Ruben Fleischer’s Venom opened in theaters just a few days ago, and while the film is produced in association with Marvel, it’s not exactly part of the same universe. Instead, Venom is intended to be first film in Sony’s own Marvel universe, and I can’t say with confidence that they’re off to a stellar start.
For those unfamiliar with the character, Venom is a fictional anti-hero in the Marvel universe. He’s Spider-Man’s counterpart, a sentient alien that behaves like a thick liquid and requires a human host to survive. The unconventional hero first appeared on the big screen in 2007 as the primary antagonist in Spider-Man 3, when Topher Grace (who I refuse to see as any character other than That ’70s Show’s Eric Foreman) played the role.
Despite an exciting opening sequence, Venom‘s first act is a bit of a drag. It begins when the Life Foundation, a bioengineering corporation run by delusional scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), brings back symbiotic lifeforms from space. After a symbiote escapes during transport, the shuttle crash lands and sends one of them (Riot) body-hopping through Malaysia. In San Francisco, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist that wears leather jackets and gives $20 to homeless people.
The film’s conflict is apparent from the jump. Drake wants to save the human race, and believes that finding acceptable human hosts to bond with space aliens is the key to doing so. He recruits the desperate and the homeless to be his guinea pigs, and sacrifices them to his symbiotes in an effort to find a perfect match. He clearly has no problem throwing his fellow man to the dogs, but the execution of his character failed to make me hate him as much as I should have. For the first half hour, Venom struggles to gain its footing.
Venom slogs its way towards the second act, where things luckily shift into a different gear. Brock breaks into The Life Foundation to expose Drake’s corruption, and takes photos as evidence. But when he sees a homeless woman he knows and shatters her glass enclosure, the symbiote inside her bonds to Brock and decides it likes him more. After a third of the movie, audiences finally get what they bought their tickets for.
Brock’s relationship with his parasite is the best part about the film. Now bound to the lethal protector, he struggles to gain control of his newfound parasite. This is both a comical relationship and a welcome surprise, especially when Brock has to remind Venom not to bite the heads off of good people. And in an effort to appease the beast inside him, Brock even makes a scene at a restaurant when he jumps into a lobster tank and helps himself to a bite. Hardy has talent, and it was on full display in the scenes where Brock and Venom bicker like two brothers trying to occupy the same space in the car. If it’s one thing viewers will want more of, it’s that. And while it wasn’t much, Hardy did the best with what he was given.
Eventually, fans will get what they had hoped for all along: a fight between Brock and Drake, who is now bound to the Riot symbiote that escaped in Malaysia and somehow found him. And while a climactic brawl between two amorphous aliens sounds like a thrill, it was more of a mess than anything. There were so many cuts that it was hard to figure out what exactly was going on, and the CGI was reminiscent of a 2003 sci-fi flick. The whole thing felt rushed,
Despite the strong cast and a bad, bad villain, Venom is a movie that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. At times, it feels like a self-aware network television show, offering up corny lines like “Launch the drones!” and “I found something very bad, and I have been taken.” Other times—like when Venom chastises Brock for taking the elevator instead of jumping out the window—it feels like a buddy cop movie. Pick a genre and run with it, instead of throwing a bunch at the wall hoping it sticks.
Venom is far from a smash hit, but it’s also not a disaster. It’s a decent superhero film that failed to capitalize on great material and a truly scary character. I wanted to like it. Hell, I wanted to love it. But I just didn’t. Surely, others will. After all, it has the feel of a cult-classic that you’ll enjoy from time to time without telling anyone you’re doing so.