My excitement for Venom had been slowly turning into anxiety for a while prior to actually watching it. From reports that all of Tom Hardy’s favourite scenes had been cut, to the news that all press screenings were being moved to the day before its international release – never a good sign – it seemed as though any hope of a darkly funny and genuinely well-made film featuring the titular Symbiote was fading fast. Sadly, my worries were validated when I saw the film (luckily on free tickets I’d been given, so I hold no guilt for financially supporting this mess), and how it failed on almost every level.
Warning: minor spoilers throughout!
The initial premise is not necessarily a bad one. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a disgraced journalist struggling to regain his dignity or credibility after a run in with Elon Musk-esque villain Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). But when he’s given the chance to expose Drake’s discovery of the Symbiotes, liquid aliens who can only survive through a host body, he ends up combining with the titular alien Venom, and must stop Drake from taking over the Earth.
The issue here is not that the plot is inherently flawed, but that the film has terrible pacing issues. The climax comes out of nowhere immediately before the conclusion, director Ruben Fleischer wastes a significant amount of time meandering before Eddie and Venom become one, and the number of scenes that have almost no purpose is staggering.
The major problem, however, is the lack of purpose or motivation that every character suffers from. No one’s actions make sense, aside from them occasionally advancing the plot. For instance, early on in the film Eddie’s fiancé, who he is clearly in a loving and healthy relationship with, abruptly and unemotionally dumps him after he costs her her job. This isn’t to say that leaving him is a completely absurd option, but the lack of effort on Michelle Williams’ part to inject any heartache into the exchange and the fact that this scene comes very soon after one in which they are discussing how happy they are together makes this whole plot thread bizarre and unrelatable. Venom himself is plagued with a similar issue: partway through, he changes his allegiance offscreen somewhere, updating Eddie and the audience after the fact.
Onto the performances. I’ve already mentioned the weak effort on Williams’ part, but Hardy at least attempts to make Venom memorable. His impression of a drunk is rather embarrassing, but aside from the odd blip he brings some legitimate laughs out of the surprisingly funny script. In fact, the moments where Eddie and Venom are clashing and quipping are some of the best in the movie, contrary to my worries beforehand that these would be the most cringe-inducing scenes. If Venom had been more concerned with the relationship between these two characters, and less with Eddie’s romantic relationship and struggle with the villain, it would have been far better for me. As for Ahmed, he does what he can with the pretentious lines he is fed but comes off as little more than another dull iteration of the evil genius archetype.
If you’re a Marvel superfan, you’ll no doubt want to watch this regardless of the reviews. Otherwise, don’t go with high expectations – when Spider-Man 3 showcases a villain better than you, you know you’ve made some mistakes