The character of Venom continues his tough streak on the big screen. Back in 2007, Spider-Man 3 crashed and burned with Topher Grace taking on the mantle. The character felt shoehorned into the film and the franchise, eventually becoming a punchline. However, hope was renewed when we got Venom into production. After all, we have Tom Hardy playing Eddie Brock, Michelle Williams on board as the love interest, and Riz Ahmed as the bad guy. What could go wrong? Apparently, most things.
There’s a lesson to be learned right off the bat from the film. Sony looked at the success of Deadpool, written by Zombieland writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Resse, and thought they could also make a spin-off of the main franchise. Even better they’ll bring in the Zombieland director, Ruben Fleisher to helm the film. It can be gritty and subversive and bring the out an “anti-hero” into the popular consciousness. How cool is that?
Sadly, none of that promise is followed through on. Instead, Venom is generic, does not bring any idea of an anti-hero into the movie at all, and above all else, grabbed itself a PG-13 rating. It pulls its punches, never showing true violence at any moment, cutting away from any scene that may contain some. Eddie Brock (Hardy) never actually breaks bad. Finally, the dialogue was so rough in the first cut, they clearly sent large portions of the cast back into the recording booth to ADR the hell out of this movie. There are a hundred cuts in each scene, all with the purpose of having you avoid seeing their lips as they speak. Whatever was written early, did not work.
Let’s start with Brock, because this is most of the problem with the film. Historically, the character’s break from reality causes him to question why he was good. He embraces his bad side without much help from the symbiote. The symbiote only enhances feelings laying beneath the surface. Yet there’s not a moment in Venom where Fleisher ever wants you to believe that Eddie Brock is a bad guy. He’s just a guy down on his luck. Hardy plays him like a guy who tried out for Jersey Shore but was too boring to make the show. Hardy basically looks like he’s gone through a fever dream and he stumbles around the screen like Jack Sparrow on ludes. It’s hard to feel sorry for him because he’s such a bland character.
Meanwhile, the Venom symbiote can’t stop cracking jokes. The symbiote wants to give you gags on the level of Deadpool throughout, but remember this movie is PG-13. So instead we get 1 f-bomb and insults that 12-year-olds would hurl at each other. His voice-overs aren’t particularly special, just making obvious jokes. After walking out of the movie, my friend I saw it with remarked that Venom was simply a dumbed down version of the Hormone Monster from the infinitely better Big Mouth, and honestly, I can’t disagree with him. At least the Nick Kroll creation makes sense.
Shockingly, a much better version of this exact story already came out this year in Upgrade, where a man’s wife is murdered and his robot “symbiote” helps him hunt down those responsible in a gory blood filled production with stakes. Funny enough, the poor man’s Hardy, actor Logan Marshall-Green, headlines the John Wick/Matrix knockoff with charisma and pathos, both of which are sorely lacking in Venom.
Michelle Williams does not help. There is a litany of issues with how her character is written, starting off with the movie does not seem to understand what lawyers do or really how the law works at all. Great example, wrongful death suits, part of what becomes an inciting issue in the film, don’t process in a manner of days. They take literally years. Later, Williams says she’s going pro bono and she’s going to join a public defenders office. As a husband of a former public defender, not how that works either. While the writers clearly got their understanding of the law from Trump University, Williams also kind of sucks. Outside of one scene in the climax of the film, it’s tough to even remember her scenes. She’s not given any power until the very end of the film, and then they immediately take it away from her. Williams plays the character with the doe-eyed “I want to fix you” face she’s played other characters in the past, but without any pathos or chemistry with Hardy. It’s a bad mix.
Riz Ahmed is not bad, but he’s not given much to work with. He’s mostly here to make cliche and self-aggrandizing speeches. Not much else. Jenny Slate does not work as a doctor/scientist. It’s not her fault though, because again, they gave her absolutely cringe-worthy dialogue only to kill her off. We can’t move forward without addressing the red-headed bozo of a clown at the end of the film, where Woody Harrelson (who legitimately is one of the first 7 people billed in this film despite the secret cameo) wears a red clown wig and utters the dumbest line in the movie. In case you somehow didn’t get that Carnage will be in the next film, Cleetus Kassidy is a serial killer, infected by a symbiote that goes on a murder spree. The line “when I get out, and I will, there will be carnage” is here for the fanboys to nudge each other in the seats, and doesn’t work as basic dialogue. Again, a total disaster.
All of this is rough, and the worst part of it all must be the CGI blahness of the film. The opening scene burns through dialogue but is the only time where the symbiotes killing people looked cool. Once the symbiote Venom infects Hardy, the CGI gets worse and worse. The Venom shell fights off people with semi-interesting power usage, but nothing we haven’t seen before. It punches and throws people around, but the creature itself is comically undeveloped at times. It feels like Fleisher’s team drew inspiration from Men in Black 2′s classic Johnny Knoxville character that has 2 heads. There’s no other reason for Venom’s disembodied head to have full on conversations with Hardy. Outside of the Lady Venom scene, this version of Venom didn’t look particularly great. Even then, the makeout scene was ridiculous.
To close this out, the logic of the film makes no sense. There’s literally no plan for the Venom symbiote for most of the film. He’s just kinda goofing around on Earth but wants to bring his fellow symbiotes to Earth to help take over (I guess?). Then at the end of the film, he takes a 180 because Brock wants to save the planet (I guess?) and Venom can be a god. Keep in mind, there are 2 more symbiotes unaccounted for at the end of this movie, so don’t worry, he’s not the only god. Regardless, the turn is nonsense and there’s no emotional scene in the film to sell us on the symbiote’s change of heart other than it wants to be a god. However, at the end of the film, Eddie unmistakably lays out rules for him to follow. So Venom thinks he they can do whatever they want, but then falls in line? It’s just kind of nonsense, and the Venom symbiote doesn’t even stay in character. It’s basically just there to service whatever the story needs.
From beginning to end, Venom was an absolute slog. This thing is a rambling monster with no real purpose other than Sony trying to get its bearings after the debacle that was The Amazing Spider-Man. Hell, the 2nd post credit scene, footage of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had more heart and humor in the 90 seconds it was on than the entirety of Venom. I wanted to like this film, but the lack of anything good in this film makes me understand why people hate superhero movies. Even if we get a sequel to this one, the Venom series feels destined to be forgotten in the same vein of Ben Affleck Daredevil film and Nic Cage Ghostrider movies. Please, go watch the exponentially better Upgrade and Big Mouth instead if you want to watch a real monster work.