Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language
Venom is one of the more popular Spider-Man villains, so him getting his own movie isn’t surprising. Unfortunately, “Venom” can’t decide what kind of a movie it is, and never really comes together as a fun ride or a gritty exploration of body horror and coming to terms with the monster within. Venom fans and Tom Hardy fans will want to see this, but everyone else will probably be unimpressed.
Eddie Brock (Hardy) is one of a dying breed, an investigative TV journalist. When he is instructed to do a puff piece on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a sketchy billionaire working on space exploration, he can’t resist breaking into his lawyer fiancee Anne (Michelle Williams)’s computer for the details of a lawsuit her firm is handling for Drake. When he brings up the suit during the interview, he manages to lose the best things in his life with one foolish moment. Anne is fired and gives him his ring back, and Eddie is fired by his boss.
All of this, along with the introduction of the goopy alien “symbiotes” Drake has brought back from an exploration mission, takes a lot longer than it should, and there’s very little humor. This is a hard look at a man who destroys his own life and hits rock bottom (but somehow can still afford a San Francisco apartment with really nice hardwood floors). When Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy) finally shows up, it’s like we’ve jumped into a different film. There’s slapstick humor and the silliness resulting from Eddie hearing a voice nobody else can, and a fun, ridiculous chase scene through San Francisco.
This continues for the rest of the movie. Venom and (to some extent) Eddie feel like they’re from a movie made by someone who likes dark humor and thought “Deadpool” was a really great movie. Given director Ruben Fleischer’s history as the director of “Zombieland,” this makes sense. However, the rest of the movie appears to be made by someone else, somebody who was really into Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. It really doesn’t work.
The special effects aren’t terrible, but aren’t as awesome as you’d expect from a major studio film about a shape-shifting alien. The movements and shapes are good, but the substance that fills them out doesn’t work. Wisely, the most effects-intensive sequences take place at night, where it’s easier to gloss over the details.
“Venom” isn’t part of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, even though they have a production credit. There’s a complex deal between Sony (who owns the rights to Spidey and related characters) and Marvel that allowed Marvel to include Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in MCU films and in his own movies. It looks like Sony’s going to make movies about related characters but not include Spidey himself. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes – critics aren’t impressed with “Venom,” but its first weekend did well enough at the box office that there’s already talk about a sequel. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, is “Venom” worth the price of a ticket, especially given how expensive IMAX and 3-D showings appear to be? Only if you’re willing to be very, very generous. This is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. But it’s got some really fun bits. As long as you don’t mind waiting for them, it’s probably worth seeing. Otherwise, though, wait for second-run cheap theaters or DVD.