Sony’s Venom, the hotly anticipated Spider-Man offshoot staring Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed, has finally arrived to terrify theaters everywhere. The film is an extremely uneven, strangely edited romp of a picture, that qualifies more as an experience than an actual film. Directed by Zombieland helmer Ruben Fleischer, the film follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a reporter who comes into contact with the Venom symbiote–and finds that the symbiote has begun to bond with his body and take over his consciousness. Peppered through with staccato beats of strangely placed humor, haphazard editing and some really amazing action sequences, Venom works its best when it embraces what it is–and that’s a fun action film that feels ripped from the nineties era of comic book films, such as Batman Returns, Blade and Spawn.
It’s often said that a film lives and dies by its cast, and the same can be applied to Venom. Tom Hardy is good as always, imbuing his Eddie with a sense of realism that made him feel like a true human being and not just a film character. Though Hardy is asked to deliver some really cringey dialogue (there’s a scene with him and Riz Ahmed that felt almost like a Saturday Night Live sketch), he always does the best he can to elevate the material he’s performing. His delivery is always believable.
Hardy also does the voice for Venom, who is one of the strongest aspects of the film. The symbiote’s relationship with Eddie provides some of the most comedic moments, some of which have been teased in the trailers, and a legitimate threat at points. Venom feels strongest when the movie embraces its creepy, 90s era horror roots, which is clearly the direction a sequel should be, and probably is, headed in. Not only can the character be really scary sometimes (there’s a shot of him in the film that is chill-inducing), but he can also be sympathetic. Hardy does a wonderful job fleshing out the character and making us connect almost more to Venom than we do to Eddie, especially given some wonderful moments in the third act.
Michelle Williams is a co-lead here, and she does the best she can with what she’s given. Her character doesn’t have much depth, but Williams uses her award-winning chops to make a few generic lines have a little more heart. Though she doesn’t have a lot to do in the film, she always does a good job when she’s on screen. Arguably, one of her key moments in the film–a chilling scene involving her and the symbiote–will go down in history as one of the great comic book film scenes of all time.
Riz Ahmed is extremely charismatic as always, and he makes playing a mustache-twirling villain look easy and suave. Every time he’s on screen, he oozes personality and breathes life into a one-note character. However, Ahmed is also asked to deliver some of the worst lines in the film–some of which actually got laughs out loud from the audience. It’s a testament to the caliber of talent that he has that he’s able to get them out with a straight face. And when he’s asked to be really menacing and evil, he is convincing, even if the script somewhat stumbles a bit in its execution of the character.
Most of the problems with the film stem from its director Ruben Fleischer, and the screenplay he’s adapting. It’s weak in places and nonsensical in others, jumping around during the story in ways that serve as more confusing fodder than exposition, as was clearly intended. Also, the editing is a mess–there are clearly scenes cut from the film, and moments don’t work simply because they are not allowed to breathe. The film moves at a breakneck speed and while that sometimes works, sometimes it causes both the actors involved and the story to feel flat and underdeveloped. It’s almost like sometimes, the movie expects Eminem’s only-medium theme music to do its work for it.
In addition, the R rating being taken away really lets the film down. Clearly, Sony wants Venom to tie in with the MCU’s Spider-Man universe, which is teased in the post-credits scenes (there are two; one is worth your time, and the other isn’t)–and that’s a huge mistake, because the movie’s at its best when it allows itself to go truly adult and dark, and allows Venom to be the character he was clearly originally intended to be by Fleischer and Hardy. What’s left over is really amazing at moments, but really bad at others, and the result of that is a steaming pile of meh. Venom is definitely still worth a trip to the multiplex. There is a masterpiece somewhere in here–clearly, Sony left it on the editing room floor.