An aimless, awful embarrassment for everyone involved, Venom imagines a world where a dopey Peter Parker-type was instead bitten by a radioactive turd. Creatively bankrupt filmmaking from top to bottom, Venom bows under the weight of an insufferable script, flat-out strange performances, and a mishmash tone that tries to levy the darkness of a character that waxes about snacking on eyeballs and fingers and livers in with scatalogical jokes that truly only the prepubescent in the audience would giggle along with.
Like an import from another decade, one where superhero fare came barreling down the hatch without its fair shake of quality control, Venom is a bold vision of cinematic not-giving-a-fuck. Think the likes of Fantastic Four and Daredevil, Batman and Robin and Catwoman and you’ll have an inkling for the flabbergasting, directionless mania of this shockingly bad Sony outing. Director Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland and Gangster Squad fame proves epically unqualified for the chair, failing to breathe the faintest glimmer of soul into this feral abomination.
At the very least, Venom represents a pleasant reminder that Marvel can still take risks, like attaching their name to a movie that unrelentingly sucks ass. Say what you will about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and I’ve lamented the sameness of their outputting for years now) but there is a certain standard with all of these films, forgettable though most ultimately are. Venom is unforgettable in a way – a profusely sweating Tom Hardy hopping in a lobster tank at a fancy restaurant kind of unforgettable.
Hardy, who has long been a beacon of quality when it comes to the roles he selects, has only once belittled himself with material far beneath his talents, in the rather bad 2012 action rom-com This Means War. And if you thought that was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. His signing on for Venom in the first place signaled tantalizing promise, suggesting an out-of-the-box antihero origin story with some real bite. Fans expected R-rated insanity that really focused on character; the madness of a man merged with hubris itself. I mean, why else would the multiple Oscar-nominated actor enroll himself in such tripe?
The answer remains unclear after watching – there is no hint of a grand scheme gone amiss, just a tacked together hodgepodge of lackluster moments and hurriedly written hack-lines. Hardy himself isn’t good by any measurable standard. His performance is all kinds of frantic and bug-eyed, tacked to a weird accent, and constantly demeaning itself with some of the worst dialogue imaginable. Even the interplay between Hardy’s Eddie Brock and Venom, essentially the heart and soul of this whole project, isn’t fun banter. Venom demands, “Food!” He’s the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy given voice. Everything about the character is childish dreck, plain and simple.
The plot of Venom, as if the movie is interested in an actual plot and not just churning the laziest cinematic universe imaginable, is pseudo-gritty origin story banality. Ostensibly, a disgraced reporter bonds with hungry alien goo to take down Big Pharma. Eddie Brock is a “no-holds-barred” reporter who will do anything to get a story, including invading his lawyer fiancee’s (played by Michelle Williams, god knows why) personal email to get the scoop on a nefarious pharmaceutical big whig (Riz Ahmed, who also co-stars in this weekend’s excellent The Sisters Brothers). A symbiote from space named Venom crash lands on Earth and hitches a ride on Brock’s immune system (Brock repeatedly refers to this as a “parasite” that he has “up his butt”) and the two pair up to save the world because “they’re both losers.” Nifty.
You can’t make this stuff up people. Well that is unless your name is Scott Rosenberg (Kangaroo Jack), Jeff Pinkner (The 5th Wave), Kelly Marcel (50 Shades of Grey) or Will Beall (Gangster Squad), the combined four-top taking responsibility for writing this sludge. A quick review of the four aforementioned movies this quartet have worked on before should speak (nay, scream) volumes about the lo-fi sewage in store. The script is undoubtedly Venom’s Achilles’ heel – the lowest wrung in a ladder from hell. Their choice of words is so unrelenting awful that you may find yourself amazed that Hardy and Williams and Ahmed agreed to utter many of these lines in front of a camera, ever. At one point, Hardy says “My legs were broken, and now they are not broken” with a look of amazement on his face that could only be matched by my own amazement that I was actually watching this happen in an actual movie starring actual Tom Hardy.
Venom is the result of a studio trying to have its cake and eat heads too. Superficially, there is a dark air to Brock’s transformation into a powerful super-sentient ass-kicker but it’s all about as hardcore as smoking e-cigs outside the Hot Topic in your local mall. With its immature humor and barbarically stupid dialogue, Venom will only appeal to the kids in the audience, a decision made evident by its awful musical choices (including an over-the-hill Eminem ballad). This is lowest common denomination debris; the rubble of some unseen insider shakeup that was beaten and battered into “film” form. On the Venom press tour, Tom Hardy commented that his “favorite 40 minutes had been cut from the film” but with what we’ve seen, you’d need a whole new 120 minutes of movie to find anything even half-decent, much less anything worth calling your “favorite.”
CONCLUSION: Venom’s ineptitude is on steroids, the whole super-villain origin story shuddering under the weight of its brash stupidity. Joining the leagues of the worst super movies ever made, Venom is a shocking stain on everyone involved with the project.