Good God, the Venom movie is an outstandingly clumsy exercise in cinematic storytelling. This whole film is so awkward to watch it leaves one feeling uncomfortable, it’s like watching someone repeatedly try to do a somersault but constantly failing at it in the most spectacular of ways. At least it establishes right from the get-go that this is gonna be a subpar production, Venom does not waste time in letting you know it’s a flat-out disaster. The first twenty minutes are dedicated to establishing the character of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and who he is as a person. Hardy’s wack-a-doodle performance constantly shifts Brock’s personality from scene-to-scene, so don’t expect to get to know this character very well in this section of the movie or any other part of it.
There’s this unintentional sense of artificiality in the character interactions in these opening sequences that’s really disarming, these are supposed to be the scenes establishing the humanity of the characters but instead there isn’t a single believable performance or line delivery to be found, everyone’s just acting like they’re reading their lines off cue cards that are just off-camera. Anywho, after a disastrous interview with evil billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Eddie Brock ends up losing his job and his girlfriend, Ann Weying (Michelle Williams) and the two have a conversation ending their relationship that’s so full of dialogue where characters just explaining their emotions mechanically that it would send the Robot Devil from Futurama into a tizzy!
We then flash-forward six months later in a time skip that reminded me of the “One Year Later” time jump in 2015’s Fantastic Four debacle (always a good project for comic book movies to emulate) and Eddie Brock is living alone in an apartment and unable to find a job. While trying to get to the bottom of Carlton Drake experimenting on and killing homeless individuals, he stumbles upon Drake’s newest obsession: alien creatures known as symbiotes. One of these symbiotes known as Venom latches onto Eddie Brock and turns him into a big alien creature that can easily fight off Drake’s henchman who are trying to get the symbiote back for their boss. Together, Brock and this symbiote may just do some good in a very nasty way.
Despite being basically a science-fiction werewolf story that would be ripe material for a great B-horror movie, Venom clearly wants to be a traditional type of blockbuster, one that has action the audience can be swept up in and especially characters you can be invested in. Problem is, the sense of awkwardness that plagues the opening sequences of Venom consumes the rest of the film too, this is a film that never feels comfortable with itself and it isn’t long before the viewer is in a similar state of discomfort. A perfunctory nature is similarly omnipresent throughout the script, particularly in the characters. Riz Ahmed is a villain with no other defining traits to his name, ditto his main henchman, the love interest and a scientist whose around to supply exposition played by a woefully underused Jenny Slate, they’re all just mechanisms to get the plot moving, they’re never convincing people or just entertaining to watch.
The only time Venom is ever all that fun is one ultra-brief sequence when Brock first gets the symbiote in his system, this is where Venom comes alive for one brief moment not because it actually becomes good but because it is fascinating to watch Tom Hardy act like such a showy goofball in depicting Brock adjusting to the ravenous beast living inside him. Hardy’s whole performance as Eddie Brock is a live-wire of eccentricities but he especially doesn’t hold back here in showing Brock eating scraps out of the garbage like a savage beast or acting like the most stereotypical movie version of a cokehead ever at a fancy restaurant. These are only fleeting moments in the span of the entire feature-length runtime of Venom, but if in a few months time you wonder where a widely used GIF of Tom Hardy devouring frozen tater tots comes from, remember that it comes from the one (tragically brief) salvageable part of Venom.
As for the rest of Hardy’s performance, well, it’s an interesting concoction, certainly he’s the only one here that doesn’t feel like he’s going through the motions as he plays Brock as a mixture of Tommy Wiseau, Eric Andre and Al Pacino (his delivery of the line “He’s got a symbiote UP HIS ASS!” is especially Pacino-esque). But as I said earlier, his wacky acting choices keep altering the character of Eddie Brock drastically from scene to scene, making it hard to get invested in his character like the movie clearly wants us to do. Hardy’s work as Eddie Brock is admirably committed to oddness, but it’s more fun in bits and pieces than as a whole entity while Hardy’s digitally altered voice work as the separate Venom creature is mostly just uninspired.
Oh, and if you’re showing up for Venom just hoping to get some thrills in the action department, turn back now, there is a stunning lack of imagination and especially fun in the scenes showing Venom fighting human enemies, with a car chase through San Francisco only reminding one of how much more creative and delightful the chase sequence in fellow 2018 San Francisco superhero movie Ant-Man and the Wasp was. There are basically only three sequences where Venom gets to unleash his inner anti-hero (as the marketing would put it) and only one of them pairs Venom up with a challenging foe in the form of generic symbiote creature Riot. Their gooey showdown will leave moviegoers across the world in awe at just how visually incoherent this climax is.
Venom is a massive mess, one that will leave you questioning so many of its storytelling decisions (like recurring sequences entirely divorced from the main characters in the story that show Riot hopping from one human host to the next in an effort to get closer to Carlton Drake) and wondering why they couldn’t even get a trashy good time out of a movie that asks Tom Hardy to turn into a gigantic alien monster that loves to bite people’s heads off. What we’ve got instead is 2018’s answer to last year’s The Dark Tower movie in that it’s a paint-by-numbers cheap-looking motion picture that somehow managed to score big name actors to star in it. Maybe Venom would have been vastly improved if it had starred Jenny Slate instead. And had been written and directed by Gllian Robespierre. And had just been a screening of Obvious Child instead, that would have been a vast improvement.