When director Sam Raimi was creating his original Spider-Man trilogy, Sony Pictures approached him with the idea of using Venom, a fan favorite character from the comic books, as the villain for the series’ third installment. Raimi passed on it, saying that he simply didn’t understand the character, and tossing him into a film that already had two villains written in might muddle the story being told and not give justice to that character. Sony realized that they were being too polite; Venom had to be in Spider-Man 3, and so it was done, and so ended the first iconic superhero franchise in cinema history (in Spider-Man 3, Venom gets the line “My spider sense is tingling, if you know what I’m talking about!” as he gestures down towards his groin).
Eleven years and another failed Spider-Man series later, Sony is back to try this again, this time with star Tom Hardy (do I even need to list what this man has been in?) and director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) at the helm.
What’s the result? Still bad. How bad? Not the worst thing ever, but still pretty bad. Venom is just a rushed mess. The pacing and editing is all over the place, the tone shifts rapidly back and forth (is it supposed to be dark, scary monster horror or fun, silly Marvel Studios shtick?), and most of the acting is lackluster. Here’s the silly plot: Billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) retrieves three samples of an alien symbiote from out in space. One of them escapes and is on the loose, the others are held in Drake’s laboratories, until one day reporter Eddie Brock (Hardy) breaks in and accidentally becomes infected by one of the symbiotes known as “Venom”.
Here’s where it gets weird. Venom has a personality all of his own, becoming a literal voice in Eddie’s head. He tells Eddie where to go and what to do, tells him that he wants to eat people, that he and the other symbiotes are going to take over the planet, and tells Eddie to apologize to his girlfriend. Venom also calls Eddie a pussy at one point. And his voice popping in and out just becomes a really bizarre choice. Whatever threatening presence Venom has at the start of the film is immediately lost when he gets inside of Eddie, and the film does a strange shift where Venom basically becomes comedic relief. He also quickly becomes a good person(?), fighting for the good side, and the shift from an alien monster that literally bites people’s heads off to Earth-saving good guy is a little jarring. Venom is certainly an anti-hero, but his change of heart happens much too quickly and with almost no explanation, other than it’s time to wrap this movie up.
Tom Hardy is an immense talent, and Eddie Brock is a fun enough character. Oddly enough, even though Venom gets neutered once he and Eddie combine, that’s when Hardy gets to really shine. The infected Eddie is a ton of fun to witness, and Hardy, whose face is usually hidden behind a mask of some kind in his films, goes into full Jim Carrey mode, making the most ridiculous of expressions. It’s honestly a delight to see Hardy acting so manic and being so expressive. It makes you wish that they had committed to making Venom more of a straight comedy as opposed to whatever they were going for with this.
Venom feels like a comic book movie that escaped from 2003. It’s stupid without having fun with it, the action is loud and dizzying (but Venom’s powers are pretty cool to watch), and most of the characters are thin. Poor Michelle Williams is stuck as simply “Eddie’s girlfriend”, and lacks a personality that’s any more than that. Near the end of the film, she has the line “Sorry about Venom.” It might as well be an apology to the audience, but the real apology is owed to everyone involved in this.
It’s thankless and only further proof that Sony still cannot figure out how to put together a superhero universe correctly. The film ends with a mid-credits sequence that blatantly attempts to set up a sequel, and it’s something that should be met only with eye-rolls.
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Tom Hardy gives it his all, but Venom falls short in almost every way. It has bad acting, bad pacing and editing, and a silly yet still somehow dull plot. It's another swing and a miss from Sony.
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