Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott
2018 has been quite the year for Marvel-based movies. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have at least heard of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp and the hype surrounding the upcoming Avengers 4, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home movies in 2019. Although Sony rather than Marvel Studios/Disney own the rights to the character of Venom for cinematic purposes, due to their agreement on the rights for Spider-Man it is possible for Venom to exist in the MCU, though it’s still unknown as to whether it does/can/will or if it is in its own universe. But for the time being, does Venom hold its own as a Marvel comics-based film, MCU-related or not, or is it as weak as a puny human being flung around by a Hulk?
Investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Hardy) is assigned to interview Carlton Drake (Ahmed), the CEO of Life Foundation, a corporation that ventures into biological science and space exploration. After hacking into fiancée Annie’s (Williams) laptop, Eddie finds some information damning Drake and his work. After the interview takes a sour turn, Eddie is fired from his job and is dumped by Annie. Cut to six months later and at a bit of a loss, Eddie decides he has nothing to lose when he is approached by one of Life’s scientists, Dr. Skirth (Slate). She begs him to investigate the corporation and their experiments on unsuspecting humans, particularly the homeless and vulnerable, people whose plights Eddie tried to shine a light on through his journalism. Upon breaking in and exploring the laboratories, Eddie becomes host to an alien parasite that caused the earlier crash-landing of one of Drake’s space exploration rockets. The parasite calls itself Venom, a ‘symbiote’ that attaches itself to Eddie physically and mentally. Together they hunt down Riot, another symbiote that’s hell-bent on getting more symbiotes to Earth in order to possess humans and feed on them.
Venom as a stand-alone character was only introduced into the Spider-Man comic’s universe in the late ’80s, and its only previous film appearance was as the main antagonist in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, in which it was portrayed by Topher Grace. So it’s a relative newcomer in the grand scheme of Marvel things. But despite having been around for about thirty years, Fleischer’s film doesn’t give Venom the heft that it probably has in the comics. To begin with, the opening scene of the symbiotes’ arrival on Earth is so rushed that by the time we get to Eddie you may wonder what just happened. If you’re aware of Venom’s history and how the symbiotes arrived on Earth you’ll probably be ok, but if not (and the majority of audiences probably aren’t) you may need to take an extra minute to process the introduction. After this things do calm down as we’re introduced to Eddie, who is really a very likable character. It’s just a shame that the overall story around Eddie is weak against a solid human protagonist. At one point, Drake proclaims that Earth has essentially been suitably explored, and now it’s time to look to outer space for cures to many human ailments. It’s a bold statement from the writers, and although this may be set in an alternate universe/timeline/in the future, it doesn’t sit right, considering it’s an untrue statement in our universe. Although there’s a lot of leeway to be given to sci-fi films, this just makes the science feel weak and unbelievable, which becomes a reflection on the film itself.
As mentioned, Eddie is a well-written and affable character. He has strong principles, even if he steps over the line in his quest to do what all ‘heroes’ want to do: the right thing. Hardy delivers Eddie’s dialogue with a well-rehearsed accent and presents his inner angst the way only an actor as well-versed as Hardy can. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the character of Venom (‘Venom’ being the name the symbiote should really only have when in symbiosis with Eddie, though for the sake of this film it tends to be the general name of this particular symbiote). Also voiced by Hardy, Venom’s character is, in a word, confusing. We are introduced to it as an antagonist, here to feed off of humans, but ultimately is brought around by Eddie to ‘do the right thing’. This is all well and good, but there’s no real reason given as to why Venom goes along with Eddie. If you were to Google ‘is Venom…’, one of the first suggestions that appears is, ‘is Venom a bad guy’, and further down, ‘is Venom good’ and ‘is Venom a hero’. Perhaps it’s both and neither at the same time, but it’s in no way made clear if it is, isn’t or is both (does your head hurt?). Add on top of this Venom’s own brand of ‘comedy’ and you’re looking at a rather feeble character, antagonist or not; the ‘humourous’ lines given to Venom aren’t bad, but coming from this character it just cheapens everything. It doesn’t match the deep, looming voice nor the character itself. It just doesn’t work. Perhaps in the comics it does, if this is the way it’s written, as it could work in a certain context, but not this one. Overall Venom is a hastily written character that is almost too familiar with human idioms to be so alien.
There’s not a lot else to be said for the other supporting characters. Williams does well enough as Annie, but the character doesn’t really bring anything to the table. This role, despite being something different for Williams, which can’t be a bad thing, is below her. She may have been better off waiting for something else to come along in the main MCU. Ahmed too as Drake is somewhat alluring, but the character spouts lines that sound good in theory but make no sense to the overall plot and does not a believable scientist make. Other supporting characters do their jobs but are somewhat forgettable, particularly when compared to Hardy’s presence onscreen.
Considering the strength of the MCU, Sony’s latest Marvel offering stumbles and ultimately falls flat under the duress of competition. If Venom had been part of the Spider-Man agreement (that almost sounds like a cool political treaty) then maybe the MCU could have done a better job, as they continue to prove themselves over and over again. Sony did well with the Tobey Maguire movies (well, 1 and 2, at least) but it’s just looking rather sad and desperate that they won’t give up the characters and let them join the rest of the Marvel family in the MCU. There may have been good intentions behind Venom, but the story is a mess, the plot is weak and the characters other than Eddie are not as strong as they could have been.