Review: Venom (2018)

venom

Gene Simmons? Is that you?: Avi Arad Productions/Columbia Pictures

VENOM is a bad movie. I shock you, I know. It’s not the worst SPIDER-MAN movie ever, but that’s mostly because Marvel Studios wouldn’t let Sony rent Spidey back for a cameo. The scant lip service they’re allowed to give this is frankly hilarious.

Maverick reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) loses his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams), his job and his self-respect when he tries to bring down shady billionaire scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) using stolen evidence. Meanwhile, aggressive alien lifeforms have been brought back from space and Drake’s experiments bring one into Eddie’s life…  

There is a certain joy to be had watching Tom Hardy act like nobody’s watching. The best scene in this whole sorry affair has Hardy sitting in a lobster tank chowing down on the live inhabitants, offering one of the film’s few truly memorable images. His really odd behaviour you can buy because he’s got another being taking a ride inside him, but what’s everyone else’s excuse? Nobody talks like a person in this, to the extent that I began to wonder if they weren’t all squishy aliens wearing human skins. Michelle Williams looks like she’s hating every minute of the experience, not to mention how disheartened she sounds having to deliver such lines as, “I love you, don’t forget to feed the cat” and “I’m sorry about Venom”.

The whole symbiote hunger thing never really makes much sense. At first it rejects “dead” food (leading to the aforementioned lobster tank incident) and only craves human flesh, then it starts to leech off Eddie’s organs before it seems to suddenly decide against requiring either and that Tater Tots will be enough to satisfy its hunger. It wants to conquer and consume the planet with the rest of its species but all of a sudden it comes out with “You changed me, Eddie”. Um, when? Maybe some point after they had their Gollum moment reflected in a car door.

I know this is a problem even a lot of the proper (as opposed to “in association with”) Marvel movies have, but the villain’s evil scheme reads like you’re turning over at least two pages at a time. As far as I could gather, it goes as follows: 1. Bring symbiotes back to Earth, 2. Allow symbiotes to infect the kidnapped homeless, 3. When/if a symbiote achieves “full symbiosis” we’ll apparently be ready to live on other planets because…reasons, 4. Profit?

The stretchy particle effects used to realise the symbiotes never look better than the water creature in THE ABYSS, and that was made in 1989. How long was it between the announcement trailer and the finished film? 6 months? You really couldn’t improve that shot of Eddie being pulled back onto the mid-air motorbike by liquorice tendrils? Speaking of the symbiotes’ wasted potential, for a while it looks like director Ruben Fleischer is going to do something interesting with their body-hopping behaviour, like John Carpenter did so memorably with THE THING, as mostly this happens offscreen and leaves you guessing who is the goo. But no, each time this happens it becomes almost instantly apparent who is about to spout tendrils and all tension and intrigue evaporates, making you wonder why they bothered even pretending it was a plot point.

If we get more Venom movies – and we may well get more Venom movies – and the guy with the tongue ends up fighting a succession of bad/worse symbiotes, can we at least colour code them distinctively? Venom’s final showdown is of course two special effects punching each other in the dark. I presume this is just because that’s the standard ending for the first movie in a new superhero franchise. Unfortunately this film’s action goes from dull to incomprehensible because Venom, a black symbiote, is fighting Riot, a grey symbiote.

Venom is a mess, but it’s very nearly the fun kind. Everything about it is inconsistent and ill-judged, with leaps of tone and logic galaxies wide. And yet there’s something strangely endearing about Hardy trying to make something memorable out of this cinematic sludge. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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