Let’s get this out of the way early. Venom is a total disaster. Sometimes the critiquing and flowery language is just a way of splashing perfume on a bag of garbage. When the lead actor comes out to say about 30-40 minutes of his favourite scenes are on the cutting room floor you know he’s getting in his excuses early.
It says a lot that Zombieland remains the only worthwhile film in director Ruben Fleischer’s canon and it’s hard to spot exactly where his fingerprints are on this project. Venom is as generic and unspecific as you can imagine, lacking any sense of imagination and mashing up a string of greatest misses from a collection of the worst superhero films made over the past 20 or 30 years.
Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock in the scrunched up, slightly dishevelled, jack-the-lad way he has done so many times before now. But better. Brock is Mister Likeable - the homeless warm to his kind heart and shopkeepers love his humble swagger. He fights for the people through his investigative TV programme that hunts down corruption and abuse of power amongst the rich and wealthy in the city. He’s also engaged to Michelle Williams’ Anne Weyling (heavily channelling Pepper Potts) who is given next to nothing to do with her role.
Over in Malaysia, a spaceship crashes to Earth and an alien life form escapes. The ship belongs to the super rich megalomaniac Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) who is unaware that one of the Symbiote life forms he was transporting has escaped, taken over a human body and is slowly making its way over to his San Francisco mega lab. Eddie breaks in to the laboratory to expose the nefarious tests being conducted by Drake but is quickly infected by a Symbiote and the battle begins with his new Venom alter ego.
Elsewhere, Eddie also loses his job and is dumped by Anne and there’s something about a potential Symbiote invasion and saving the Earth but none of that really matters. There has been a lot of early discussion about Venom’s rating and it’s hard to disagree that an 18-rated version would’ve made for a better experience. That said, it appears to be a composite of any number of genre films which makes it feel like its own lost life form looking for a home. Intentionally or not, there are countless references to films like Dawn of the Dead, Transformers and Terminator 2 at one point or another, and Venom is never once comfortable in its own skin.
The comedy is beyond lame, lacking any sense of wit and simply content with rolling out dull one liners in the hope that one will eventually land. Tom Hardy pitches himself knee deep into his role as usual and his over-the-top comedic physicality fits right into the scene chewing he is usually so good at. It was almost impossible not to notice Logan Marshall-Green’s physical comparisons with Hardy in Upgrade a few months ago, and when Venom starts to smack around the bad guys while Brock meekly apologises, you might wish you were back watching that film instead.
Superhero films haven’t become the dominant force in cinema simply due to the money thrown at them (of course it helps - a lot). They have gradually developed into well oiled machines with competent storytelling at their centre. Venom discards much of that and is a throwback to the bad ole days when the CGI looked terrible, the script was awful and a good cast were completely wasted. $100m has been thrown at this baby, but it’s so bad you might be forced to reconsider the events of Spider-Man 3. A statement that isn’t made lightly.
Venom is released in UK cinemas nationwide today.