The first film in the newly created “Sony Universe of Marvel Characters”, “Venom” tells the story of beligured journalist Eddie Brock (played by Tom Hardy) who, during an investigation of the exploitative practices of the enigmatic Life Foundation, inadvertently bonds with a parasitic alien symbiote that grants him great power at the cost of an overwhelming cannibalistic hunger. Try as he might with a distinctive mix of awkward charm and physical comedy, not even the Oscar-nominated Hardy can save this tonally confused joke of movie that utterly fails in adapting one the most interesting characters in comics.
Part of what makes the character of Venom so compelling as a character is his complex relationship with Spider-Man, a character absolutely to Venom’s powers, design, and motivations. However, the wall-crawler was completely unavailable for this movie due to his current role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, the filmmakers chose to adapt Venom in a story that completely divorces him from the Spider-Man property, with the side effect of making him into more of a monster with funny gimmick. In terms of story, the script is weak and derivative, recycling many of the genre’s cliches and full of nonsensical plot points. The only consistently enjoyable aspect of the film is the relationship Eddie and the symbiote (both portrayed by Hardy). Though the bond is a bit rushed, the two characters work well off each other, with Eddie trying to tame Venom’s more violent tendencies and Venom coming to the value of the human race, eventually choosing to prevent the incoming invasion by his species.
Of course, even if a script is mediocre, it can still be elevated by actors giving serious, inspired performances. Unfortunately for “Venom”, aside from Tom Hardy’s eccentric antics, the rest of the cast seem content to coast on name recognition and collect their paychecks. Riz Ahmed has a little fun in his role, but ultimately fails to bring Carlton Drake above anything other than generic doomsday villain. Michelle Williams portrayal of Anne Weying is effortless, in that she puts next to no effort into her bored, subdued performance. Jenny Slate does well enough as Life Foundation scientist and whistleblower Dora Skirth, but her character could have greatly benefited from a more fleshed out backstory and motivation.
While not the worst the genre has to offer, the film’s effects are nothing to praise. Venom’s design is as good as it could be, but that doesn’t prevent half of scenes seeming straight of a PS4 game. The only interesting action scene involving the character is his brief but brutal showdown with the SWAT team at the end of the second act, giving viewers a taste of a much better film that the filmmakers sadly lacked the vision to give us. The absolute low point has to be the final battle against Riot (played by Riz Ahmed), which is so blandly choreographed and poorly rendered that it utterly kills the film’s climax.
Overall, Venom is a mess. A sometimes enjoyable mess, but a mess nonetheless. Tom Hardy gives memorable, if wacky performance in the dual role Eddie/Venom, and sometimes the film veers into “So Bad, It’s Good” territory with its awful dialogue and failed attempts at edginess. However, for fans seeking a worthy adaptation of an iconic comic book super-villain, the film lives up to its namesake, poisoning our hopes and leaving us sickened and disgusted.