Immediately prior to the climactic sequence of director Ruben Fleischer’s “Venom,” the alien creature who gives the film its title announces to its host, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), that they have zero chance to win the upcoming battle. Do they stop and come up with an idea that might succeed? No. No they don’t. Instead, the alien Symbiote (as it is known) and its host plunge headlong into the fight with the belief that they will die.
Is this a foolish act? Is it heroic? Quite probably it’s both, but it is also a perfect example of the biggest problem with the film – “Venom” is a movie that rushes forward with little thought of what is going on, less view to the wider world, and seemingly no consideration for those it drags on its wild ride.
For those not in the know – Venom, the comic character, is intimately tied into the Spider-Man universe. However, due to film rights and deals, on the big screen Spider-Man is currently tied into the MCU while Venom is not, which in turn means that this Venom exists in a world without the wall crawler.
That aspect of the film is fine. Yes, there are still some similarities between Venom’s look and Spidey’s, but they’re easy enough to get past. This is all the more true because while Spider-Man looks great in his latest incarnation, Venom is kind of a toothy CGI human pudding lizard. There is something distinctly wrong about him every single time he comes out of Eddie Brock to terrorize a new victim. It is unsettling, but not in the dark, horror way it’s supposed to be unsettling.
With Spidey out of the way, Eddie Brock’s adversary here is billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who is responsible for bringing several Symbiotes back to Earth. Venom, for his part, is largely concerned with surviving. The creature needs a suitable host, which he finds in Brock, but while attached to Brock he can’t help snacking on the reporter’s internal organs. It’s not very symbiotic.
Venom is a user of others, much more parasite than anything else. Venom recognizes Brock as a similar user of others, a man happy to toss away his engagement to Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) if there’s a chance he can get dirt on the nefarious experiments it is rumored that Drake runs at his corporation.
If one is looking for character arc, it is that over the course of the movie Venom and Brock must learn to work together, to be a team, to actually have a symbiotic relationship if they are to survive. Going back to the climactic battle mentioned above, however, the symbiotic relationship between the two, they are well aware, will not be enough to win. Smarts apparently don’t factor in to their working together.
The whole movie feels ill-considered, with the tone all over the place. There are intentional bits of humor, far more elements of unintentional humor, mild horror, unconvincing sci-fi, and ho-hum action.
It is the second item in that list, the unintentional humor, that is most prominent. No two actors in this film feel like they are in the same movie and it leads to some laughs.
Ahmed plays Drake as the most paper thin sort of James Bond megalomaniacal villain, one who is so smart that he explains basic science to his fellow scientist and employee, Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate). These explanations are really for the audience, but don’t work at all in the context of the film.
Williams is in a comedy alongside Reid Scott, who plays her new boyfriend, a doctor more than willing to help out Brock despite it not being his specialty, his girlfriend’s hatred of her ex, and just plain good sense. Williams and Scott are quite good in the movie. In fact, they represent some of the best parts of the film, but they are far from its center.
Hardy is, largely, in a horror movie. Brock is terrified of what is happening to him, of the voice in his head, and just how ill he is becoming. But, it’s not a straight horror movie. It may have the silly quips of horror to cut the tension, but it all definitely has a sci-fi edge to it. Actually, that element largely apes Leigh Whannell’s “Upgrade” from earlier this year. Although, the latter did the dialogue between internal voice and external voice in better fashion.
From start to finish, there is little to recommend “Venom.” Even for a silly comic book movie, the plot is ludicrous. As a horror film it features one or two jump scares and that’s it. The intentional humor isn’t prevalent enough to make this a comedy. The action sequences are jittery and fail to build. It does have enjoyable performances, but they don’t mesh with one another. They are not, in a word, symbiotic.
The biggest question one will have coming out of “Venom” is if Sony will indeed use this as a launching pad for their Spider-Man-less other Spider character universe, or if they will drop it, as they did other plans following the release of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
“Venom” is a misfire, to say the least.
photo credit: Sony Pictures