You’d think a movie about a down-and-out reporter who teams with a cannibalistic blob of space goo to become a super anti-hero would be fun, especially now that comic book flicks are getting a tad more experimental. Alas, director Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad) and screenwriters Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel, and Will Beall attempt to combine the MCU’s brand of humor with horror and action tropes, and the result is a weird, atonal, campy mess.
There’s so little plot involved that it’s infuriating. Crusading journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) digs into the machinations of shady Elon Musk/Richard Branson clone Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and accidentally becomes bonded to a super-power alien symbiote with a taste for human flesh. Wackiness and moderately thrilling action sequences ensue during the lead-up to a boss fight hampered by poor character development and cheap CGI effects.
Hardy at least gives some sense of fun to an otherwise dull superhero flick, hamming it up as Brock while playing opposite himself as a murderous wise-ass. They’re a comic book odd couple sharing the same body in a movie that wants to tread the fine line between body horror and comedy but doesn’t have the courage to take any chances.
Altering the character’s origin and distancing him from Spider-roots proves to be a big mistake. Much of Brock/Venom’s early motivation hinged on a shared hatred of Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter ego, and much of their later arch involves moving on and learning to be a sort-of hero, a “lethal protector”, instead of the bad guy. By substituting a more generic origin, Fleischer and company have created a void in the character.
It’s visually lackluster as well. The action sequences are rote, and the color palette is a bland and muddy mix of black, white, silver, grey, and muted blues. The climactic battle especially suffers for it thanks to the questionable staging of a fight between two hulking brutes — one oily black, one steel grey — on a launchpad at night.
Much hay has been made of Son’y decision to go PG-13 with the material instead of an R rating. Let’s be real: Venom isn’t a gritty existential subversion like Logan, or satirical punk-rock takedown of the genre a la Deadpool; sadly, it’s not much of anything. It had a budget on par with those two breakaway hits, but none of the creativity to go with the cash, and some added sex and violence (there’s already a fair bit of raunch and profanity) would not offset the movie’s fatal flaws: a shoddy script and mismatched director (whom Warner Bros. passed over in favor of Zack Snyder for Justice League).
Still, it is better than a disco-dancing Peter Parker.