Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a recently fired, renegade investigative reporter who’s known for thumbing his nose at authority and who’s probing the medical research being conducted by billionaire entrepreneur Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). As Eddie quickly discovers, that research includes a covert study aiming to merge an alien “Symbiote” – think: angry, sentient ball of black sludge – with a human host to create a hybrid being capable of surviving on another planet.
But when a reconnaissance mission goes awry, the Symbiote – calling itself “Venom” – hops into Eddie’s body and starts to take over, imbuing Eddie with superhuman powers and offering its own inner-voice comic commentary on everything Eddie sees, does and thinks. That’s right: Venom has a sense of humor! When things get really hairy, Venom takes over completely, morphing Eddie into a slimy-looking towering creature with a LOT of teeth, a big appetite for raw flesh and a really long tongue that it can never seem to keep inside its mouth.
The film then devolves into a bad guy vs. slightly-less-bad guy battle, as Venom sets out to thwart Drake’s plan to... well, I’m not really sure. Drake’s master plan is never made quite clear, but it has something to do with colonizing a planet somewhere when Earth kicks the environmental bucket. Plenty of CGI wizardry and way-too-long-and-convoluted chase sequences ensue, and the films grows increasingly less interesting or cohesive.
There’s a lot wrong with Venom, not the least of which is its casting. While Hardy – who seems to be modeling post-symbiosis Eddie after Bob Saginowski, his character in the film The Drop – is entertaining and the film’s sole saving grace, both Riz Ahmed and Michelle Williams (as Eddie’s girlfriend, Anne) are horribly miscast. Ahmed makes for the flimsiest, most unconvincing villain in Marvel-film history; there’s nothing scary or menacing or ominous about his performance, no matter how hard he tries, so there’s never really a question of who’s going to win this battle. And Williams, in a terrible wig and delivering her lines as though sedated, is the absolute wrong choice for a movie like this. The role desperately needs someone with sass and verve and oomph – but her Anne is a limp noodle. A fair amount of blame should be shouldered by the screenwriters, though, who have so tragically underwritten that character and given her such lame, awful dialogue that she could (and perhaps should) have been removed from the film entirely and it wouldn’t have mattered.
And then we have Venom itself. Built entirely by CGI, the character unfortunately has no “weight” onscreen – it looks like a cartoon, not a heavy, hulking alien. As a result, it’s hard to suspend disbelief. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park look real; Venom looks totally fake. And, as mentioned, it’s never really clear whether he’s supposed to be a hero or a villain or some weird combination thereof. And I suspect hardcore comics fans will likely take issue with that lack of distinction.
As a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I really wanted to like Venom. But I didn’t. More than anything, I felt confused by the whole thing. Who knows, though, maybe it’ll all be cleared up in the future: as its buried-in-the-credits bonus scene (featuring another well-known actor) implies, the studio is obviously getting ready for a possible sequel.