Published on October 7th, 2018 | by Damien Straker
Venom – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on the 6th of October 2018
Sony presents a film by Ruben Fleischer
Produced by Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach and Amy Pascal
Screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel
Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate and Reid Scott
Music by Ludwig Göransson
Cinematography Matthew Libatique
Edited by Maryann Brandon and Alan Baumgarten
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: the 4th of October 2018
Venom is terrible and the worst film of Tom Hardy’s varied career. He is the sole reason why his co-stars Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed would be attached to such dreck. The only other interesting aspect of this Spider-Man spin-off is its extensive development history. It provides some clarity about the difficulty of assembling this troubled comic book vehicle.
The project first came to light in the late 1990s. To summarise how much dust its accumulated, Dolph Lundgren was originally meant to star as the anti-hero and nemesis of Spider-Man, Venom. Todd McFarlane, the character’s creator, warned that a villain wouldn’t work as a leading man, but Hollywood persisted. Topher Grace was to resume the role after he played Venom in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
Various other filmmakers were hired to direct the spin-off but wisely backed away, including Josh Trank (Fantastic Four), Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) and Alex Kurtzman (The Mummy). There was also contention as to whether Venom would integrate into the Marvel Cinematic Universe or become comparable to Fox’s adult superhero movies, such as Logan (2017) and Deadpool (2016).
Unfortunately, the project fell to Ruben Fleischer who has not had a major hit since the horror‑comedy Zombieland (2009). He has no concept of the tone or mood he’s striking. His film reverts from a B-grade sci-fi horror film to a cringing, unintentional comedy on a whim. Consequently, Venom wastes a rich cast on scenes that are either hilariously bad or worse, generic, boring and poorly realised.
What was Tom Hardy thinking with this script? It opens with a spacecraft crashing upon re-entry into Malaysia. On board are four alien samples, or more specifically a symbiotic life form that uses a human body as a host before leaping to another victim. Three of the samples are recovered by the Life Foundation and brought to San Francisco. The company’s CEO is Carlton Drake (Ahmed). He tests the samples on the homeless people he abducts. Admittedly, this process sounds far less torturous after sitting through Venom.
Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a hot-shot reporter who rides around on a motorcycle and is happily dating Annie (Williams), a district attorney. One evening, he opens her emails and discovers damning information about Carlton. When Eddie interviews him, the CEO objects to the questions, and Eddie is fired. Somehow (don’t ask) this leads to Annie being dismissed too. She blames Eddie and leaves him. Her ownership of this information is never discussed again, which is typical of the story’s contrivances.
The next part of the movie is hysterically awful. It should have been rebranded The Bachelor: Eddie Brock Edition or become Eddie’s audition tape for Queer Eye. Without Annie, Eddie’s bills go unpaid, his tiny apartment is messy, and he becomes a hopeless wreck. Wisely, Annie moves on quickly and starts dating Dr. Dan Lewis (Veep’s Reid Scott, which really made me laugh). Eddie’s transition into a bum is so brisk, we’re left asking why a high-profile lawyer like Annie bothered with him.
Fortunately, one of Carlton’s key scientists, Dr. Dora Skirth (comedian Jenny Slate wearing a lab coat and glasses no less), realises how mad he is. She contacts Eddie and then sneaks him into the lab to prove that his suspicions about the company were right. ‘He’s using poor people as guinea pigs!’, she cries. Contacting Eddie’s former employer and whistle-blowing would have been simpler but never mind.
She hides him from the guards but is laughably unconcerned about security cameras. Eddie is accidentally infected with the symbiotic life form and becomes a host for Venom, an alien from space. Once Eddie and Venom become one, they are pursued by Carlton’s bald goons. Eddie can transform into the beast, break through tree branches and leap up into the sky, unlike the test subjects who dutifully remained in their cells instead of breaking the glass.
By making Venom an anti-hero, there are no clear stakes or a strong antagonist to consistently challenge he and Eddie. Instead, their only enemies are generic henchmen who fire assault weapons and chase them in big black cars. Venom can effortlessly pound men with his Inspector Gadget-like arms, which renders the pitiful action scenes tensionless. In one lame sequence, Eddie rides away from his opponents while Venom swats their cars and drones.
The only person smiling and screaming ‘this is cool!’ is Eddie because he’s either seen his paycheck or he knows that he is invincible. By introducing a major villain only at the very end, it renders Venom’s only major foe weightless and impersonal. The climax too, a fistfight, is a shamelessly derivative conclusion. The films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are formulaic, but they’ve proven the necessity of outlining the heroes and villains, which is something that was desperately needed here.
Venom’s most enjoyable component is its appalling dialogue. The script is so badly written that it will be parodied and imitated mercilessly for years to come. The evil Carlton has some typically gloomy lines, such as ‘Begin human trials’, ‘God has abandoned us!’, and a Bible verse or three. It’s one stop short of a moustache twirl. The exposition spouted by Dora is also hilariously stupid. In her squeakiest voice, Dora shares this revelation about Carlton:
‘There are some things he can’t control like climate change, so he’s using rockets to scout out real estate!’, she says.
Eddie replies, ‘So he’s putting aliens and humans together to live in space!’
This is an example of the film’s horribly clunky exposition coupled with its poorly thought-out pseudo-science themes. Similarly, Venom’s characterisation is equally as careless. His lines earned the most unintentional laughs from the preview screening’s audience. His physical struggle inside Eddie’s body is summarised by this bizarre line. ‘I am inside your head. You are a loser, Eddie!’ he growls.
Do aliens have a concept of what being a loser means on their home planet? They must because later Venom concedes that he too is a loser. What? Venom also inexplicably provides Eddie with relationship advice. When Eddie and Annie make up, Venom chimes in to say: ‘Aw that’s nice!’ Venom’s buddy traits and his penchant for romance are completely out of step with his hideous form and violent ways. The contradiction is never explained.
Venom has the right actors available but is clueless about utilising their strengths. There are many examples where Tom Hardy’s energy should have been reined in. His mesmerising but hyperactive work in one restaurant scene is so overwrought I felt sorry for the poor lobsters involved. He’s an intense actor who can play almost any role, but unless he’s well directed, comedy is not an avenue he should explore. Michelle Williams is one of the best actresses I’ve ever seen. Yet she is never allowed to become a strong emotional cornerstone, and save for one brief action beat, she is relegated to a simplistic ex-girlfriend role. Riz Ahmed has no opportunities to deepen Carlton beyond a one-dimensional caricature of an evil scientist.
As unintentionally hilarious as its scenes and dialogue are, Venom does not justify its long development. Its poor direction and design are summarised by its wildly unstable tone and tension-less action scenes, meaning it fails on every level. Before the script was completed, it needed clarity about who its major villain was and the type of film it intended to be. Minus these key ingredients, Venom wavers clumsily between comedy and low-grade horror. The filmmakers even had the nerve to include a post-credit sequence. The assumption that anyone with a functioning brain would want more is arrogant and patronising. Instead, we should wait for Eddie Brock’s Bachelor debut. He needs a long break and a makeover.
Summary: Venom is terrible and the worst film of Tom Hardy’s varied career.