Review: Venom

Venom poster

The key to any compelling story is conflict – a struggle, be it physical or metaphorical, that motivates the characters to improve their lives. Venom, the latest attempt by Sony to concoct its own superhero universe, takes this memo one step further by riddling itself with conflict, thereby making for a confusing movie.

Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has just scored the opportunity of a lifetime: a face-to-face interview with Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an entrepreneur and head of Life Enterprises, a pharmaceutical and space research company. The former wants to use this occasion to question Drake about the company’s shady dealings; the latter, meanwhile, is using the interview as a means to restore the public image of Life Enterprises after one of its spacecrafts crashed in the jungles of Borneo.

Predictably, Drake doesn’t take kindly to Brock’s interrogation, bringing the interview to a premature finish and subtly threatening to ruin his life. That proves to be no empty threat, for shortly after, Brock loses his job and his fiancé, Anne (Michelle Williams), rendering him destitute. It isn’t until six months later – by which time, the journalist is living in a shabby San Francisco apartment – that he is given a chance to redeem himself, courtesy of scientist Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate).

Using Skirth’s security pass, Brock is able to gain access to the inner-workings of Life Enterprises. A search of the facilities proves that Brock’s misgivings about Drake are justified – in a secret laboratory, tests are being conducted on vulnerable citizens with an alien lifeforce known as Symbiote. Brock’s attempt to help one of those people being experimented on results in him being infected with the parasite, providing him with super-strength, extraordinary jumping abilities and a nefarious voice inside his head.

Venom has traditionally been the archenemy of Spider-Man, but here the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger doesn’t even warrant a name-drop; instead, the purpose of this solo film is to provide Eddie Brock with a backstory and, potentially, kickstart a franchise featuring Spidey’s nemeses – the kind that was previously teased in Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man 2. If this product is any indication, then any such franchise is going to be a fizzer.

Venom is a film unsure of itself, and its titular protagonist suffers as a result. At no point is it abundantly clear what sort of character Eddie Brock is supposed to be – he’s definitely not a hero, because hurts innocent people, yet nor is he a villain, for Riz Ahmed has that role covered. The logical answer would be that Venom is an antihero, but even that doesn’t seem appropriate, given how scattershot his motivations are.

The qualm above stems from how the symbiote are characterised. Upon being introduced to Venom, they are squirmy blobs distinguishable only by their colours; nothing is told of how they came to be, where they came from, or why they prey on innocent bystanders. They are just seemingly, blatantly evil and the viewer is supposed to accept this as fact. It’s later revealed that Venom is an empathetic and compassionate creature, but his sinister face and demonic voice provides no hint of that, leaving the impression that he’s being sarcastic.

Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, Venom’s problems extend well beyond Eddie Brock. A rushed first act has the audience force-fed exposition, only slowing once the six-month time-jump occurs; Michelle Williams is a bland love-interest as Anne, having no readily definable traits; Jenny Slate fares worse, utterly wasted in her role of Dr Skirth; and the script is insultingly unfunny, especially when compared to its Marvel stablemates.

Two redeemable traits save Venom from being unwatchable, the first of which is a rather creative chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco – in it, Brock uses his newfound abilities to thwart Drake’s henchmen while trying to outpace them on his motorcycle. The second is Tom Hardy, who uses his natural charisma to make Eddie a somewhat likeable character, which should present an interesting conundrum once Spider-Man becomes part of this world. Highly unlikely at this point, but one can dream.

Venom is a very conflicted blockbuster, never knowing what to do with its protagonist nor settling on a tone. Although not without its merits, overall the film is an unremarkable experience which will struggle to satisfy even the most enthusiastic of fans.


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