Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed
Running time: 112 minutes
When journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) goes sniffing around for a story about questionable goings on at a high-tech corporate science facility, he inadvertently fuses himself with the alien symbiote known as ‘Venom’. From there, all manner of chaos – and feasting – ensues.
Lady Gaga fan theories aside, when the two most intriguing bits of a film called Venom – one from an entirely different universe, the other containing a gloriously ridiculous auburn wig that Sideshow Bob would be proud of – appear during the end credits, it’s evident that the 112-minutes leading up to them lack any real potency.
The inauguration of Sony’s Marvel Universe – one that, depending on which side of the MCU fence you position yourself, either sensibly or foolishly distinguishes itself from such a cinematic behemoth – is a difficult one to digest. Not simply because it is a clunky, awkwardly fitted mess, but because, let’s face it, we were all gunning for Venom to be something really great, right?
Running on the film’s nifty tag line: ‘the World has enough Superheroes’, Venom thrusts us into the world of sinister alien slime, evil corporate CEOs, and characters being told that ‘for a smart guy, you really are a dumbass’. That character being Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock. A far cry from the Eddie Brock (played by Topher Grace) we were introduced to over a decade ago in Spider-Man 3, 2018’s Brock swaps the Manhattan skyline for the Golden Gate Bridge as a San Francisco investigative reporter who carries with him not only a pen and notepad, but a no-shits-given attitude … and probably a protein shake.
Aided in no small way by the handy fact that his girlfriend, Anne (Williams), has affiliations to bioengineering powerhouse the Life Foundation and a nonchalant attitude to handing out laptop passwords, Brock goes after the Foundation’s CEO Carlton Drake (Ahmed) armed with confidential material, with the aim of exposing the unethical methods and mysterious testing occurring there. In the end, he winds up exposing himself to Venom – the malevolent symbiote that fuses itself with Brock, giving him all manner of superhuman powers and an unhealthy appetite for human heads.
The problem with Venom is that, despite the character’s long and celebrated comic book heritage, it lacks any true sense of identity. After an opening that mashes sci-fi with horror – Species meets It Follows – Venom staggers clumsily during its lengthy middle between a tonal mis-match of psychological drama lacking substance, stock action film complete with obligatory car chase, and quirky buddy movie, before finishing proceedings with a rather underwhelming climax laden with CGI chunder.
Helped in no way by its frantic cuts, frenzied editing, and lacklustre script – “oh no, I just bit that guy’s head off” – Venom lacks the finesse or charm of its MCU counterparts, and pales in comparison in nearly every department. Even Tom Hardy – so often the charismatic scene-stealer and no stranger to the comic book villain, of course – is unable to elevate this above anything more than incoherent mediocrity with a performance that – despite fleeting moments of chuckle-inducing bickering with his otherworldly inhabitant – feels altogether out of sync with the rest of the film.
Somewhere in the world, Topher Grace is quietly superimposing his face onto the Kermit the Frog sipping tea meme. Venom is by no means a hateful film; but sadly, there is nothing here to suggest it is anything but a categorical misfire, and a real missed opportunity.