The first act of Venom is a disaster. For a full 30 minutes, I felt like I was being trolled by Academy award nominees Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams along with Emmy winner Riz Ahmed. It felt like watching three incredibly talented actors take a “cheat day” to blow off some steam. The set up is full of cheesy dialog, generic plot beats and a caricature villain who doesn’t miss a single chance to get philosophical. It truly seemed like all these prestige actors were hamming it in to the tune off “we’ve heard this is what the kids like nowadays”.
And then, Tom Hardy becomes Venom and things change for the better. The writers who wrote terribly for engaged partners somehow write some excellent stuff for a man and alien inhibiting his body. Tom Hardy turns in what is the most bizarre and fascinating performance of his career. This film works better as an Eddie Brock and Venom bromance than a superhero origin or science fiction story. The way Eddie’s and Venom’s relationship evolves through the course of the film along with their banter is unique and very enjoyable to watch. There are some genuinely hilarious moments.
Alas, it is the only saving grace of the film. The action scenes are a major let down. They feel like a rehash of a lot that we’ve seen before. There is no notable action choreography or memorable set pieces. It doesn’t help that all the action takes place at night and the effect is further dimmed with 3D glasses. There was no convenient 2D showtime that worked for me unfortunately. If you have that option though, take it. $100M is a relatively small budget in today’s comic book movie landscape, but for this film even that feels a bit much. There isn’t any special effects work that’s impressive and the climatic battle is a visual mess. Nothing on the technical front really stands out or makes an impression.
The plot is quite simple and predictable, and never manages to raise the stakes or create any sort of tension. It is also littered with plot holes that are best not thought about. It amazes me how some interactions in the film are so well written and other narrative beats so lazily. Character development is a bare minimum. Despite its many shortcomings, I was somehow never bored. This can be attributed to the films fast pace. At times it also transcends into being “so bad it’s good” territory. It’s also quite short. I quite enjoyed director Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland and didn’t mind Gangster Squad or 30 Minutes or Less. This is probably his weakest directorial effort and I hope he bounces back strong with Zombieland 2.
I hope that Venom does well so that Tom Hardy and his alien friend can find themselves in a sequel worthy of their charm. With the talent involved, Venom should have been a better film. Unfortunately, it falls shorts on almost every count but has one saving grace that makes it watchable and occasionally even enjoyable.