Just as Sony was rehabilitating its Spidey-related reputation amongst fans with their unprecedented co-production of Spider-Man: Homecoming with Marvel Studios, they got greedy. They decided to take the other Spidey-verse characters that they own and make stand-alone films completely separate from the universe they’d only just begun building.
There’s at least one big issue with this – most of these characters just don’t hold up when removed from Spider-Man related adventures. One of the few characters that might be able to stand of their own two feet (if the origin was completely retooled) is Venom, but you’d have to thread one hell of a needle to make it work. Thankfully, Sony cast one of the best actors working today to portray the anarchic anti-hero in Tom Hardy. Sadly, that’s the only good thing this film has going for it, as the movie surrounding Tom’s crazy and magnetic performance is the definition of vapid.
For those who are unfamiliar or haven’t been seeing the insane marketing push for the film (one that spoils the entire movie, including every moment of the last scene), Venom follows a down-on-his-luck reporter named Eddie Brock (Hardy) who, after losing everything, is infected with an intelligent alien symbiote, and must learn to work with it to save both the world and himself.
It’s hard to know who to blame for the disaster that is Venom. Was it a poor directorial choice, a bad script, or studio meddling that did it in? Honestly, it seems like the perfect storm of all three. Director Ruben Fleischer started his film career strong with Zombieland, but has failed to make anything, but bland, forgettable films ever since in 30 Seconds or Less & Gangster Squad. In Venom, he brings only more well-worn choices. The action is unremarkable, the FX work is spotty, and the cinematography is uninspired.
Then there’s the script, which, much like Sony’s poorly received Amazing Spider-Man films, is written by committee, with four writers credited (and who knows how many uncredited). When studios do this on their big projects it tends to create a final product that has no singular voice and is filled with compromise from all writers – which absolutely describes Venom. The dialogue is bland and clunky, and the plot is so smoothed-out and generic that you lose any eccentricities that could make it stand out (apart from Hardy’s performance). There’s also multiple giant gaps in logic that are either rushed by or simply never addressed (If Venom knows everything Brock knows, why does it have to ask him who his ex-fiancé is? If symbiotes need rare exact host matches, why does Venom seem to be able to bond with just about anything it wants to? Why did Venom change his motivations so quickly in the 3rd act? How is the supposedly “genius” villain, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), so generically evil and stupid throughout the film? The list goes on and on).
When it comes to possible studio meddling, we do know that Sony opted to take out most of the blood/gore and language (along with 30-40 extra minutes of “mystery” footage, according to Hardy) in order to smooth things over for the general audiences and get a PG-13 rating. In prior interviews with Hardy and Fleischer, it was said that they were likely aiming for something darker and more R rated – who knows what might have happened during the editing process.
As far as acting performances go, the only one truly worth discussing is Tom Hardy’s bonkers portrayal of Eddie Brock/Venom, as he is the saving grace of this film – and really the only reason the movie works on any level. Also, because the rest of the outstanding cast (Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams Jenny Slate, etc) either completely phone-in their parts (Riz Ahmed) or are given nothing to work with (Michelle Williams).
Hardy essentially plays Eddie like a human tornado, complete with strange little idiosyncrasies & another signature Tom Hardy quirky accent. As a journalist and fiancé, he’s abysmal and self-sabotaging. As a person he’s a bit of a sad-sack loser that blames the world for his problems. All of this is only magnified when Venom is introduced. And yet, due to Hardy’s charm, Brock is extremely likable. Surprisingly, the dynamic between Eddie and Venom is often times hilarious. Hardy’s zany choices don’t always work, but they’re always entertaining. He manages to take some intensely bland scenes and somehow make them watchable – which is a real testament to his talent and a massive blessing to this movie.
In the end, you have an outstanding performance by Hardy and then you have the truly putrid, generic, Green Lantern-level bad film that surrounds him. The good news is that if you took this character and placed him in a better, less neutered movie, you’d have a Deadpool-level hit on your hands. So, sure – see the movie. My hope is that Venom makes just enough money to warrant a sequel and that the extremely necessary creative changes are made. Better yet, Sony could just give Venom and Hardy over to Marvel like it did with Spider-Man, as the two should never have been separated in the first place. Either way, a better creative team is needed here – one that will use Venom as less of a world-saving, selfless hero and more of a world-devouring force of nature.