When I published my pre-Venom thoughts a few days ago, I was feeling optimistic for the film. Then I started seeing the critical reviews and the reactions on Twitter, and most of them were not favourable, with a couple comparing it to 2004’s Catwoman in terms of atrociousness. Damning, indeed. But I don’t always agree with the critics – I found merit in Terminator: Genisys, for instance – and besides, if Venom really was that bad, it might even be fun. There’s a difference between being bad like Catwoman, and being bad like Batman v Superman, and I will take the former any day of the week.
Tonight, I saw the film. Verdict: my optimism was sadly misplaced. It’s bad, and despite some tentative knocking at the door, not quite bad enough to be fun.
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist who, when given the chance to interview space-tech entrepreneur Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), tries to confront him with accusations of dangerous experimentation. This proves a mistake, as Eddie loses both his job and his fiancee Anne (Michelle Williams). Six months later, struggling to make ends meet, Eddie is reluctantly persuaded to investigate Drake again; it turns out that Drake has obtained alien organisms called symbiotes, and is trying to bond them to human hosts, in the hopes of allowing humans to colonise other planets. After infiltrating Drake’s facility, Eddie ends up becoming host himself to a symbiote named Venom, granting him super-powers, a sinister voice inside his head, and a strong desire to eat living flesh.
The beginning of the film is painfully dull; Eddie only bonds with the symbiote around the 40 minute mark, and it takes another 20 minutes for him to make a full transformation into Venom. From there, the film is certainly better, but still can’t be called good. Most of it feels very generic, less like a Venom film and more like the pilot for a Venom TV series. There is little effort put in: from Michelle Williams’s reluctantly supportive love interest; to Riz Ahmed’s corrupt villain, claiming that his work will save the world; to the action scenes where everything seemed to blend together and there was no real sense of time passing. The story and characters were so underdeveloped that I sometimes felt more like I was watching puppets going through the motions than living, breathing human characters. The script has such amazing examples of dialogue as the symbiote telling Eddie, “On my planet, I am kind of a loser, like you,” and wanting to convert some vanquished goons into a “pile of bodies, pile of heads.”
What makes it worse is that the potential was clearly there, and being squandered in favour of a rushed and lazy approach. Venom himself looks and sounds great – I especially liked the liquid movements and watery sound effects when the symbiote comes out to speak face-to-face with Eddie – and he gets some decent moments, hurling himself up the sides of buildings and single-handedly decimating an entire SWAT team. It should be noted that in spite of the promises of the trailers, which place emphasis on Venom threatening to eat people, the carnage is very much bloodless – and thus, disappointingly stale.
Eddie and Venom’s interactions are easily a highlight of the film, providing a laugh here and there, with Eddie trying desperately to keep his new buddy’s urges in check and the symbiote considering Eddie to be a “pussy”. But again, there was much more that could have been done with this; instead, alongside the back-and-forth banter, we get Venom giving a vague warning that more symbiotes are coming to destroy the planet, and then in the third act, he suddenly decides he’s enjoying living on Earth and is going to stop the threat. Tom Hardy recently revealed that his favourite parts of the film – 30-40 minutes’ worth – ended up on the cutting room floor; I have no difficulty in believing that from watching the final product. As for Hardy’s performance, maybe it’s the effect of the cuts, but I don’t know how he’s trying to approach things a lot of the time, and I’m not sure that even he does; he stumbles awkwardly from scene to scene, sometimes manic enough to be uncomfortable but not enough to be amusing.
If you watch the trailers and pre-released clips of Venom, you’re essentially seeing the best parts; beyond that, the film has little to offer but wasted potential. If a Venom film isn’t going to have him fighting Spider-Man, it should at least put some effort into playing with the character, and this film just doesn’t invest enough. If this is what we can expect from Morbius and any other stand-alone films Sony is making with Marvel characters (assuming they go ahead at all now), it’s going to take a lot to get me into my seat at the cinema. Rating: 2/5.