by Benjamín Harguindey
Venom (2018) joins the ranks of the likes of Suicide Squad (2016) and Deadpool 2 (2018) as the kind of movie that wants to be both an edgy answer to Marvel’s all-too-cozy EU and a relief to the superhero fatigue, yet amounts to precisely the same thing it’s supposedly riffing on. It’s a sorry, disappointing result.
The first disappointment lies in the movie’s PG-13 rating, effectively defanging the brutal Venom – both movie and monster – and turning it into its kiddie version. The second disappointment is that “30 to 40 minutes”, supposedly the better ones, have been cut off from the finished product. Venom is a shell of what could have been. Sony needn’t have bothered at all.
Directed artlessly by Ruben Fleischer (who with Zombieland displayed a zest and inventive unseen here), the movie is checkpoint-driven and comes with little to no surprises along the way. A lot of it resembles Fantastic Four (2015), another fiasco driven by a fallen auteur and crippled by its studio: from its long-winded origin story that takes forever to get going to its dull, gloomy look. You get the distinct feeling very little passion went into it.
There’s a single silver lining: Tom Hardy. Here’s a star who pulls his weight and damn nearly the rest of the movie’s as well. He’s a riot to follow as he plays a man going from top of the world to rock bottom and then beneath that. The actor brings in a mixture of wounded pride and self-defeating paranoia as Eddie Brock, a reporter who loses everything overnight after calling out tech mogul Drake on his cruel experiments. Snooping around Drake’s lab Brock accidentally becomes one with alien goo and gains the power and persona of the demonic Venom, a creature made up of fangs, tendrils and a tongue to rival Resident Evil’s Lickers.
The story is of course absurd but it plays itself with a dreadful seriousness that doesn’t do it any favors. The good parts focus on the panicking Brock as he comes to terms with what’s happening to his mind and body, and at its best the movie develops into surrealistic physicality. The problem though is that there isn’t much in the way of conflict between Brock and Venom once they’re properly introduced; Eddie need only give his bodily roommate – who hungers for carnage and has a propensity to chomp off heads – a mental memo to puppet him correctly and voilà. There’re no real fine points to their dynamic and the whole question of warring personalities is left completely unexplored.
Instead we’re given Drake for a villain. Played by Riz Ahmed, Drake is the kind of boring corporate bastard who might fill up the third tier villain slot in another better movie. Get this: his scheme is to fuse people with alien lifeforms in order to sell them real estate in space. Later he fuses with a Symbiote with his own stupid motivation, just so the movie can end with a big climactic fight between two CG bodysuits. That Ahmed manages to get through the whole ordeal in deadly seriousness is a testament to the movie’s sense of misguided self-importance. Meanwhile Michelle Williams is given a slightly less thankless role as Eddie’s sympathetic ex, but nothing much to do other than root for him.
A movie like Venom should’ve gone all in on the darkness and weirdness instead of pussyfooting around and microwaving the same origin story for the upteenth time. The surprise mid-credits scene ends on a much more interesting note than anything the movie struck in its running time. Couldn’t we have had that for a villain? Venom is a big waste of time until the sequel hits, and I’m not sure it deserves one.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).