At least this one wasn’t the train wreck everyone was expecting it to be…it’s just dangerously close.
After an emergency crash landing sends a Life Foundation spaceship hurtling to Earth with four alien symbiotic life forms in tow, reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), is soon taken over and consumed by the parasite known as Venom, the infamous Spider-Man villain with a maniacal sense of humor and murderous outlook on life that usually spells death and destruction to any good or bad guy within their general vicinity. But when Life Foundation CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) finds out that one of his prized symbiotes has gone missing, he takes it upon himself and his hired goons to hunt Venom and his new host down so that he can “save humanity” by finding a way to make parasite and host coexist in a mutually beneficial way…a way that obviously doesn’t go as planned. Now, Eddie and Venom must learn to work together to not only survive, but to protect his ex-fiance, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) from being swept up in their mess, and stop any new symbiotes from running amok. Oh, and there’s also a lot of maiming and dismembering along the way too. Well, as much as a PG-13 rating can allow.
So this film isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s not part of any previous Spider-Man films, hell, it doesn’t even mention ol’ Web Head nor allude to the fact that originally Venom’s back-story was intrinsically linked to him, but despite all of this, and as its own standalone film (for now), things could have been a whole lot worse. Not by much, mind you, but the potential for this thing to be as bad as the Fantastic Four reboot or Suicide Squad was definitely in the cards. Luckily, that isn’t the case here because more or less, this is the film I was expecting even if it wasn’t the film I wanted.
I can’t say that there was a lot in this film that was done “right”. I can’t even say that it’s main strengths i.e. the Eddie/Venom dynamic and some of the action are both good enough to keep this film afloat, but what I will say is that there are enough times where the film becomes entertaining, fun and dare I say it, competent to a point that I genuinely enjoyed myself despite the fact that the filmmakers and (I’m sure) the studio seemed to not know what they were doing for a lot of the runtime. It’s not that they mishandled the character, or the fact that the story is just plain dumb, it’s the clear fact that this film was initially intended to be an R rated affair that gets me the most. Between the shifting tones, the use of a lot of PG-13 allowed curse words and the general violence that screams of wanting to take that next step into something truly gruesome, I can’t for the life of me understand why they didn’t just pull the trigger and go for it. Logan and Deadpool are obviously the pinnacle of what an R rated comic book film can do, and I feel that since the filmmakers/studio decided to cater to a broader audience instead of honing in on what could have made this film better, a lot got lost in the shuffle.
Now that’s not to say that this film needed to be rated R, but when the film is about a character who’s speeches usually include eating someone’s pancreas or wanting to straight up murder a person, I think it’d have been a better idea to just let the character loose on an unsuspecting audience and let him do what he does best: be an anti-hero with questionable tactics that somehow still has a beating heart underneath all that gooey black stuff. The funny thing about it is that while the opening half hour or so is a little slow on the uptake, the filmmakers genuinely try to build Eddie up as a character as well as the terror of what these symbiotes can do. There was more than one scene where I was surprised at how competently the filmmakers portrayed their intentions for this film, whether it was a clever back and forth between Eddie and Venom or a brutal battle between Venom and the goons hunting them, there was always a light shining at the end of the tunnel to assure me that there was some good underneath all of the monotony and bad storytelling choices. Couple that with a great, physical performance by Hardy and a few choice lines from his symbiote pal, and you could have had a merely average superhero flick that doesn’t overstay its welcome but does just enough to entertain.
But any good will conjured up by these scenes almost immediately evaporates when the third act rolls around and all the threads and storylines come together in an incoherent mess, specifically when it relates to anything involving Riz Ahmed’s character. Considering that his character is paper thin and completely pointless in the grand scheme of the story, the entire last twenty minutes is a mad scramble to position Venom and Riot (the other symbiote featured here) to fight to the death just because it’s what all other superhero films do. It’s almost as if the filmmakers stopped trying just to rush an action-packed climax simply because they had no idea how to end the film in a way that did justice to what came before and for that, the film is dragged down considerably.
Venom isn’t going to get you to think differently about a Spider-Man villain getting his own movie without said superhero anywhere to be found, but it’s not going to make you hate the idea either. There’s enough entertaining aspects of this film – especially whenever Venom and Eddie are onscreen – to give the proceedings a late 90s, early 00s feel, but doesn’t have nearly enough storytelling chops or interesting characters to make it anything but. The acting, outside of Tom Hardy whom I genuinely enjoyed, is terrible and while the CGI is serviceable for most of the film, the third act is a complete computerized fuck-fest with barely anything going for it save for some video game-y looking action and some symbiote on symbiote carnage. I didn’t hate this film but at the same time I didn’t exactly want this to be the way it turned out, so I’ll split the difference and hope that the sequel sets this franchise on sturdier legs.