Venom Is an Unfortunate Callback


Tom Hardy stars as Venom in the title role Venom. (Courtesy of Facebook)

As formulaic as the modern superhero film might be, at least it generally works. Hardly any of the countless cape-centric flicks that fill the theaters are genuinely great, but the rest are fun. It is certainly better than the genre’s previous state, filled with melodramatic, grim and unpleasant movies like 2003’s Hulk or 2004’s Catwoman.

Unfortunately, Sony’s Venom drags audiences back to that era of low-grade, forgettable superhero movies. Self-destructive, relentless reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) ends up infected with an alien symbiote that turns him into the hulking Venom. He battles the evil corporation responsible for bringing the extraterrestrial ooze and its allies to Earth. This jumbled premise is the first step on a journey that leaves Venom a tonally dissonant misfire of a film that has no sense of consistency.

Venom brings one of the core parts of Spider-Man’s sprawling mythos to the silver screen without involving the web-slinger himself. This is for the worse, as the movie’s titular anti-hero is so inextricably linked to Spider-Man that he does not work without Spider-Man’s involvement.

The whole point of Venom is that he is a warped, nightmarish version of Spider-Man, with his own gruesome take on the hero’s code of ethics. By not incorporating Spider-Man, the film strips Venom of his entire foundation. What is left is a roving pile of goo and teeth that spouts one-liners and gets into poorly edited action scenes. Nonetheless, Venom is still the best part of the film, but for all the wrong reasons. Hardy phones in his roles as both Eddy and his alter ego so much that they become a complete farce. This lack of effort is more entertaining than anything else in the film.

Adaptational fumbles aside, Venom is a confusing, jumbled movie. Genre-wise, it is a combination of horror, science fiction, raunchy comedy and romance. This leads to similar tonal issues, where it is hard to tell what mood each scene is meant to evoke. Its attempts at being scary or cool are laughable and its attempts at humor are not.

None of the characters are likable or even have consistent personalities or motivations. Venom comes off better only by complete accident. He is a tater tot-craving goofball instead of the otherworldly engine of destruction the other characters treat him as.

The same cannot be said of the main villain Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who is a vague collection of evil CEO tropes and real world figures. He is responsible for bringing the symbiotes to earth, a project half-heartedly justified with some undeveloped environmental concerns and biblical allusions.

Despite being a PG-13 movie, Venom needs to be R-rated. The film does a bad job conveying its action scenes as is, mainly due to the shoddy editing and distracting, poorly done CGI. But it becomes incomprehensible due to the constant need to censor the impalements and head-chomping Venom is so set on featuring. Admittedly, that still would not have saved a lot of the film.

The climactic battle is particularly bad, in which two globs of dark CGI goo slosh over each other in a weightless, indecipherable duel. The dialogue and humor are also hampered by the lower rating. It is not particularly clever and it is not as raunchy as it needs to be, so it comes off as very “middle school”. The rest of the film doubles down on that puerile atmosphere.

Venom feels eerily similar to 1997’s live action Spawn movie, also about a brooding anti-hero. It shares most of the same flaws, as apparently the former learned nothing despite the latter film being over 20 years old. Unlikable characters meander around a pointless story until it culminates in a forced save-the-world scenario. The obnoxious hard rock soundtrack is another unfortunate callback to that breed of action movie. The same goes for poor special effects and a generally poor production.

Venom is a trip back in time to the worst era of superhero films and barely even worth watching for a laugh.