By Jack Dignan
Normally, at the press screenings I attend, the studios in charge give out free water, and occasionally this water will come with a soft drink. If there’s no free water then there are no free drinks at all. At Venom, the only drink option given out was alcohol. And for good reason… Sony’s attempts at starting a Spider-Man spinoff universe dates all the way back to Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, but, more recently and less subtly when making The Amazing Spider-Man films, which almost put a few of these films into production. Now, after years of trying and failing, a Spider-Man spinoff universe has finally come into fruition, except it’s missing one key ingredient – Spider-Man.
With Spidey’s rights safely in the hands of Marvel Studios, Sony have taken it upon themselves to bring big screen justice to a number of supporting characters, the first being Venom, but plans are already underway for Silver Sable, Black Cat, and a Jared Leto-led Morbius the Vampire film. Unfortunately, this universe is already suffering what should be dubbed “Dark Universe” syndrome, aptly named after the several failed attempts by Universal Pictures to start a cinematic universe built around classic monsters. To get a universe off the ground, it’s usually a good idea to start with a film that people actually like. Venom is not that movie.
Tom Hardy takes on the titular role, also known as Eddie Brock, bringing the fan favourite comic book villain to life in what many of us, myself included, hoped would finally bring him justice. Unfortunately I’m still waiting. Eddie’s a reporter recently out of the job thanks to an interview gone wrong with super evil scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who’s experimenting on human beings so that he can find a way for us to live in space, or some shit like that. But when opportunity arises to get back at Drake, Eddie takes it, and in the process he unwillingly morphs with an alien life form known as “Venom.”
It’s a comic book movie plunged from deep within the early 2000s, harkening back to the much loathed Ghost Rider and Daredevil movies. Hardy goes full Jim-Carrey-Riddler with his take on both Venom and Eddie Brock, which feels like such a jarring and ridiculous transition in comparison to the “dark” and “edgy” world this film’s going for. Yet at the same time, his over the top performance is the film’s only saving grace. He ignites an unusual, bloodthirsty bromance with his alien counterpart who’s always whispering in Eddie’s ear. I just wish we got to see whatever movie Tom Hardy thought he was acting in.
At one point, it’s told to Eddie “for a smart guy, you sure are a dumbass.” Generic writing aside, they’re not wrong. He is, for the most part, a thundering dumbass, and it’s not until he links up with Venom that this film actually becomes semi-interesting (or at least for a little while). Sadly, that doesn’t happen for over an hour. Early rumours of Venom only appearing for five to ten minutes have been greatly exaggerated, but don’t expect too much from him either. Most of the good stuff, even the final scene, has already been shown in the trailers, leaving little as a surprise when actually watching the film. The mid credit scene is neat, I guess.
Given the tremendous talent behind the cast (all of whom look bored out of their brains from start to finish, Michelle Williams especially), a lot of this film’s incompetence derives from the writing and directing. Ruben Fleisher, director of Zomebieland and Gangster Squad, gives absolutely zero life to the story he’s trying to tell. It’s dark and grim some of the time, then bat-shit crazy other times, creating no tonal flow or consistency. There are shots here that would be bad even by the standards of the aforementioned comic book movies released a decade ago, most notably a sequence in the woods that I’m baffled got the all clear.
Granted, it’s hard to direct a film that’s written with such inept. The plot not only feels way too generic and basic for me to care, but it’s full of lines such as “you’re strong but not strong enough,” amongst others I’m already starting to forget. These barely feel like characters, and the lines they deliver barely feel human. Venom, the character, is treated like an eight-year-old kid in all the wrong ways. He’s juvenile, silly and talks in a way similar to Deadpool, except this is a film that really doesn’t benefit from that type of humour. If you thought the “turd in the wind” line from the trailer was bad, ohhhh boy. Just you wait.
But hey, is the action fun at least? Not really. The film quickly moves from tendril porn to big, incomprehensible CGI mess as other symbiotes come into play and get down and dirty in a clash of grey imagery that’s numbingly bad to watch unfold. Venom’s effects look great, but everything else is dreadful. You can really tell that this was an R-rated movie edited down into PG-13. Every time Venom eats a head, expect an abrupt cut to the next scene. Also, there’s a moment where Venom and Tom Hardy make out, and… well… I don’t even know what to say… This film is bad. There’s no way around it. Perhaps it’s time to send this character back up into space.
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