The most puzzling thing about “Venom” is that if Sony was determined to make this film, this exact story, they already had a movie they could call it a sequel to without pissing away yet another of their Marvel IPs (which look increasingly like hostages rather than assets). I’m talking about “Life”, and it would have provided a better foundation for the story than this clumsy and inept attempt which sees Sony’s would-be Spider-Man-less Spider-Verse telling Universal’s Dark Universe to hold its beer.
Crack investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) makes himself a powerful enemy when he angers the billionaire owner of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) when he raises rumours of unethical medical experiments during an interview designed to reassure the public about the safety of his private space programme following a recent spacecraft crash. Having lost his job, his apartment and his fiancée, Eddie is close to rock bottom when he’s contacted by a Life Foundation scientist who wants to blow the whistle. When Eddie breaks in to investigate, he’s accidentally exposed to one of Drake’s symbiote samples recovered from the crashed spacecraft, an entity called ‘Venom’.
Tonally all over the place, “Venom” is a muddled and, at times, incoherent mess of a movie, never quite sure of what it’s meant to be. It throws in plenty of ideas but never really manages to fully develop any of them into a lucid, well-structured story. Plot points are scattered about and threads left dangling without payoff or resolution, which is particularly irritating given how clumsy and obvious much of the set-up in the first half hour is: the obnoxiously loud neighbour, the kindly shopkeeper Mrs Chen being hustled by a gangster, the ex-fiancée’s new Doctor boyfriend: it’s all so crassly forced to show ‘good guy’ Venom and provide a handy source of exposition later on when things will need to be explained because the rest of the script won’t really bother to do it.
“Venom” is another of those movies that rely on the audience turning a blind eye to the characters we’re told are cunning and smart behaving in the most ludicrously stupid way, and none more so than Eddie Brock himself. We’re told he’s an ace reporter, and treated to a montage of his reports during the credits of his ‘Brock Report’ which will have you mentally humming the “Kent Brockman’s Eye On Springfield” theme tune but literally everything he does is really, really stupid, especially in how he finally meets the symbiote. There’s zero character development for anybody except, possibly Venom himself but his abrupt change of heart kind of comes out of nowhere and happens because the plot needs it to happen rather than for organic story reasons.
Make no mistake, there is no way this will cross over with the MCU/ Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and not just because Venom doesn’t make sense without Spider-Man (this movie wouldn’t make sense with or without Spider-Man). There are some Marvel-esque moments, though, especially during some of the banter between Brock and Venom but the rest of the film is a murky dumpster fire of inconsistency. Saddled with a 15 certificate here in the UK, it’s nowhere near violent, bloody or droll enough to please the older, “Deadpool”-embracing audience but it’s too dark and adult [for adult read: boring, dark and slow] for the 12A crowd.
Tom Hardy does his best and his punch-drunk, dazed turn as Eddie Brock works, even if it is the end result of a performer pummelled into a stupor by a screenplay so egregiously inept it feels like it was written by a committee who mandated a random action sequence be inserted every time a focus group member started to doze off. Director Ruben Fleischer keeps the action dimly lit and choppy, ensuring that we don’t really get a good sense of Venom fighting for most of the scenes and developing an aesthetic that resembles Michael Bay’s “Transformers” with silly putty instead of shards of metal.
There are two post-credit scenes, the latter of which is basically an extended preview of “Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse” and the former a completely pointless and unearned teaser for a sequel that surely won’t materialise. It’s what’s before the end credits that’s the problem, though, and in counting its symbiotes before they’ve hatched, Sony have shot themselves in the foot once again. I wouldn’t hold your breath for the recently announced Jared Leto-starring “Morbius” movie, even if you do decide to hold your nose and buy a ticket for “Venom”.