Most superhero movies gross enough money to make small nations look broke, regardless if the movie is any good or not. Because of this, it would be understandable if studios stopped trying so hard. So far, Marvel and DC have been working quite hard to keep our attention (with mixed results), and have yet to rest on their laurels. That is, until Venom.
Venom is the cinematic equivalent of a first date who’s so self-assured, he begins planning the second date without bothering to notice that things aren’t going well. It has a confidence it hasn’t earned, in a pedigree that does not yet exist. The movie has a few fun moments, and Tom Hardy turns in a great physical performance, but overall it gives you no real reason to care.
The film starts with a spaceship crashing to Earth. The ship was financed by the Life Foundation and it contained four alien beings. These aliens look like living piles of black spaghetti mixed with Silly Putty, and they’re bad news. In the crash, one gets out of containment and wastes no time in finding its own human host to carry out its mission. What is that mission, you ask? Eh, that’ll come later.
Flash to a slightly futuristic, architecturally augmented San Francisco, where Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is living the good life. He has a pretty solid career as an on-camera investigative journalist and a refreshingly age-appropriate fiancée, Anne (Michelle Williams), who loves him despite his wild-boy ways. But when he’s assigned to ask the CEO of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), some softball questions about life-extending gene therapies, he just can’t help asking about the group’s recent, fatal experiments on homeless men and women. This single line of questioning quickly loses Eddie his job and his relationship, leaving him with nothing.
It’s incredibly difficult to feel sorry for Eddie. He feels as though he’s above the law and above any sort of societal rules. Perhaps the maverick with a thousand-dollar grin would have been an easy way to win over an audience in the past, but in this day and age it feels lazy to assume that we’re instantly going to be wooed by this bad boy.
This laziness extends to nearly every facet of Venom. It was a solid 45 minutes before a single joke landed in my theater, and there wasn’t much effort before that to keep us entertained. The rules of the Venom creature/parasite/alien/symbiote/whatever constantly change, and we’re expected to accept them without question.
Visually, Venom is mostly okay. The alien creatures look perfectly disgusting, as they should, and their infection into humans looks terrifying. The standout asset in the film is Hardy’s performance. His swagger and unkempt hair are mismatched with his career and professional gravitas, but when it comes time for him to play host to an intergalactic parasite who uses his body like a marionette, he brings it. His body contorts and becomes misshapen ahead of any CGI intervention, and his face’s confusion at his behavior somehow sells the loss of physical autonomy.
Venom isn’t funny. Venom doesn’t have a hero or antihero or villain to root for. Were it not for a pretty good car chase, some decent visual effects, and Hardy’s performance, it would be a complete waste of time.