Note: This review was written under the influence of several beers and one Monster Energy drink in order to best approach the mindset of Venom’s marketing. Drink responsibly.
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have had a mantra in their writer’s room to never allow “and then” into their storytelling. The principle behind this is in stories being more than just a series of bullet-points. Every story is about people committing to actions, those actions having a consequence; rinse, repeat throughout history. Or rather, that's how most good stories are told.
You may be asking yourself “why is this writer bringing up an outdated, formerly-clever hot topic of pop culture?” It’s because we need to talk about Venom.
We follow the story of journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a good man who is a good journalist. Eddie Brock is also bad at his job. They never directly say or confront this fact, but watching his one interview with the eventual villain of the piece (Riz Ahmed) it is clear he is bad at it. Which should be a decent set up to tackle fresh ground in a superhero movie: journalistic integrity. Is reporting on unethical and dangerous environments justifiable if it puts innocent people in the crosshairs? It’s a valid question, one we certainly would never have to face in modern day America as our government and corporations only treat people with respect and care. No matter, Venom has no interest in any big questions.
This isn’t just a superhero movie. People, this is a superhero movie produced by Avi Arad. While there are many arguments about what villains are the definitive cinematic nemesis of Spider-Man, Avi Arad is at least in the top three. The producer originally convinced Sam Raimi to use the character in Spider-Man 3 and attempted to spinoff the symbiote into another franchise several times over. Money is money, there’s nothing wrong with making movies for the money. But cynical corporate movements can be seen from miles away. In fact, that’s the only thing that’s truly clear about this whole enterprise. People like a variety of Venom quotes and some imagery from the comic, so it is now in the movie. Raimi wept. It’s all bad but it’s bad in a manner that is potentially fascinating.
Look, if you have a couple beers before (full disclosure: much like I did) you’re probably going to have a good time. It’s a level of incompetence surrounding a bizarro-world acting performance from Tom Hardy that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s unclear what film Tom Hardy attempted to pull out of this (I’m betting Little Shop of Horrors and The Mask) but he’s at his most unfiltered here. The movie around him isn’t close to good. To be frank, I’m not sure Tom Hardy is good. But he’s channeling something beyond the grasp of human comprehension. It feels utterly alien to our planet, which is why it’ll be worth watching clips on YouTube in a few months. The remainder of the cast feels far too stilted in underwritten roles. An absolute disappointment given how this is one of the weirder casts ever assembled for a blockbuster. Riz Ahmed is ripe for the MCU super-rehabilitation program alongside Michael B. Jordan and Chris Evans. Michelle Williams spoke about how doing movies like this can help smaller films get made. Get that paper, girl. Respect.
Outside of Hardy’s mesmerizing performance, Venom is a clear attempt at trying to replicate the success of Iron Man - even bringing over director of photography, Matthew Libatique - though never understanding how and why that first film really worked. There are no clear character, thematic, or even plot motivations established; nor are there any logical payoffs. There are certainly things occurring in front of our eyes, projected onto a large screen, but the actual components attempting to make something of this story are never given any urgency. Events merely occur to establish a quick history between characters, an admirable attempt at cinema if ever there was one, but it’s not as if any relationships progress in any way that impacts what little story is swept together. Beyond what is required from scene-to-scene, everything in Venom is in constant flux of “and-then” situations. When it’s not trying to be that cinematic universe jumpstarter it is oh-so-needed to be, it’s an assembly belt of superhero nonsense that was left behind back in the mid-2000s. Say what you will about the original Daredevil, that movie had striking imagery and fully committed to its superherodom.
In better news, trailers made it seem a little too visually noisy during the action, but that only becomes an issue when two symbiotes fight. When Venom is beating henchman down in streets and corridors, it’s actually nice to have action that isn’t cut to hell. It’s not inspired, merely legible. Yes, they’re saving Carnage for the sequel. No, it wouldn’t have killed them to change the color of another symbiote to differentiate the two murky blobs. Glistening slime and cum-eyed texture of the symbiotes does little to impress, but otherwise isn’t a weak point in the film. The effects are fine, is what I’m saying. I just wanted to see if I could get away with writing “cum-eyed” into a review.
The problem there, is that even with the alcohol and energy drinks to get into the proper headspace, Venom is still a smorgasbord of confused decisions. A producer who is fully intent on building up a brand name until they get Spider-Man back. A lead actor who is doing god knows what. A collection of scenes with no categorical purpose other than to be put back-to-back. I joked for a good while about how I refused to believe a Venom movie was actually happening. There were set photos, production videos, announcements, etc. As the film wound down through a stitched together climax, I thought about the images and sound I was subjected to for slightly less than 1.5 hours. I still couldn’t say for certain whether or not this was truthfully a movie experience. You know, outside of a direct legal sense of “a motion picture.” Maybe it was just an experience to sit down and watch corporate machinations attempt to create something. Not truly terrible, as I was never bored or miserable. It was like watching an algorithm attempt to replicate something made by human hands. And then it ended.