Venom is a bloated mess. The spectre of studio compromise looms over it in a big way. It has some glaring flaws but I can’t entirely hate it, since there were elements and sequences I found really engaging.
It’s the worst kind of bad film: passion and talent are on display and at some point this thing could have been truly great. But it isn’t. Let’s talk about why.
There is some good to be found here. Tom Hardy is as brilliant as always, and he brings depth and charisma to Eddie Brock through his performance, despite some poor scripting. Michelle Williams does a fine job as Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Anne. Their chemistry is decent and is a defiance of cliché; you never get the sense she secretly wants him or would take him back. I found Anne’s new boyfriend Dan, played by Reid Scott, to be another cliché dodge as he seems like a genuinely good person and never feels like his relationship is threatened by Eddie. In fact, you get the feeling this new relationship is far healthier than Eddie and Anne’s, a dimension I’m sure would have been explored if this film had a more adult rating.
Venom himself looks very comic-esque in a really good way and the design of the loose symbiotes is suitably weird and alien . There is the occasional animation quality dip, but for the most part it does the job. There are some solid action beats too. The motorcycle chase featured in the trailer is excellent and does an adequate job establishing Venom’s powers. There is also a pretty good fight scene with a SWAT team later on, though the films climax is an incomprehensible mess with absolutely no stakes.
And with that let’s segue into the bad. A huge amount of this film is taken up following Carlton Drake, a painfully generic villain playing the ‘humans are imperfect, I will bring a new age of evolution’ card. Puddle deep, in no way relatable, the worst type of villain. Drake is the head of Stock Amoral Corporation who made millions… somehow. Like, they’re a pharmaceuticals development group who illegally test on homeless people, but they also have multiple high tech space shuttles that they use to search asteroids because maybe there is a miracle cure in space? It’s clearly a case of trying to create an antagonist more evil than the protagonist so we don’t have to deal with any complex morality. This is also probably why, by the end of it, Venom (a classic comic book villain) is just another defender of earth. Oh, and the final boss is so dull and underdeveloped I can’t even be bothered to discuss him.
I could talk specifics forever, but I think it’s worth taking a look at the tone as a whole. In the Stock Amoral Corporation scenes the film tries for that Alien style of sci-fi unknown horror, but fails spectacularly given Drake’s cartoonish level of evil. Frankly every time Stock Amoral Corporation is involved the film dive-bombs in quality. The non-Venom Eddie scenes do a good job of establishing the character as grim but good at heart and the first few scenes after Eddie and Venom merge are genuinely excellent. He hears voices and has strange and disgusting urges he can’t control leading him to start questioning his sanity. During this time you can see the semi-horror tone they were clearly aiming for shine through and the film comes alive to such an extent that you’ll start to forgive its mistakes up to this point. Unfortunately after Venom’s voice develops he ceases to feel in any way threatening. He spends most of his time making quips to Eddie, at which point all tension melts away. Eddie and Venom’s interactions aren’t strictly bad – in fact they’re probably the most consistently entertaining element of the film – but they play in stark contrast to the film at its best.
Venom is both too long and too short. Clearly content was added at the studio’s request and there wasn’t time left for all the content the director wanted. The film is 2 hours and 40 minute and everything with Stock Amoral Corporation drags, yet there is some painfully obvious cut content. Without spoiling, the worst case occurs near the end where there is clearly an entire sequence missing what would have both explored a cool idea and developed multiple characters. It’s absence is clear by how abruptly an event occurs and how significantly the characters change afterwards. This might sound vague but if you do see the film you’ll know exactly what I mean.
I could pick apart this film all day, but in the end, this is the overarching problem: Venom should be the story of a down on his luck man wrestling with his humanity as an alien parasite threatens to turn him into a monster, but in reality, it’s the tale of a grumpy reporter and his dark comedy sidekick fighting an 80’s cartoon villain to save the world. This could have been a smash hit, but instead it makes me worried for the upcoming ‘Into the Spiderverse’. There is good to be had, but do yourself a favour and wait till you can stream it.