WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Eddie Brock seems to have it all, including a fiancée who loves him and a massively successful news show, but when he asks the wrong sort of right questions to Carlton Drake, a mega-wealthy geneticist/ business mogul, he soon finds himself out of a job and, having attained his information from privileged files on his lawyer fiancée’s computer, out of love too. Down on his luck and desperate, Eddie decides to take a more hands on approach to investigating Drake’s experiments but, while doing so, he becomes infected with a Symbiote – an alien parasite that grants him incredible powers.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Between the initial decision to make a Venom origin story without Spider-man, a trailer that made it look like a c-grade superhero (or is that anti-superhero?) flick from the ‘90s, a release date that was pushed back repeatedly, and enough bad pre-release press to sink, well, a Marvel film, Venom looked set to be one of the worst superhero films of the decade. And, would you know it, that’s precisely what it is.
Admittedly, it never made me angry in the way that Batman V Superman did as I never had the sort of investment in Venom that I have in Superman (frankly, despite being a big Spider-man fan, I’ve never been particularly interested in Venom) and it never quite threatened to lull me into a coma to the extent that the cataclysmically boring Fantastic Four reboot – or to give it its full, stupid title: Fant4astic – did, but, make no mistake, Venom is a very, very bad movie that only looks all the worse when stacked up against the sort of fare that Marvel studios routinely puts out.
Conversely, with all the flack that Marvel Studio’s films have gotten from the snottier critics out there, Venom is a good reminder of how easy it is to take for granted the skill, wit and professionalism with which virtually all of their MCU films are put together. Never mind the epic ambitions of something like the Avengers: Infinity War, even the apparently slight Ant-man and the Wasp shows itself to be an expertly crafted piece of mainstream entertainment whose virtues shine all the brighter when placed next to Venom – which, for all the world, comes across like one of those naff, really rather embarrassing ‘90s comic book movie that accidentally found itself being released two decades too late.
Indeed, the only way to get any sort of enjoyment out of Venom is by viewing it as the strange curio that it has turned out to be. It’s not simply bad in the way that this century’s worst superhero films have been; it’s bad in the sense that it’s hard to believe that it was ever made in the first place. Even as a pitch it makes no sense whatsoever. Venom was the most mocked aspect of the widely derided third film in Sam Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy so what on earth convinced the powers that be at Sony Entertainment to dedicate a whole film to it, while removing the one aspect from it that had any potential in the first place: Venom as a dark reflection of Spider-man?
That it was ever greenlit in the first place is astounding enough but that’s nothing in comparison to the way that Ruben Fleischer, the director of the stylish and eccentric Zombieland, has managed to come up with something so bland, uninspired and weirdly inept.
What happened to Fleischer’s visual flare, his ability to tell a cogent story, his obvious way with actors and his ability to combine horror and comedy so effectively? The last question is especially pressing because how could someone who made the best zombie comedy this side of Shaun of the Dead so utterly fail at balancing the film’s earlier Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-type horror with the knockabout comedy that the film stumbles into once Eddie finally becomes Venom? And I do mean finally: somehow this 90-minute film took about two hours to reach this point?
Even shifting the blame to the script doesn’t quite work because among the staggering four writers (how the hell did it take four writers to write this thing?) is Scott Rosenberg, a veteran screenwriter behind things like Con Air, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, this year’s Jumanji reboot and one of my all time favourite films, High Fidelity, whose presence alone shouldn’t allow for a script this hokey and witless. And yet, here is some of the worst dialogue in a mainstream film this year; dialogue that is as laughably inept at eliciting any emotion out of its more dramatic beats as it is tragically incapable of eliciting much more than a snigger at the humour it increasingly relies on as it reaches its generically familiar “climax”.
The film has been edited down by something like an hour to come in at its still painfully long and dreary 90 minutes so that may well explain why it’s such a disjointed mess with character arcs that make absolutely no sense and a world-ending plot that drunkenly staggers in out of nowhere about fifteen minutes before the end of the film. It may also explain why a reliably great performer like Tom Hardy (leading an amazingly all-star cast) seems so adrift in the film. He throws himself into the character of Eddie Brock with ghusto, to be sure, but his hyper, broadly comedic performance is at odds with the earlier, more dour parts of the film and only heightens the sense of whiplash when the film unexpectedly shifts from ineffectual horror to atonal comedy.
The studio clearly has less than zero faith in the film and I’m right there with them - even if this whole situation is entirely their fault in the first place! And yet, here’s the kicker: the whole film is almost worth the price of admission for the second – note: second – coda that comes right at the end of the credits. It has nothing to do with the rest of the film at all but if, by the end of it, you’re not chomping at the bit with anticipation for a certain movie that’s coming out in just a few months, well, you probably fell asleep at some point during the twenty minutes of credits that preceded it. Understandable, but lets just say that the folks at Sony may have more fine ideas for Spider-man than just sharing him with Marvel Studios...