2 out of 5 stars.
“Venom” is an awful movie. It’s so mind-numbingly stupid, it’s difficult to believe that it was made with (likely) all seriousness. But there’s something so wacky in the film’s violence and humor, in addition to a strong lead performance by Tom Hardy, that it enters the realm of movies that are so bad they’re good, and it’s hard not to still have fun with it.
“Venom” is directed by Ruben Fleischer and stars Hardy as Eddie Brock, a San Francisco-based investigative reporter whose life is turned upside down when he pushes too far in an interview with Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the powerful president of the Life Foundation. Eddie finds out that Drake is experimenting with alien matter on human subjects, in an attempt to save humanity by bonding humans with alien symbiotes his scientists brought back from space (this is not the weirdest part of this movie). Eddie quickly loses his job, his fiancée (Anne, an attorney played by Michelle Williams), and his home. But months later, when Eddie is at his lowest, he is drawn back into the investigation, and an accident results in him successfully bonding with one of the alien symbiotes, called Venom.
Eddie has a sort of Jekyll and Hyde relationship with Venom. Eddie himself, while determined, is a fairly mild-mannered guy. Venom, meanwhile, is brash and violent. Hardy walks this line quite well, particularly in the scenes where he is just discovering that Venom is inside him and believes he is losing his mind. As the film progresses, they form of friendship of sorts, with Venom frequently speaking to Eddie from inside his head. The strange part is not just how quickly Eddie accepts Venom, but also how he doesn’t seem very disturbed by Venom’s tendency to eat people when he’s hungry—which is often.
Now you may be wondering whether this is a dark and serious action movie, or a comedy, or a superhero blockbuster, or the origin story of an anti-hero. You might as well keep wondering that, because this film sure won’t answer that question. The tone is so uneven throughout, and while there are some scenes and lines of dialogue that are clearly intended to be humorous, there are a lot of scenes in the film that come off as funny when maybe that wasn’t the filmmakers’ intention. Much of the dialogue between Venom and Eddie is meant to be amusing, but many lines just come off as laughable, even bordering on corny—like, for instance, when Venom shouts “Food!” or “Hungry!” from inside Eddie’s mind. And while Hardy manages to give a solid performance in spite of the material, the rest of the cast don’t come off so well. Ahmed’s Drake is about as two-dimensional of a villain as you can get, and the same can be said for Williams’ Anne, who doesn’t serve her own purpose and is only present to further Eddie’s journey. The plot is so ridiculous that it’s impossible to even try to take it seriously. The film could have at least made up for a flat story with well-executed action scenes, but it doesn’t do that either. In fact, many of the fight scenes, including a motorcycle chase and the big battle at the end, are the least interesting parts of the movie.
Maybe a film like “Venom,” that revolves around a violent anti-hero, could have benefited from an R rating. As it is, it feels unnecessarily restrained. But Sony has big plans for Venom—the character, who is a member of the Marvel universe and typically appears alongside Spider-Man (you may remember his last big-screen appearance as one of the villains in “Spider-Man 3”), already has sequels in development, including a cross-over with the new Spider-Man movies. If that’s going to happen, a lot is going to need to change for Venom to successfully participate in that already well-established cinematic universe. But I kind of like this Venom as it is—it may be loud and dumb, but its loudness and dumbness breaks up the monotony of the other superhero films we get all year.
Runtime: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13.