03rd Oct2018

‘Venom’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reed Scott, Scott Haze, Michelle Lee | Written by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel, Will Beall | Directed by Ruben Fleischer

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Tom Hardy co-stars with some black CGI goo in Venom, Sony’s stab at a Spider-Man spin-off, after handing the rights to the wall-crawler himself back to Marvel. Wildly uneven and riddled with inconsistencies, the film is an unholy mess, but it’s also not without entertainment value, even if you’re frequently laughing at it, not with it.

Re-jigging the basic origin story (you may remember Venom as one of the villains from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3), the film stars Hardy as investigative journalist Eddie Brock, who loses both his job and his lawyer girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams) after an attempt to expose billionaire scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) doesn’t go as planned. Tipped off by a concerned employee (a criminally underused Jenny Slate), Brock sneaks into Drake’s lab, where he accidentally becomes bonded to an alien symbiote named Venom, which gives him extraordinary powers and starts talking to him in his head. And when Eddie discovers that another evil symbiote is on the loose, he realises he’ll have to work with Venom to defeat it.

Venom‘s biggest problem is that it’s never quite sure which film it wants to be, bouncing between offbeat buddy comedy, creepy horror and generic superhero origin story. On paper, director Ruben Fleischer must have seemed like a good fit for Venom, as he successfully fused horror and comedy in Zombieland, but he’s left floundering here, not least because the studio enforced 15 / PG-13 rating severely neuters the horror elements. That ends up being a bigger problem in general, because it’s hard to sympathise with a main character who bites people’s heads off.

It also doesn’t help that the CGI effects are frequently laughable, like someone’s taken a black marker pen and scribbled all over the screen. (Venom is basically made of black goo and shoots out tendrils from anywhere on his body). There are other problems too, such as the fact that Venom’s head occasionally looks too small for his massive body, which is at best distracting and at worst hilarious.

The fight scenes themselves are something of a mixed bag – an early fight in Brock’s apartment is a lot of fun, with Eddie discovering his powers for the first time and realising what the symbiote can do. However, later scenes are pretty much incoherent – a sequence set in a cloud of tear gas is completely devoid of tension or thrills because you can’t tell what’s happening, while the climax is the usual CGI snorefest, with one blob of CGI fighting another.

Hardy does his best in the role and at least succeeds in making it intriguingly weird. For the most part, the back-and-forth between Eddie and Venom is amusing – it even aims for poignancy, in a bizarre exchange whereby the symbiote confesses that, like Eddie, he’s something of a loser on his planet too. That’s pretty much the funniest moment in the film, which may or may not have been the intention – with this film, it’s hard to tell.

Elsewhere, the film largely short-changes its supporting cast. Ahmed does a standard moustache-twirling villain routine, while Williams puts a brave face on a badly underwritten role. The love interest element is further scuppered because the lack of chemistry between Hardy and Williams is so non-existent that it’s actively painful to watch them try to force it. Her character is also bafflingly inconsistent, her feelings for Eddie varying wildly from scene to scene.

On top of that, Venom is riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies and general sloppiness. One particularly egregious example involves a badly placed ‘Six Months Later’ caption that makes it look like the other symbiote has spent six months walking to an airport in the body of an old woman. Similarly, entire subplots are raised and then hastily dropped, the most glaring of which involves the damage that the symbiote is apparently doing to Eddie’s body. That seems like it ought to be pretty important, but instead it’s completely forgotten.

That said, for all its flaws, Venom is undeniably entertaining in places, thanks to Hardy’s committed performance and a certain sense of energy in the pacing – if nothing else, at least the whole thing rattles along at a decent clip. In summary, Venom won’t be giving Marvel Studios any sleepless nights, but it’s not quite the disaster it could have been either.

**½  2.5/5

Venom is in cinemas now.

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