It was hard not to cringe when news broke of Sony’s plans to make Venom. The last time we saw this character in their hands, we saw a shaky Topher Grace portray the anti-hero, in a bad movie. Not to mention their mishandling of other movies in the genre (Spider-Man and Ghost Rider). The cringe turned into intrigue when the cast was revealed. Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed and Jenny Slate are some of my favorite actors and some of the best in all of Hollywood. Even though a strong cast far from guarantees a film’s success, I couldn’t help but let my intrigue turn into excitement. In the theater all of that excitement quickly dissipated because Venom is an absolute mess of a film.
The mess is noticeable pretty early on and depending on how closely I nitpick, it begins almost immediately. A rather generic opening sequence of a spacecraft crash caused by a mysterious creature on board, leads to an infection and what appears to be a zombie of some sort. I was able to overlook this strange start because in my mind, the movie really started when our main characters appeared on screen. Ironically, that is also when the disappointment started. We get a couple quick scenes of Eddie Brock (Hardy) and his fiancé, Anne Weying (Williams). They go on a date and share “cute” couple banter before work. They are a typical movie couple. These scenes, which are meant to establish a loving relationship, move too quickly for anything real to be established. Which makes the subsequent betrayal by Brock (he takes classified information off Anne’s computer) and break up a bit jarring. Their break up is accompanied by his harsh and rather unfair firing for questioning Carlton Drake (Ahmed). All of this sends Brock down a sad and depressing path.
Like most heroes that stumble down this path (all do at some time or the other) a life changing event occurs. This is the part of the film that is supposed to create the connection, an emotional bond that should be built between audience and main character. This is important because this bond will up the stakes and bring tension to the third act. That doesn’t happen with Venom. The main reason this doesn’t happen is because what he loses was never established in any real way, so when he does it isn’t all that bothersome. Another problem is that a mopey Tom Hardy wasn’t all that good. Between a shaky accent and odd humor beats the incredibly compelling actor wasn’t all that interesting. Even the gaining of a “parasite” (as he calls it) that turns him into the anti-hero “Venom” doesn’t really add any intrigue. Most of that is just awkward apologizes to people trying to kill him. While the performance is far from Hardy’s best it isn’t all his fault, the seven credited writers don’t help him out at all. It felt like they wrote the role assuming his charisma would make up for the lack of depth and intrigue in the character. Unfortunately it doesn’t and the final product is an Eddie Brock that is incredibly forgettable, uninteresting, and someone that you don’t care about.
The character problems don’t end with the lead; there isn’t one character in Venom (including the aliens) that makes sense. There isn’t anything memorable about any of them and most of their actions don’t make any sense. Jenny Slate is incredibly misused in the film as Dr. Dora Skirth. She only appears to be there to make sure that we understand that Carlton Drake is bad. Riz Ahmed as Drake was the most compelling of the performances for me but still didn’t really come together. His motivations were shared through exposition but his actions still didn’t make all that much sense. Even though he had a few compelling moments (one monologue in particular) the character still felt like a shell of a real villain. The most disappointing of the characters was Michelle Williams as Anne Weying. It was very frustrating to watch an actress as good as Williams be used as poorly as she was. She was only there to serve the main character, providing him with some motivation and depth. Her character didn’t feel like a real person outside of Eddie Brock. The only thing I can tell you about Anne Weying is that she’s a lawyer (or at least was one) who knows how to turn up sound frequencies, and even those things are tied to Eddie Brock. While thankfully she wasn’t the damsel in distress that so many women are relegated to play in these films, she wasn’t much more than that. Venom would have been the exact same film without her and that is a shame because she could have made it a much better one.
Messy characters are hard to overcome but that which was hard then becomes impossible when the story itself is messier than the characters. It’s hard to explain what Venom is about because the central focus of the film changes quite often. It is overstuffed with bad plot ideas that are never given enough attention to make any sort of impact. What we are left with is a story that doesn’t make any sense on any level. Any time a character moved it felt like a transition to the next set piece or an exposition dump. It was incredibly frustrating to not know why characters are doing the things that they are doing. That can be said for every character in Venom. They either had no clear motivation (Anne Weying) or their motivation didn’t make much sense (Eddie Brock). This all crescendos in the final act that is an incredible catastrophe. Our anti-hero is tasked with saving the world and coming face-to-face (metaphorically in this case) with his foe. In what is supposed to be the crowning moment of the film, it is instead replaced with a jumbled mess of a fight scene. It was too dark to make out anything. The choreography was poor, as was the cinematography except for the one great shot in the trailer. It all came together to make something that was almost incomprehensible. Nothing about the scene worked and left the whole film feeling anti-climactic.
Venom fails on every level that a film can fail. Nothing about the characters or the story was interesting. The dialogue was very bad and the humor beats were poor. Not even the character design of “Venom” was all that cool. As much as I wanted to like the film, there was nothing there for me latch on to and enjoy. More than that it was incredibly disappointing. With a cast full of actors I love, I (at the very least) expected to be entertained. Sadly these great actors were never really given a chance because of an overstuffed script and poor direction. It’s hard to enjoy Tom Hardy when he spends most of the film bantering with a poor voice over. Decisions like that one kept stacking on top of each other throughout the film and became harder to overlook. Some films are so bad that they become fun, or a bad script is saved by some great action. Neither is true for Venom. It is just a bad film, a very bad film.
1 out of 5 stars
Directors: Ruben Fleischer Writers:Jeff Pinkner (screenplay by), Scott Rosenberg (screenplay by) & Kelly Marcel(screenplay by) Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate Release Date: October 5th Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1 hour and 52 minutes