With audiences’ insatiable thirst for superhero movies, it was inevitable that the villainous foils would start headlining their own films as well. One of the first out of the gate is “Venom” and it tells the origin story of one of Spider-Man’s key enemies. Spidey is nowhere to be found in this film, and that’s part of the problem. Other issues mar it more like the wildly uneven tone, as well as rushed and choppy editing. The final product looks like the result of a lot of last-minute reworking and indeed, stories have circulated online for months about efforts to save this from becoming another dud like 2015’s “Fantastic Four” reboot. “Venom” isn’t that bad, but it is a big disappointment, especially when you consider what it could have been – a dark and scary take on the duality of those in the superhero universe.
Early on, the film seems set up to be just that. Like “Deadpool,” this one too is built around a snarky cynic in antagonistic TV reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). He’s a self-absorbed man-child, always picking a fight, always shirking responsibilities, even with his elegant, attorneygirlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams). He doesn’t seem to be capable of even feeding her cat, let alone following directions from his network boss (Ron Cephas Jones). Despite all that, Eddiedoes manage to be the champion of the little guy in his reporting, especially when he takes oncorrupt business tycoons like Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed).
Drake is up to all kinds of skullduggery, and Eddie will soon discover that the megalomaniac is sending rockets into space in efforts to harvest a parasitic alien that takes over other life forms and infuses them with super powers. Drake’s latest ship crashes upon re-entry, yet two specimens manage to be salvaged. A containment tank holding one symbiote with all its oozing, tar-like texture intact is safe, as is another hiding inside the body of the sole surviving astronaut.
Back in San Francisco, Drake’s scientists start testing the symbiote on homeless people they’ve snatched off the streets. The other one is traveling towards them by jumping from body to body along the way. Dr, Skirth (Jenny Slate), one of Drake’s more noble colleagues, hates that patients are being eaten from the inside out by the parasite when their DNA doesn’t meld with theirs, and calls Eddie to make him aware of the nefarious goings on. Soon, he breaks into the compound to investigate and before you can say, “Radioactive spider”, he’s infested by the symbiote.
Surprisingly, the alien invader takes to Eddie, even though he’s a hard-living, shambles of a man. Just exactly why isn’t explained well enough, but soon the horrifying parasite stops being so serious and turns comical. “Venom”, as the symbiote calls himself, even starts conversing with Eddie in his mind. The alien also shares his super powers with Eddie to keep him from harm, as Drake’s henchmen come after him. When they show up at his apartment to kill him, Venom uses his morphing skills to help Eddie combat them.
As the fight turns into a chase scene, Eddie and Venom start bickering about who’s controlling his body like an old married couple bickering about who’s driving the car. Their banter is amusing at times, albeit miles away from the more serious tone of the first act. Did writers Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel and Jeff Pinkner intend the tone to turn so silly, or was dialogue between Eddie and his new id rewritten to make the movie less dark and mean? No matter, the confusing tones are confounding to an audience trying to get a handle on it 30 minutes in.
Other inconsistencies plague the proceedings too. Why doesn’t Venom just kill the henchmen who come to harm Eddie, especially when the parasite has shown no problem with slaughtering innocent people? For that matter, why does Venom allow for the ludicrously long and damaging chase happen following the intrusion? All Venom had to do is have Eddie stand still and swat all the villains and their drones that come at him with elongated gooey tentacles. For such a vicious villain, the ooze quickly turns into a snooze, literally and figuratively pulling punches.
As the movie churns on, director Rubin Fleischer seems to let everything become more and more comedic as Eddie and Venom practically turn into Oscar and Felix sparring throughout every moment they’re together. Logic lapses too as Venom exits Eddie’s body for a time and feels comfortable taking over Anne’s body, or even that of a yapping dog. Now, everyone’s DNA is an acceptable match, even a canine’s? Even Venom’s serpentine tongue and racks of fangs are played for comic effect. The symbiote has a lot of teeth, but little bite.
Hardy tries to give it his method all, but he’s often illegible and at times seems to be channeling Nick Nolte…a sixty-year-old Nick Nolte. Great actors like Williams and Ahmed are given precious little to do as the film grinds on, and Williams isn’t even given a proper wig to wear. Even the comic talents of Slate and featured player Reid Scott are never properly exploited here. Scott is a droll foil as Anne’s rebound boyfriend at least, and it’s nice that Venom doesn’t kill him. That’s one of the better surprises in the story.
Fleischer brought us the superb “Zombieland” and the writers have done well before, but what shows up onscreen feels like there was too much interference from the powers that be who clearly chopped this one up left and right. Some transitions don’t match, a lot of the CGI seems rushed, and Hardy has gone on record stating that many of the best bits he filmed ended up on the cutting room floor.
In the end, some of the action is fun and some of the dialogue gets laughs, but this materialshould have stayed edgy and more serious. The narrative could have examined themes of duality and the “Jekyll & Hyde” aspects of those who play vigilante, but film would rather snicker. One scene towards the end finds Eddie and Venom stopping a thief by biting his head off with the symbiote’s ginormous fangs. Then they walk away like it’s no big deal. Committing murder should’ve eaten Eddie alive, but he laughs it off. He smirks at his amorality as if it’s nothing to marvel at whatsoever.
Watch the trailer for Venom below: