As I sat in the darkened theater and the end credits for Venom began to roll it suddenly dawned on me why it is so difficult to make a good movie that is true to the titular anti-hero’s personality and back story. Venom is trapped in the bureaucracy. As ironic as it may be for an anti-hero who is not constrained by laws or conventional morays to be held back by legal issues and MPAA standards, that is exactly what has happened here. Venom suffers from intellectual property issues and and a PG-13 rating. With such constraints the best a filmmaker can hope for is a movie that plays it safe so it can be marketed to the widest possible demographic and spur merchandise sales. The integrity of the character comes second to marketing. The tragedy in this case is that the film has some genuinely enjoyable moments if you are willing to sit through this mess.
Sony believes that Venom is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but Marvel Comics does not recognize the film as such. The consequence is that this version of Venom is completely unrelated to the classic tale of Spider-Man and the symbiotic black suit (though executives have suggested future films in the franchise could involve the friendly neighborhood webslinger.) In this film Eddie Brock is an investigative reporter with the best of intentions who consistently manages to get fired from every network and news outlet he works with. After an unethical decision and a confrontation with wealthy industrialist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Eddie is let go by his current employer. The movie spends a long time showing how low Eddie has fallen after losing his job and fiancée (played by Michelle Williams whose talents are severely underused here). After learning that Drake is testing the effects of alien symbiotes on humans, Eddie investigates and as you can probably guess – comes into contact with the Venom symbiote.
To be honest, a lot of the moments with Eddie and the symbiote are hilarious. There are even some well executed action sequences. Unfortunately, the movie is not more than the sum of its part. The pacing is awful – we don’t actually see Venom for about an hour and then the movie crams too many plot elements into the remaining time. Issues with the script are left unresolved and aside from Eddie Brock, there is a severe lack of character development. Everything from Eddie’s relationship with Anne to Venom’s decision to save the world all seems to happen too fast.
Thematically, the movie follows a very typical checklist for hero flicks. Hero gets power. Hero kicks ass. Bad guy gets power. Confrontation at the end.
While Venom can boast some nicely composed shots, the special effects drag the movie down. I can accept that a proper Venom film would require substantial amounts of CGI but the alien symbiotes just look bad here. I don’t even think they look much better than the symbiote in Spider-Man 3 from 2007 (though they are certainly more animated this time). Most of the film is dark and murky and the final battle is a mess of black tendrils of symbiote goo.
I feel bad for Tom Hardy. He is acting the Hell out of this role and he is fantastic as Eddie Brock and Venom. Unfortunately, the other actors in this flick (all notable performers in their own right) do not have much to do and their talents are not properly utilized. To be fair, much of the material is held back by the PG-13 rating. For example, Venom may bite the head off of enemies but it is never shown shown on screen. When actors are given a script full of constraints they cannot help but give constrained performances themselves.
Despite its flaws, Venom does have a lot of fun moments and I can see this movie becoming a cult favorite. Sadly, if I choose to watch this again I will probably just skip to my favorite scenes instead of sitting through the entire film again. This is certainly the best Venom film yet but longtime fans of the character are sure to wish there was more to the movie.