Somewhere inside this largely bad film is a rather hilarious comedy. “Venom” is 80% a garbage attempt to be a serious comic book movie. But that other 20%. That 20% is something insane. Truth be told, the powers that be here chose the completely wrong avenue to take this character. They either should have leaned into the rumored R rating and shown the character literally eating brains, or gone in the other direction. “Venom” should have been a bizarre comedy, closer in tone to “Deadpool” than “Daredevil.” Unfortunately, one gets the sense that the hilarity is at least partly unintentional here. We’re meant to take this crap seriously. Frankly, this is closer to “Catwoman” than anything else.
Here’s the thing. “Venom” is both one of the worst films of the year so far, as well as one of the most fun. If you could cut out everything except scenes of Tom Hardy talking to the title character within himself, this would be nuts and a blast. When it’s doing that, intentional or not, it’s very funny. Venom calling Hardy a “loser” or a “pussy” has a strange appeal. However, when it’s doing generically bad origin story stuff, or showcasing unwatchable action sequences, this turns into a dumpster fire. When a moment involving Hardy and Venom essentially making out is one of the better moments, you know your movie is in trouble.
Journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) had it all. A plum reporting gig, a beautiful fiancee in lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), and a second chance in San Francisco, after flaming out in New York City. Then, when he can’t resist holding Life Foundation head Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) accountable for some potentially heinous rumors during an interview, it all comes crashing down. Anne and Eddie lose their jobs, she leaves him, and he spends the next six months in a drunken stupor.
At the same time, a Life Foundation space vessel has crashed back to Earth, holding alien specimens that Drake thinks hold the cure to all that ails humanity. They’ve contained three, but one is out on the loose. These symbiotes need a host in order to survive, something his company has been experimenting with. This bothers his lead scientist, Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), who convinces Eddie to try and expose the story. Instead, it leads to a symbiote bonding with him, giving him superpowers.
The symbiote calls itself Venom and actually takes a liking to Eddie. So, while the specimens planned to head back into space to recruit the rest of their race for an invasion, this one instead begins a bromance. It may want to bite heads off and eat brains, but it also gives Eddie romantic advice and continually saves his life. If this sounds like “How Did This Get Made?” podcast material, you better believe that it is.
Tom Hardy is in a completely different version of “Venom” than everyone else, to our benefit. He goes all in on the physical comedy of the role, contorting himself like it’s some sort of slapstick outing. With a strange vocal choice for both Eddie and Venom itself, he’s clearly having the time of his life. In spite of it all, he gives everything he’s got to a production unworthy of that. Without him, this would be easily the worst film of 2018. It’s not a performance worth heavy acclaim like in “Warrior,” for example, but he sees a different and better movie than the filmmakers do.
Aside from Hardy, this is clearly a paycheck gig for the rest of the cast. Riz Ahmed doesn’t even really chew the scenery as the villain, despite given ample opportunity in the third act. Michelle Williams looks bored as if she’s counting the money in her head. Good on them for the high profile and well-paying roles, but boo on us for having to watch them. Jenny Slate is wasted, while other supporting players like Scott Haze and Reid Scott have even less to do. Woody Harrelson shows up in a terrible post-credits sequence for a cameo, but the less said about that, the better.
Director Ruben Fleischer must not have wanted us to see any of the action scenes in “Venom.” Why else stage them so poorly that it’s nearly impossible to see what’s going on? It’s shocking to see that Matthew Libatique is the cinematographer here. One of the best DP’s in the business ends up turning in ugly work like this, and you have to think Fleischer is to blame. As for the screenwriting team of Will Beal, Kelly Marcel, Jeff Pinkner, and Scott Rosenberg…woof. Beal is credited only on IMDb, so maybe his draft was jettisoned? Regardless, Marcel, Pinkner, and Rosenberg are lucky that Hardy did his thing, or else this would be a big black mark on their resumes. To quote a line from the script, it would be like a turd in the wind.
After a first act full of cringe-inducing exposition, “Venom” at least gets weird. It remains bad, but the strangeness of it is pleasurably distracting. Then, a barely comprehensible action sequence ruins it all over again. The only reason to watch this movie is in a “so bad it’s good” sort of way. In that mindset, it can be a hoot. Aside from that, it’s a very poor film. You won’t like “Venom” in all likelihood, though you may laugh more than at some comedies. Make of that what you will.