Movie Review: ‘VENOM’ – symbi-ouch!


Connor Bynum // Film Critic


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).

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.