Venom is a Marvel B-movie. It focuses on a famous villain from the Spider-Man series and doesn’t feature Spider-Man. It looks like an origin story but isn’t really. From Ruben Fleischer, who has made one good movie (Zombieland) and a string of duds, and with a studio-mandated PG-13 rating, Venom looks like everything is working against it. So, how big of a failure is it?
For the most part, it’s not a complete disaster.
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist whose career disintegrates after he attempts to expose Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed,) leader of “The Life Institute,” which is experimenting on a series of symbiotes, or black blobs of goo that inhabit a person, turn them into a killing machine, and kill them soon after they pass it along to the next person. Drake has been experimenting on homeless people, and others society won’t miss, and a doctor (Jenny Slate) asks Eddie to come and try to investigate this again, now that there’s proof. One of these creatures takes Eddie as a host, and he becomes Venom.
The most this movie has to offer is the enjoyment of watching Tom Hardy walking around, talking to Venom in his head, and seeing strangers glare at the crazy man talking to himself. He’s having tons of fun with the absurdity of this, and he’s consistently fun to watch. He’s almost is enough to make you think you’re watching a better movie.
However, it’s pretty sloppy. It’s chaotic, half-baked, loud and empty. The film reaches its climax in a poorly executed battle of CGI blobs getting all over each other, and it’s a little difficult to figure out what’s going on. It’s violent, but there’s almost no blood, due to the PG-13 rating, and everything looks a bit fake. This is a film that also spoon-feeds every plot element to the viewer. When a film mugs the camera and basically says “pay attention, this will be important later,” it feels like the viewer is being talked down to. Venom thinks you’re stupid, or at least it doesn’t think you’re smart enough to pick up on anything without it being spelled out to you in bold print.
Also, as a fan of comedienne Jenny Slate, I was excited to see her in a big, $100-million studio picture, and this film wastes her in a way that truly made me angry, and the same goes for Riz Ahmed, who is more or less a cartoon villain. Michelle Williams, as Eddie’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, is having slightly more fun, but for an actress at this point in her career, this kind of role is truly beneath her. The characterizations of all the supporting players are threadbare and altogether without any depth, but that’s pretty much expected with this kind of movie.
Venom is problematic, messy and uneven, but the weird thing is, I could not take my eyes off it, and that’s mostly due to the fun Hardy brings to it. However, it’s worth mentioning that Hardy has gone on record saying that 40 minutes of his favorite footage has been removed from the film’s final cut. It’s briskly paced and against all odds, quite entertaining. With a director like Fede Álvarez and a studio that didn’t demand a PG-13 rating, this could have really soared. But instead, it almost half-works. And perhaps for some viewers, that might be enough, but for the general audience, I’d say, wait for the next one.