Ever since its original announcement, Sony Pictures’ “Venom” has been met with resounding skepticism. The character’s origins are directly tied to the Spider-Man mythography, in which Peter Parker got infected with the alien parasite long before Eddie Brock. The formal announcement that “Venom” was separate from the current Marvel Cinematic Universe iteration of Spider-Man left many fans confused. After an initial viewing of the film, “Venom” lacks both intrigue and a gripping narrative, not because of its general concept but because of various other factors that hurt the film’s quality.
The film’s biggest sin is its failure to establish a unique identity despite what it promised in its marketing. “Venom” attempted to market itself as an antihero story, characterizing itself as a sci-fi horror film that would be darker and grittier than anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen before. In one trailer, the titular character even explicitly threatens to eat the body parts of a minor character.
Yet, director Ruben Fleischer and Sony barely committed to their proposed anti-superheroism.
And, oddly enough, the film doesn’t appear to tell the story of the nefarious Venom, who only reveals his truest form deep into the film’s runtime. Rather, the film focuses on Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, a down-on-his-luck reporter trying to expose the corrupt Life Foundation run by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). Brock’s actions are more or less heroic for the entire plot, and he doesn’t come close to the morally compromised protagonist the trailers suggested. As a result, “Venom” is largely a paint-by-numbers superhero flick — it’s painfully generic.
The movie almost seems aware of its own failings from the beginning. “Venom” trips over itself rushing through each scene, as though it already realizes how droll it is, and just wants to get itself over with. Despite this, the movie still manages to feel too long and a slog to get through.
It is hard to tell exactly what genre the filmmakers were going for. At times, Fleischer seems to give a commentary on noble experiments and the more questionable aspects of scientific experimentation. Other times, the film throws out any inkling of intellectual discussion in favor of bombastic fight scenes and action-movie set pieces. Fragmented tonal pieces from “Venom” combine to make something which doesn’t quite excel in any of the genres — sci-fi horror, buddy comedy, romance — it takes a stab at. The tonal issues of the film mirror the struggle of Brock himself; a man at odds with the disparate personalities and parts that live within him. “Venom” works best when it leans into the realm of horror-comedy, not because it has very clever jokes, but because the film takes itself way too seriously otherwise. Hardy’s performance works best because he seems to be the only character with any sense of levity who acknowledges the movie’s fun premise.
But “Venom” can be enjoyable at times. When the symbiote takes full control of Brock, Venom’s chaotic presence lends a kinetic energy to various sequences and acts as an interesting foil to Brock. The best parts of the movie are when these two characters interact, so it’s a shame that not much time is spent on really developing this dynamic.
Hardy’s chemistry with Michelle Williams, who portrays Brock’s ex Anne, also shines at points, but is often marred by hamfisted relationship drama. The visual effects are solid and are used to great effect in the more horror-focused sequences. It’s a pity that “Venom” fails to recognize any aforementioned pieces as its strong points.
“Venom” is so close to being a worthwhile watch. The seeds of a different and entertaining comic book movie are all there, but it suffers from a general feeling that the film lacks confidence in itself. If this movie establishes anything, it’s that Venom can work as a solo character without Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the package overall fails to meet all expectations. One can only hope this outing doesn’t discourage Sony from giving up on the character on the silver screen. Perhaps Venom can get a proper outing not too far into the future, and maybe even with a little more Spider-Man.
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