SP Review: 'Venom' falls flat as film displaced in time and quality

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives the movie 'Venom' 4.5/10 stars

In a post-Marvel Cinematic Universe era, there is a certain standard we as audiences hold comic book films up to. There was a time when the majority of these films were simple, safe and pretty bland, and it’s interesting to be able to look back considering the era we're currently in.

Coincidentally enough, one of the exceptions during that time was Sam Raimi’s "Spider-Man" trilogy and, ever since then, Sony Pictures have had immense success with this long-standing property. However, buried in outdated cynicism and dark humor, "Venom" falls flat on its tongue.

In terms of critical reception, the films in the Spider-Man world have varied, but since 2002’s "Spider-Man," not one film in the franchise has made under $700 million worldwide. The point being that this series is a continuous money-maker for the studio. Therefore, it’s not shocking that Sony would want to capitalize on one of Spider-Man’s most notorious villains, Venom, to create a franchise solely their own which aligns with Marvel Studio's "Spider-Man: Homecoming."

This got a lot of people, die-hard fans especially, wondering if it was even possible, let alone a good idea, to do a Venom movie without Spider-Man. While the lack of Spider-Man doesn’t hinder "Venom," the rest of the film doesn’t necessarily do the best job of standing on its own, and ultimately isn’t as fun as it thinks it is. 

Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy, is an investigative reporter living in San Francisco with his fiance Anne Weying, played by Michelle Williams, and mostly covering the shady practices of the city’s business elite. When he goes too far interviewing the CEO of the fictional Life Foundation, Carlton Drake, played by Riz Ahmed, he loses his job and ends up in a downward spiral. 

Brock discovers that the Life Foundation is attempting to use alien parasites called symbiotes to enhance humanity through illegal experiments, but he ends up bonding with one of the symbiotes named Venom, giving him dark and twisted abilities. Now, the two must wrestle control over their shared body as the Life Foundation hunts them down for what they consider their property. 

It’s a surprise to no one that Hardy is a fantastic actor, and he gives one of his more unique performances here. As the film reiterates a handful of times, the Eddie Brock character, though not a bad guy and not necessarily dumb, is a loser. Hardy gets a couple of precious moments to give the character both some eccentricities and emotional pathos.

There’s also a very fun relationship between Brock and the symbiote who we find out really do have a lot in common and, in a twisted way, make each other better. The actual look of the symbiotes (yes, there’s more than just Venom) are also fascinating to watch, both in their primal goo-form and attached to their hosts. 

Unfortunately, the film around those elements is a total mess. Hardy gets enough to do, but Williams is mostly relegated to a well-meaning love interest, and Ahmed basically plays what I can only describe as his character from "Jason Bourne" with an added Elon Musk dimension that gets very old, very fast. The film's pacing is also not something to write home about, with the first third of the movie dragging on with unnecessary exposition and the third act moving unbelievably fast in terms of emotion.

But the film's biggest issue is its script which is a bitter balance of bad story, dialogue, emotion and tone. About a dozen times during the film, I found myself thinking “this can’t be what they’re going for.” 

It’s because of this script that the film feels like a bizarre throwback to the pre-MCU comic book films with a central character that might get some good focus, but surrounded by a mix of overly ambitious effects and painfully underdeveloped emotion. 

In a sense, it reminded me a bit of 2017’s "The Mummy," a film with overly ambitious cinematic goals that is ultimately not compelling as a film, but features enough of the titular characters to at least be tolerable. 

"Venom" is not devoid of merit but it is far from the spectacle it could’ve been. A fun dual-lead dynamic with a couple of other interesting elements is held back by an old-school mentality and a messy script. 

I would honestly be excited to see this character again given where the film ends — stay for the post-credits scenes by the way, they are some of the most exciting parts of the film — but maybe that’s the hubris of comic book movie fans. We expect these characters to continuously show up. 

If that does happen, I hope the filmmakers realize the comic book movie genre has evolved, and that this character can be better than what this film does. 

Overall, I give "Venom" a rating of 4.5/10 stars.

 Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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