30 years after he first appeared in “The Amazing Spider-Man”, Venom gets his very own movie thanks to the booming success stories of Deadpool and Logan. Marvel is hot and R-rated superhero movies are proven winners amongst hardcore fans and general audiences. The problem with the Ruben Fleischer-directed Venom isn’t that it’s PG-13, it’s that Sony’s Columbia Pictures dared to do something different and then cowered in fear during its development and/or production. An R-rating wouldn’t have helped this messy adaptation, but powering through with the filmmakers’ original intentions could have.
Venom is an antihero. He eats people’s heads. He was introduced as a villain. The film adaptation honors this in jest, but does everything in its power to be as generic and safe as possible. Here, they change the comic’s origins and instead bring alien symbiotes to Earth via the Life Foundation, headed by an Elon Musk-inspired performance by Riz Ahmed. In sloppy, exhausting and headache-inducing exposition, we learn that Ahmed’s Carlton Drake believes the world is over (like the Agent Smith’s in The Matrix) and thinks binding with one of these symbiotes and returning to their planet will somehow save the human race? It’s a moronic motive that rips violent holes through the screenplay that’s already riddled with issues (apparently, the Drake Foundation doesn’t use security cameras, and the symbiotes are safely kept behind glass so weak that Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock can break through it with a fire extinguisher). Shit, even Venom’s motive will make your eyes roll into the back of your head when he proclaims his intent to save the planet from Riot (Drake) because he’s starting to “like” Eddie.
Speaking of Venom, he’s pretty great. Tom Hardy’s performance reminds us of classic Nicolas Cage freak-out moments and lands somewhere between Oscar and Razzie-worthy (probably the latter), which is the only thing that gives this film energy. Depending on if his performance is working for you or not will make or break the rest of the film. I would suffice to say that you’ve never seen anything like this and it’s about as out-of-the-box as you’ll get. It’s a strange experience watching Hardy go fucking nuts (figuratively and literally) while everything around him is strictly paint-by-numbers. Fleischer tonally embraced Hardy’s experimental acting, so why is everything else so numbingly bad? My guess, the studio would have had to completely reshoot the movie to change his performance.
If Hardy’s acting doesn’t work for you, then I have bad news…everything else is even worse. The action is unintelligible and sloppy, and completely unimaginative. There’s hilarious irony here in that the end credits stop to share a full scene from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that put well-done action on full display, offering a whimsical and breathtaking look at how an action setpiece can be done. Digressing, everything’s shit with Venom, including the characters’ physics that don’t look or feel real, and the glossy design work of Venom’s CGI that make him appear unfinished.
This is all so weird considering where the project started, and it’s a head-scratcher watching this trash fire burn up right in front on you. With that said… I kinda enjoyed it (*slowly walks backward, turns and runs*). It’s a big, dumb action movie that lives and breathes through Hardy’s interpretation of Venom. I loved everything Hardy put on screen and found him immensely entertaining. And Venom, holy shit is the symbiote hysterical. Interestingly, Hardy’s Jekyll and Hyde rendition perfectly juxtaposes the rest of the flick, which is a strange and unhinged experience destined to become a “cult” – without the “classic” – film.