It’s hard to enjoy ‘Venom’ because it’s such a strange film. It’s definitely a superhero movie, but with a whole decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has managed to elevate the genre into something so nuanced or political (at its best we have ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’ and ‘Black Panther’), ‘Venom’ seems to have completely let go of any attempt of any profundity or depth.
The story is so hollow and the characters so one-dimensional that it is hard to empathize with the characters in the film. It’s the story of a journalist, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who loses his career and the woman he is about to marry when he goes after industrialist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). His life is further complicated when he continues his investigation and forms a bond with an alien symbiote from Drake’s lab called Venom, who gives him superpowers but has an insatiable appetite to eat people.
Trying to find common ground between Venom while being chased by Drake and his men, Eddie Brock must find within himself the heart of a hero if he is to save the world.
There’s so much potential in this story except the script never pushes it further than this. Almost all the characters are practically the same from beginning to end. There are no real emotional beats that push and pull against the moral fabric of Eddie Brock as he finds himself as a host of an alien being that grants him quite unimaginable power. His ex fiance, the lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) has the same character line from beginning to end, and Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake is a one-dimensional bad guy that seems like a call back to the 90s where the villains shout things like, “Don’t come back until you get me what I want.”
It’s this simplistic take that takes away from the enjoyment of ‘Venom.’ Surprisingly, it is Venom who has the most character beats, but since the film is taken from Eddie Brock’s point-of-view, we don’t actually get to see and enjoy the shifts in Venom’s character. These are thrown away as quips and one-liners for laughs.
But it does have its share of laughs and thrills. Of the whole cast, it seems that Riz Ahmed and Tom Hardy are having the most fun with this wooden script. Ahmed is channeling his best 90s villain with mad eyes and inflated ego. He orders people around like its second nature and casually sends innocent people to their deaths for the sake of humanity without batting an eyelash.
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But Tom Hardy is having a blast. His take on Eddie Brock is unlike many of the characters he has become known for like his roles in ‘The Revenant’ or ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ He plays Eddie Brock as a charming, down-on-his luck sleuth, who has bit off more than he can chew. We get to see his softer side as he is in constant debate with the symbiote that speaks to him in his head. He’s having a blast playing a man seemingly possessed and he is a joy to watch.
Of course, there are the action sequences and the special effects that comes with the territory, but with a whole decade of films from the MCU and DC, this is par for the course and nothing that truly feels new or surprising for the genre.
There’s a lot of potential here though, if they decided to dig deeper and with Venom’s penchant for eating people, you’d think they’d go for a higher rating and go gruesome. Instead, they dilute Venom’s fear factor by making it all PG, which sorts of renders the film light and fluffy. It could have been more powerful, dark, and brooding as the character and the situation calls for but by going the PG-route, its overall effect is rendered blunt and without teeth.
The first act of 'Venom' is incredibly long, spending too much time on an exposition that is all for show since there are no emotional beats to turn for its characters. It misses its mark by wasting a perfectly interesting character and situation that could have been a nice counterpoint to the MCU and the superhero genre, one that maybe DC was hoping to aim for with the Zack Snyder films but it falls far below the standard that we've come to expect.
I’m a Tom Hardy fan and as fun as it was seeing him argue with an alien being inside his head, this movie will just be a blip in his filmography.