Bear with me here; Venom the movie is an actual “turd in the wind.” Chop off its legs thanks to a weak first act. Lose the arms because every single supporting character is essentially worthless. The head obviously has to go because Venom is pretty brainless. And, not for nothing, but that leaves us with the heart (or for the sake of this visual, the torso) of the movie, the Venom and Eddie relationship, a component that’s just going where the wind takes us in this downright wacky comic book adaptation.
The movie stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, a journalist who’s made a name for himself by exposing the malicious and corrupt. When he’s given an assignment to cover the achievements of the nefarious Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) of the Life Foundation, Eddie refuses to hold back, slinging one allegation at Drake after the next. Eddie loses his job, home, and fiancée (Michelle Williams) over the matter but eventually he gets the chance to circle back around and dig a little deeper, revealing that the Life Foundation is indeed up to no good, experimenting with an alien creature dubbed a symbiote, and one – Venom – takes a liking to Eddie.
The set-up in Venom is a colossal failure. Familiar faces attempting to play believable scientists are a dime a dozen. Not only does Venom give us another one of those, but also an unconvincing lawyer, journalist and evil mastermind. Let’s run down the list; Jenny Slate steps in as Dr. Skirth, one of Drake’s top employees at the Life Foundation. Slate has charisma for days – do check out Obvious Child if you haven’t seen it already – but in Venom she comes across as a robot wearing a lab coat and glasses (obviously). The script does attempt to raise the stakes for her by giving her something to fight for, but “saying” she cares about something is different from making a viewer “believe” she cares about it.
Williams’ character Anne Weying is our lawyer, but failing to sell her as a capable one is the least of Williams’ worries. It may have gotten a laugh on the internet and seem trivial, but yes, that terrible wig is very distracting and even worse, Williams doesn’t get all that much to do in the movie. The amount of screen time isn’t the issue; it’s what she gets to do with it. Williams and Hardy have zero chemistry and when the script lets her step beyond her romance with Eddie and take charge, it often cheapens her actions with a quippy line to pat herself on the back for her accomplishment.
Next up? Ahmed as Carlton Drake. Eddie Redmayne’s work in Jupiter Ascending is untouchable in the “so bad, it’s good” department, but Ahmed seems to be going for it here. He often adopts the whisper way of speaking that, oddly enough, screams, “I’m an evil villain!” He also experiences abrupt and extreme mood shifts that, one, are rarely justified and, two, are rarely frightening. Ahmed comes close to selling Drake’s powerful manipulation tactics a few times but ultimately, he runs into a similar problem as Slate – failing to make you believe what he’s saying, and in his case, that decimates his chances of making Drake feel like a real threat.
As for Eddie, the investigative journalist side of him never works. It’s abundantly clear right from the beginning that the guy is essentially a wrecking ball when he works. He’s got zero tact, weak presentation, and worst of all, he’s selfish. Yes, there is a combination of those qualities that could give a journalist the drive and gusto to uncover dirt, but in the case of Venom, it makes Eddie pretty deplorable at first.
But thankfully the one shining ray of light in Venom is Hardy and what he manages to do once Venom comes into the picture. Again, at that point, the movie has no legs to stand on but the back and forth between Eddie and Venom is so zany and outrageous, I for one couldn’t get enough of it. Venom is a tonal anomaly so I do suspect some “laugh out loud” reactions weren’t what the filmmakers were gunning for, but unintentional or not, something was working well. Very well in fact, which makes it an even bigger disappointment that Sony didn’t just swing for the fences with this one. Ditch the dead weight supporting characters, go heavier on Eddie and Venom, and let them take it to an 11. Even though respect for Eddie is at rock bottom thanks to his actions at the beginning of the film, Hardy has the charm and chemistry with Venom to not only dig himself out of that hole but basically turn Venom into a shockingly sweet buddy bromance adventure of sorts, albeit one that makes almost no sense. Venom has something special in the simplicity of the Eddie and Venom connection and using that to explain what a symbiote is, how it works and what its intentions are, but thanks to the Life Foundation component of the story, countless inconsistencies pop up throughout the film.
On the technical front, Venom vacillates between impressive and just plain old fine. Some of the digital effects get a little muddied and even dated looking sometimes, and the visual style feels a bit haphazard, but every now and then you’re reminded that Academy Award nominee Matthew Libatique is the cinematographer here. In particular, he’s got a handful of especially well-lit visuals that really pop, a favorite being a chase scene in the woods. As for the PG-13 rating, it is noticeable when you have a movie featuring an alien creature that rips victims’ heads off with zero blood, especially when a number of scenes are clearly deliberately cut short before showing too much carnage.
Venom almost gets away with its nonsensical plot in the end thanks to that Eddie and Venom bromance, but then you’re reminded of the major missed opportunity here – more than once, actually. Venom should have been a quality start to Sony’s own Marvel franchise. This, however, is a film that doesn’t earn it and the multiple reminders from the studio saying, “Hey, don’t forget we want to make more of these,” only makes it worse. Perhaps its box office will determine the future of this franchise, but from a quality perspective, Venom won’t give Sony a solid base to build on.