Movie Review: ‘VENOM’ – symbi-ouch!

Connor Bynum // Film Critic

VEMON

Rated PG-13, 112 minutes.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom HardyMichelle WilliamsRiz AhmedJenny Slate and Michelle Lee

Superhero movies have come a long way over the last 10 years. Sony played an integral role in paving the way for the genre with its early 2000’s SPIDER-MAN trilogy, with the final entry widely criticized for its misuse of the fan-favorite anti-hero Venom. While fans of the character have long been pinning for a standalone Venom film, one can’t help but feel that Sony was somewhat more interested in holding onto the rights to the Spider-Man franchise rather than making a good movie.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist with a knack for going after the stories other reporters are too scared to report. He’s got it all: a good job, a loving fiancée (Michelle Williams) and a sweet motorcycle – until one day he decides to mess with the wrong super villain. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is just about the most openly evil man in existence, who inexplicably has never had to deal with bad press. Eddie Brock merely mentions some allegations that paint him in a negative light in an interview and just like that: no more job, no more fiancée – but he does get to keep the bike.

Cut to six months later and we find that Drake has been forcing homeless people to bond with a toxic alien symbiote, in attempt to give them newfound powers that will allow them to survive in space. Eddie, now unable to land any job in journalism, is suddenly contacted by one of Drake’s scientists (Jenny Slate) who decided to grow a conscience. She brings him to Drake’s lab where he accidentally makes a bond of his own to the symbiote known as Venom. Brock now must come to grips with his newfound alter-ego and figure out how to stop Drake’s evil plan.

Michelle Williams, left, and Tom Hardy star in ‘VENOM.’ Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

The story is just about as silly as it sounds. But, for the most part, VENOM is a surprisingly enjoyable film. For all of its problems, Hardy’s committed performance is what makes VENOM work at all. He’s emotionally vulnerable, charming, and he behaves exactly as anyone would after being possessed by a pile of alien goop. Williams is, unfortunately, given very little to work with, outside of offering concern over her now ex-fiancé’s erratic behavior. However, a superhero film is only as strong as its villain, and, unfortunately, Carlton Drake is criminally wasted as an antagonist. The film goes well out of its way to make sure the audience knows just how evil he is. Whether he’s quoting passages from the Old Testament wildly out of context or casually implying he’s not opposed to murdering children, Drake sadly winds up feeling like a cartoon rather than a serious threat.

To the film’s credit, everything seems to be perfectly fine up until the final act. Eddie is given ample screen time to establish his character before making contact with the symbiote; the action sequences are fun and visually coherent; and the dynamic between Eddie and Venom is genuinely fun to watch unfold. However, it legitimately feels as though half an hour of story was removed from the film after some studio executives decided they needed a shorter running time. Venom’s motivation to help Eddie save the day feels unexpected and, what’s worse, unearned. Before you know it, the movie is wrapping up when it feels like things were just getting started.

VENOM is certainly not the trainwreck your Twitter feed is making it out to be. It’s just too bad that so much of it works so well only to fall flat on its face at the finish line. After all the efforts to hold onto the Spider-Verse, it may be time for the folks at Sony to put these characters in more capable hands.

Grade: C+

VENOM opens nationwide on Friday (10/5).

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