Venom is not a good movie. Venom is not a well made movie. It fails to understand plot structure, basic theme escapes it and the characters are somehow awful, uncompelling and forgettable all at once.
Venom is a fascinating trainwreck in slow motion that I watched with my mouth agape and my hands clawing at my face.
Venom is a 2018 film starring Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock. He’s an investigative journalist in San Francisco who early on in the film does the ethically wrong thing in order to help a greater public good. Venom is a Marvel comics character that is an alien slime from space that merges with a human to give them superhuman strength, regeneration and stretchy goo arms. They also eat people and are kind of an antihero. Together they are your protagonists. From these brief descriptions, it is maybe possible to see that they share vague character parallels. Do a bad thing with an ultimately good effect. Venom is not a film that places great stock in clever writing. Or even consistent writing.
Also appearing in this film is Riz Ahmed as your Villain. He plays Carlton Drake who is almost certainly based upon a loose caricature of Elon Musk, but openly and ridiculously evil. Rounding off the members of the cast who have any kind of actual character is Michelle Williams as Anne Weying. She’s playing Brock’s love interest and does a very impressive job with the frankly baffling script and plot she’s dealing with. She is unfortunately let down by having to deal with one of the most cack-handedly managed storylines in the film, with huge chunks of her narrative seemingly cut from the film or script. Similarly, Ahmed’s character arc seems to just have been excised from the script in the third act, as his ludicrous villainy stops having any rhyme or reason being presented to back it up.
Hardy tries his best with what’s he’s been given. His usually mumbly performance suits Eddie Brock as an asshole loser who constantly messes up his life. Once he was a hard-hitting investigative journalist who defied authority to serve a public good. However, he’s nice to the homeless person he knows, and tries to be pleasant to the Asian lady who runs the local shop. This is how the audience knows he is a good person.
His Venom is well acted, whatever vocal manipulation is going on fixes the perennial issue of Hardy’s mumbling. Venom as a character, in as much as the clearly spliced together from multiple scripts storyline will permit, is a dry witted, crass asshole who’s mainly concerned with feeding. Except when they’re a friend who’s invested in Eddie’s happiness. Or a vaguely interested Alien who’s decided they would rather not see the bad guys plan play out. Or they’re a monster that takes Eddie Hostage and uses his body to protect themselves.
This movie is only 112 minutes long. None of these character developments are earned through on screen actions and often just appear out of nowhere in the dialogue. It is intensely frustrating.
The plotting for this film is abysmal. While watching, it felt like there were two unrelated opening sequences. This led to a first act that just drifts into a second with no fanfare. I honestly couldn’t tell you when the third act started, but there’s a finale that I can only tangibly define because there was a big fight scene with a villain and the movie went to an epilogue afterwards. To be charitable, it appears to be someone deciding that they want to make a film in the superhero genre, but only being able to react to other films.
The film is set in San Francisco, so of course there’s a car chase. (It is not a very well executed car chase, relying on visually pretty but narratively bewildering pyrotechnic effects to sell how interesting this scene is.) Superhero films are about grand schemes from bad guys with henchmen, so this one features a villain who is murdering the homeless, which drives the plot for the first part before somehow it also becomes about trying to beat overpopulation and climate change through using Symbiotes. As a cartoonishly evil antagonist, in theory this makes , asshole protagonists more likeable. This is not the case. It just means they all suck.
Venom is clearly supposed to be edgy and gritty, but a 15 rating and the idea that our protagonists are supposed to be an Antihero means the film can’t get too dark. No blood and no violence beyond punching/throwing or a big goo monster being shot. Sometimes there are gruesome injuries, but these are rendered in a flat, depthless cgi due to the fact that they’re healed by the Symbiote seconds later. The film has no consequences or stakes at any point, so there’s nothing for Venom to be a rebelling Antihero against. Nothing in the plot seems to matter to the wider narrative.
A sequence from one of the trailers is seemingly in the film solely because the relevant action scene allows for Venom to take on a group of heavily armed people and show how dangerous they can be. These people have no purpose in the wider story, advance the plot in no way and appear out of nowhere. There are no stakes in this scene, Venom just beats people up because it’s time to. Even when the combatants begin to use weapons that the audience has been shown will hurt Venom, they just kind of … shrug it off?
In fact, I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what happened in almost every action scene starring Venom. I’m sure that the concept art for these scenes was fabulous. An extended scene of Symbiote on Symbiote combat results in the rather inventive concept of the Symbiote and their host fighting as separate but combined entities. It evokes their shared fight as something that both Symbiote and Host equally participate in and find meaningful in a maelstrom of chaotic action.
What actually happens is that there’s one good held shot where a man stares down another man, while their swirling cgi slime clouds fill the screen around them in the vague shape of monsters. Then the action moves back to shiny CGI slime being bounded across the screen as the run time ticks down.
For a film that features multiple people being eaten, there’s just no bite to the action.
It is astonishing how unfulfilling the plot and script for this film is. Plot threads are started and dropped seemingly at random. The story meanders along from action scene to action scene, occasionally pausing for an indeterminable location establishment shot or a quick 30 second reminder of what the villains are doing. As an example of how little payoff every plot thread has, on three or four occasions the audience is shown the effect that fire and high pitched sound have on the Symbiotes. This is reinforced by several visual cues and references throughout the film, culminating in a truly baffling scene where Venom just explains his weaknesses to the hapless Eddie. Just in case the audience didn’t understand all of the not so subtle sequences where the film understood that it’s better to show not tell.
This confused narrative structure is best embodied through the central pairing of Venom and Brock. Eddie Brock and Venom have no character arcs during this film. They change motivation from scene to scene, going from a near hostage like scenario at the beginning of the film to an oddly compelling buddy scenario by the end. By the end of this film, both characters were in a place where I could probably even watch more of this relationship. I have no idea how they got there, because it certainly didn’t happen on screen, but the characters tell the audience they like each other so it’s probably fine.
I really did spend half this film cackling or holding my head in my hands. The dialogue is funny, but in the sense that it’s hard to believe that any of these scenes were the best take, or even the best version of the script. There are multiple jokes that, even when charitably read, come off as weirdly close to homophobic. Otherwise, the writing for dialogue comes off as scattershot and unconnected in the same way as the writing for the plot.
It’s hard to take the film seriously when one of the best, and most evocative, lines presented to the audience ends with “like a turd. In the wind.”
Venom is intensely frustrating to watch. Normally when this is the case, it’s because there’s a good movie trying to get out from under the weight of a script or a poor representation of a genre. Here it’s the fact that Venom is deeply confused about what it wants from tone, theme, plotting, stakes, pacing, dialogue and action. For all the vague charm that Hardy’s Venom brings to the screen via the dialogue, it’s just incredibly hard not to get sucked into the quagmire of the rest of the film.
As a final note, in the style of a post credits scene for these films, there are two post credits sequences. The first in the middle of the credits is somehow even more laughably bad than the rest of the film. The second is literally an extended scene from Sony’s animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse film releasing later this year. Venom as a film does not come off well in the comparison.