the way Sam Raimi included Venom in Spider-Man 3 look masterful and Raimi was famously forced to include Venom and you could feel his contempt for the character in every scene (Topher Grace is a much better Venom than Tom Hardy and the way that film handles Peter Parker in the black suit I think is genuinely brilliant). It says a lot when the best part of the film is a post credits scene that had nothing to do with Venom but had so much more life, character and charm in less than 5 minutes than Venom had in its entire 90 minute run time.
My Rating: 1/5