Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Jenny Slate
Runtime: 112 Minutes
The Venom movie has been stirring in the bowels of Sony’s film division ever since the purchase of Spider-Man rights nearly two decades ago. A Marvel antagonist created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane, the character is a parasitic symbiotic alien with the attributes of Spider-Man that when bonded with original human host Eddie Brock becomes Venom; a physical embodiment of many of the worst trends of 80s/90s comics, with a grimdark sensibility and very little to actually work with beyond his changed status to an anti-hero.
So conceiving of a film that not only seems to exist to keep the lights on at Sony, but after the shared custody offering with the Spider-Man character with Marvel Studios meaning they can no longer work him into the origin story, the lost and mangled mess of this solo outing (intended to launch a series of solo films for more of the characters they still hold the rights to) screams of compromise and contempt from a studio and filmmakers that realised too late the terrible mistake they had made.
Venom looks and feels anachronistic in the light of the current superhero dominated landscape, with a screenplay, aesthetic and barebones component construction that feels about 15 years out of date.
Tom Hardy takes on leading duties as investigative journalist Eddie Brock who becomes the unwilling host to the evil symbiote after prying into the unethical treatment of Elon Musk analogue Carlton Drake (a terribly bored looking Riz Ahmed) and his Life Foundation, who we’re told aspire to conquer the stars by bonding humans with the alien creatures in one of many pointless monologues from Drake.
That’s pretty much it as far as any actual plot is concerned, following a lengthy setup establishing Brock’s broken relationship with ex-wife Anne Weying (and even wearier looking Michelle Williams) and his lot in life being ruined by his recklessness.
Venom finally emerges in all his slimy, poorly rendered glory nearly an hour in, and is restricted to a handful of poorly shot action scenes in rapid succession before it’s time to fight Drake and the evil(er) symbiote, Riot. Wherein the entire film devolves into a headache-inducing mess of dark coloured CGI slime with bad lighting and shooting techniques making it almost incomprehensible to follow let alone watch.
The evidence of much post-production tampering is plainly obvious in many forms. Manic tonal shifts, inconsistent characters and motivations, a rushed and truncated structure that almost forgets to have either a second or third act, and some blatant continuity errors in editing show the scars of the rush job made to make it in any way releasable. It’s very clear that this was intended to be a darker and more violent film at some point, but is neutered of any real bloodshed and makes Venom’s constant verbal threats of eating people all bark and no bite.
What’s even less satisfying than its treatment of the character is the leading performance from Tom Hardy, who feels horribly miscast and uncomfortable in every scene he’s in as the CGI, pyrotechnics and wirework fulfil much of the action for him. Leaving him as adrift a passenger in his own movie as he does whenever the awful creature is onscreen.
Made worse by horrible dialogue, a comedy schtick between him and Venom that grates quickly, and sequences in which Hardy gurns and throws himself around the scenery that’s so embarrassingly strange that it’s almost funny.
There are solitary moments in which it almost looks like it could have worked if played more in one direction, or allowed it’s hideous title character to indulge his desires more often, but a lack of any discernible theme or arc working through its shockingly vapid and hollow series of events – never mind its many technical shortcomings – leaves this a dreary, empty nothing of an outing for a boring character who deserves every bit of scorn coming his way.