VENOM is a film that was always going to be the subject of ridicule by some of the film-going public. Separated from the incredibly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe and focusing on a character whose entire origin is tied to a character that the film can't use because of that fact, VENOM was already off to a bad start. When you couple that with the notion that the character is seen as a poster boy of the needlessly “edgy" comic book movement of the 90's, the story of disgraced journalist Eddie Brock and his excessively violent alien parasite was going to have to do a lot right to win people over.
So, how does it do? Well, that's not an easy question to answer.
Fittingly, VENOM does feel like a relic of 90's superhero film sensibilities. Every shot is color corrected in such a way as to look slightly cold. The cinematography gives the film an overly glossy sheen. Every scene looks like it's ready-made to be used as filler in an Evanescence music video. The action in the film is quickly edited and feels jumbled. Even the film's climactic action scene is nearly incoherent as it becomes, quite literally, a jumbled mess of CGI slamming against itself.
It doesn't fare much better from a writing standpoint as well. All the characters are very thinly sketched. We are told that Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) is a brilliant investigative journalist but we're never really shown any reasons why this is true. We are told that Brock and his girlfriend Anne, played by the criminally underutilized Michelle Williams (BLUE VALENTINE) are in love and on the verge of getting married but we don't get any sense of why they actually love each other. The villain of the piece, CEO Carlton Drake, played by Riz Ahmed (FOUR LIONS) doesn’t fare any better as he seems to be evil and insane for no other reason than that's what the plot calls for to move forward.
The story also seems to be missing an entire middle act where Brock and Venom decide to work together to save the world. As it stands in the movie now, Venom deciding to help is handled with just a couple lines of dialogue quickly thrown out before the third act begins. It feels like the writers couldn't really come up with a moment to define Venom's change from selfishness to reluctant hero. So, they glossed over it as quickly as they could.
Speaking of dialogue, it is so obvious in places you will feel like you can recite the words back to the screen before the actors say them. For example, there's a moment when someone recognizes Brock when he's down on his luck asks him if he's the famous investigative journalist Eddie Brock, Hardy replies with a boozy, "I use to be."
Seems pretty clear where this is going, right? Well, despite all those obvious flaws VENOM still manages to entertain due to a couple things. The first one is the performance of Tom Hardy. A lot has been made out of Hardy's choice to use a peculiar accent but I think at this point we have to accept that unusual vocal choices are something that is part of Hardy as an actor now. Here, it is forgivable once it's clear how committed to the role he is and how much fun he seems to be having as the ball of sweaty, nervous tics Eddie Brock becomes once he gets infected with the titular alien symbiote. Hardy's commitment to the absurdity of what the script asks of him as he lurches across the screen like a poorly controlled marionette in these early parts of the film make them a joy to watch if you are willing to meet the film on its own, admittedly lowbrow, terms.
The other thing that makes the film work, almost despite itself is the relationship between Brock and Venom. Somewhere in the evolution of the film a decision was made to play their relationship somewhere between a bickering married couple and a LETHAL WEAPON-style team up where the brazen Venom drags nervous, sputtering Eddie Brock into the thick of the action against his wishes. Their banter and relationship working as well as it does was the biggest surprise the film held. If there is a sequel and judging by early box office results that seems likely, I hope the relationship between the two characters is given even more of a focus as it was more engaging and enjoyable then whatever the actual plot of the movie had in store.
VENOM certainly exhibits some of the worst traits of your typical superhero film but there are things to enjoy and even admire about it. Are those things enough to completely compensate for all its flaws? No, not really but the film is not the utter train wreck some would have you believe. There's enough good presented here to work towards better films in the franchise’s future. A better plot, a stronger villain (the film already lays the groundwork for a vast improvement on that aspect during the now obligatory mid-credits scene), and improved direction would give the next film in the series a framework worthy of the duo at the center of it all. For now though, VENOM is a deeply flawed film with enjoyable elements that shouldn't be ignored. If you are a fan of the character or superhero films in general, you'll likely find something to enjoy here. There are definitely worse ways to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon at the local multiplex.
- Matthew Essary