Venom is the latest example of a movie trying to be too many things. I don’t know if we need to blame the writers, director, or studio tinkering but somehow this movie attempts to be everything to everyone and fails miserably. That isn’t to say its a bad time at the movies, I actually truly enjoyed some aspects of Venom. I think if the movie focused on trying to do one thing instead of a million it may have been one of the best comic book movies in years. Instead, as a whole, it should be launched into space.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL HAVE SPOILERS
Venom stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, a tough Vice-style investigative reporter who goes around the world exposing corruption. Eddie’s fiance Anne, played by the overqualified Michelle Williams, is an attorney for a big firm in San Francisco who happens to have the Life Foundation as a client. The Life Foundation is a stand-in for Tesla and Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is Elon Musk-lite. Carlton Drake is looking for a PR boost after one of his exploratory rockets, carrying alien life, explodes on reentry to Earth. Secretly Carlton Drake and the Life Foundation recover 3 of 4 symbiotes (the alien ooze) from the wreckage and begin testing them on animals and humans. Eddie’s network taps him to do the PR piece on Carlton Drake and warns him to only talk about rockets. The night before the interview, Eddie gets on his fiancé’s computer and reads about some test subjects who died during Life Foundation pharmaceutical trials. Of course, Eddie asks about this and the interview is cut off, he is fired from his network, and Anne is fired from her firm because they knew he got the information from her computer. Then it says six months later…
We do all of that plot building and it means nothing. The six months later crutch spends another 20 minutes introducing the down on his luck, single, and unemployed Eddie’s World. Finally, a doctor from Life Foundation asks him to come to the lab and during a moment of reflection on the Golden Gate Bridge (corny!) he decides to investigate. So we spend 40 minutes navigating two separate movie setups to get us to Eddie being infected. It was a waste of screen time and felt like two separate drafts of the movie that they decided to use both of.
Once Eddie becomes one with Venom the movie becomes the height of what it could be. A truly hilarious buddy comedy starring Tom Hardy. I legitimately laughed out loud more at the interactions between Eddie and Venom than the entire Deadpool 2 movie. Hardy is truly fantastic in these moments and has such a commitment to this weird version of Eddie that I loved. The relationship between Eddie and Venom is more fully realized than any of the moments between Anne and Eddie. A highlight is after establishing early on that Eddie is afraid of heights, Venom tells him to jump out of a skyscraper. There is a quick cut to Eddie pushing an elevator down button and Venom calls him a “Pussy” under his breath. It shouldn’t be funny but it was hilarious. Tom Hardy sells every part of these ridiculous situations including a scene (done far better in Upgrade) where men attack Eddie in his apartment and Venom takes his body over killing them one by one to exasperated shock by Hardy.
Unfortunately, this enjoyable buddy comedy is cut short by a yadda-yadda villain plot where the missing symbiote, Riot, infects Carlton Drake to take a rocket to space and bring millions of symbiotes to Earth and destroy the planet. Venom decides he likes being powerful on Earth and selfishly wants to stop Riot. Cue a PS2 style graphics CGI battle that is truly terrible and felt like it belonged nowhere near a $100 million movie where two CGI symbiotes punch each other. Again the only redeeming part of this scene was Venom’s play by play to Eddie. Once the battle is over the movie decides it should use one of what feels like five scenes to end the movie. It is made clear that Eddie and Venom will work together and have an understanding on who to hurt. Wait it isn’t over? We get a scene from the commercials where Eddie attacks a guy in a convenience store next to his apartment, establishing once again that somewhere this movie was going to focus on Eddie and Venom growing together making the final battle we just left seem even more tacked on by the studio who needed a CGI punch fest.
The movie is a mess. The CGI is terrible and it turns the thing it has going for it on and off too often to check the boxes of all comic movies. Tom Hardy himself has come out and said his favorite parts of the movie were cut. I can’t help but wonder what the original R rated unlikely buddy comedy this movie clearly had going for it would have been like. Every piece of the film that felt derailed or poorly thought out definitely felt like studio PG-13 interference. We need a love interest who helps, we need a big final battle, we need a fate of the World plot, and we need a sequel setup. If you cut all of that out this might have been my favorite comic movie in quite awhile. Hardy was clearly filming a comedy and everyone else was filming a serious comic book movie. I’m not sure we will ever see a sequel but this is the first time I’ve been interested in a director’s cut in a long time.
I gave a spoiler warning earlier but here is the post-credits scene that shows the studio was so involved. We get a scene where Eddie is going to interview a serial killer and it is revealed to be Woody Harrelson in a red wig writing in blood in his cell and he asks Eddie if he is here to talk about the carnage. Clearly, the sequel will have Carnage in it which I don’t care about. What I do care is that Woody seemed to be in the same movie as Tom Hardy was, chewing scenery and having fun, which none of the other actors were for the previous two hours.