An alien life form bonds with a disgraced reporter and they find a way to work together in Ruben Fleischer’s Venom.
Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock; a reporter who prides himself on bringing down the corrupt and exposing the truth even if that’s harmful to his reputation. Eddie Brock being a crusader for justice by reporting the facts is something the film gets out of the way quickly and does very little with. The same can be said about all the characters but Eddie stands out as being particularly underdeveloped since he is the protagonist. There’s just nothing about his character to latch onto and it’s unclear what really motivates him. Is he a crusader for justice, a hero, a villain, an anti-hero or does he want revenge for those he feels has wronged him? The film hints at all of these but runs with none of them.
Early on the film burns through backstory as if it wants to get out of the way and fails to expand on it. In a better film it could be an example of economic plotting to build the world and the characters that live in it but Venom treats this as a nuisance that has to be included rather than crafting a setup that audiences can invest in.
Basically this is a story about Eddie Brock bonding with an alien creature known as a symbiote and gaining super powers as a result. The creature is alive and talks to him which actually works really well to the point that more of the film should have focused on the buddy cop style connection between Eddie and his parasitic companion. The various conversations they have along with the various comments that the symbiote drops in while Eddie is trying to have a conversation are often entertaining and make good use of Tom Hardy’s manic energy that completely carries this film. His performance makes for consistently entertaining viewing especially when he’s making a scene in public. The character doesn’t have enough depth for Hardy to inject any meaningful emotion into the material but he certainly hams it up with the best of them when required.
The other characters don’t fare as well as Eddie does. Michelle Williams’ Ann Weying feels so perfunctory that the film would lose very little if she was cut completely. She does a good enough job with the material she’s given when she’s on screen but Ann is so poorly written that she fails to establish an identity of her own. It’s hard to buy into their relationship because so little effort is made to establish a meaningful connection between them.
Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake makes for a limp moustache twirling villain who comes across as so cartoonishly evil there’s no way he could keep his megalomania hidden from the public. Most of his scenes involve him explaining the plot to someone else or dropping random snippets of exposition about symbiotes. There’s nothing more to him than that and the antagonistic relationship between him and Eddie doesn’t exist so it becomes another thing that is impossible to invest in.
The biggest problem with Venom is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be so it combines several elements into a package that doesn’t work. Isolated ingredients are entertaining enough on their own such as the afore mentioned Eddie/symbiote connection and the snippets of body horror associated with an alien creature trying to find a compatible host but nothing is focused on for long enough to come into its own. Arguments could also be made for it being a comedy horror but nothing lingers long enough to stick. There is potential in there that fails to be realised. One saving grace is that it never stops for long enough to become boring and there’s a morbid curiosity associated with what incoherent lunacy the next scene will bring. It feels like a relic of the pre Marvel Cinematic Universe era and would fit right in with films of that time like Ghost Rider, Daredevil and Fantastic Four.
It’s clear that there has been a lot of interference throughout the production to the point that the story makes no sense and isn’t really about anything. This is especially apparent in a second act that breezes by so quickly you’d be forgiven for thinking it doesn’t have one. The symbiote’s motivations completely change within seconds and it feels like there’s a lot missing from the point it shows Eddie what it’s capable of to them becoming the titular hulking creature.
Another problematic aspect of the film is the visuals. Outside of a handful of shots here and there Venom looks terrible and the film doesn’t even make excuses for Eddie reverting to human form in a clear money saving measure. Most of the action is disjointed other than a well put together motorcycle chase that makes good use of the symbiote’s abilities. The climactic battle is an incomprehensible mess that is so badly shot and edited I’d believe it if someone told me that it was filmed on a smartphone while the person carrying it fell down a flight of stairs.
As a fan of Spider-Man and someone who covers comic book adaptations to a great extent on this site I couldn’t end my review without addressing the connection -or lack thereof- to Spider-Man. Venom exists as a character because of Spider-Man so this film had to make radical changes to the origin in order to make this character exist. To my mind none of those changes were justified and the lack of Spider-Man as a motivator for both Eddie Brock and his symbiote companion isn’t replaced by anything worthwhile. Outside of this it’s a reasonably faithful adaptation of the character in terms of the details though I recognise that being truly faithful to the comics should come secondary to telling a good story which this film doesn’t do. It is my view that Venom is a far more interesting character when that connection to Spider-Man is exploited so it would have taken some really clever plotting to make worthwhile alterations and I just don’t see that much of an attempt was made here.
Despite the many flaws I can’t say I was ever bored by Venom. Tom Hardy carries the film nicely with a manic energy that makes for entertaining viewing and at least one of the action sequences is well put together. The characters are painfully underdeveloped, the story barely exists and visually the film is a complete mess but there are hints of potential that make it just watchable enough as a curiosity.
- Tom Hardy’s manic energy
- a well put together motorcycle chase
- the back and forth between Eddie Brock and the symbiote
- a non existent story
- terrible visuals
- poorly developed characters
- a disjointed narrative
- the complete lack of focus on what the film is supposed to be
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