I don’t know what else I expected from a studio like Sony…
“Venom” is the second film to feature the titular antihero (following 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”), and follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he is exposed to the alien symbiote and gains superpowers. Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze and Reid Scott also star as Ruben Fleischer directs.
A Venom film had been in the talks for years, both before and after his appearance in “Spider-Man 3,” and this rendition was finally confirmed in March 2017 as part of Sony’s new “Marvel Universe” (different than Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that is an entire different can of worms). It was promised to be rated R, sticking to the dark and violent nature of the character, but just a few weeks before its release Sony announced that it would be rated PG-13 in order to possibly accompany a cross-over with Spider-Man in future films (something Marvel and Disney have strongly implied they won’t allow). Combine this with the fact star Tom Hardy went on record (before backtracking) that his favorite 40 minutes of the film were cut and there were alarms going off all over the place. And where there is smoke there is fire, and it turns out to be of the dumpster variety.
I am a fan of Venom. I never read many of his comics but growing up I always liked it when he showed up in a Spider-Man show, and didn’t hate Topher Grace’s portrayal of Eddie Brock in “Spider-Man 3.” So when it was announced Hardy, fresh off an Oscar nomination for “The Revenant,” would play the character I got excited. And Hardy is (mostly) the only thing in the film that actually works.
His dynamic with the Venom character is often fun, as it is a voice in his head that only he can hear. Much like this summer’s “Upgrade” (one of the year’s better films, please seek it out!), Eddie is hesitant to hurt people so when Venom takes control of his body and begins to use humans as a baseball bat on others he is confused and outwardly apologizes to his victims. There are some laughs and some creative fight sequences, although you can tell some of the Venom kills (namely when he goes to bite off a character’s head) were cut and clipped to get that bloodless PG-13 rating. And the fact Sony made this PG-13 (especially after saying it would be R) is almost infuriating since it was done simply with the dollar sign in mind, yet we’ve seen the R-rated “Deadpool” films each make over $700 million.
Every other actor here is either wasted and/or trying their best, but the script is so clunky and reliant on exposition that they feel like cardboard cutouts. The evil head of a sketchy corporation? Check. The ex-girlfriend who comes back into the frame when her new boyfriend tries to help our main character? You know it. The member of the bad guy’s staff who has a sudden change of heart? Oh you know she’s in here. But none of the dialogue is engaging and the narrative just jumps from plot point to plot point with little flow (Venom doesn’t even appear for the first hour of this hour-42 minute film).
The special effects are mostly not all that special, with some of them actually looking straight-up like a PlayStation 3 cutscene. This was made on a “modest” $100 million budget (the average superhero film costs between $150-200 million nowadays) but this film really does look and play like it should have come out in 2007, before “The Dark Knight” and Marvel changed the superhero game.
“Venom” has occasional moments of intrigue or amusement, and Hardy and Venom’s dynamic and interactions are just good enough to make me want to see more of these “Marvel Universe” if they can get a script (and tone) that fits the character. But much like Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy” last year, a film that was supposed to kick off the “Dark Universe” for Universal, “Venom” just feels uninspired, bland and all-too-often is ugly to look at. The tagline for this film is “the world has enough superheroes” and after seeing this I think we have enough antiheros, too.
Critic’s Grade: C–