In an industry where almost every major studio is trying to kick-start its own “cinematic universe” to compete with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), more often than not, those studios fail in spectacular fashion – enter "Venom."
After the low box office of 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” Sony/Columbia Pictures made the right move by partnering with Marvel Studios to reboot the web-slinging superhero in the MCU with 2017’s smash-hit “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
But even “Homecoming’s” success wasn’t enough for Sony, as they still longed to establish their own cinematic universe. Thus, we have “Venom,” Sony and director Ruben Fleischer’s (“Zombieland,” “Gangster Squad”) attempt to bring one of Spider-Man’s most famous adversaries from the comics to the silver screen.
But since this is being kept separate from the MCU, Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man from “Homecoming” is nowhere to be found in “Venom,” forcing Fleischer and the screenwriters to take creative liberties when crafting this standalone story, resulting in a rather scatterbrained comic book movie with so much wasted potential.
Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist dedicated to exposing the dark side of San Francisco. However, his dedication to his work costs him both his job and his fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), when he steps out of line while interviewing Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the CEO of the Life Foundation.
With nothing left to lose, Eddie breaks into the Life Foundation to further investigate, believing that they are secretly killing innocent people for scientific purposes. What he finds is Venom, an alien “symbiote” who bonds with Eddie’s body, giving him extraordinary strength and agility as a result.
Now, Eddie must learn to balance two contrasting personalities: the normal Eddie Brock, and the rather violent and aggressive Venom, who has an immense desire to kill (or literally bite the head off of) anyone that crosses his path.
Before getting into the flaws, there are some aspects of “Venom” that can be entertaining at face value. Hardy’s performance serves as the film’s highlight, as he effectively conveys the dysfunctional relationship between Eddie and Venom through rather humorous moments.
The heart of “Venom,” surprisingly enough, lies within in its comedy, not within its tone, something that might disappoint long-time Venom fans in the long run. And when Venom actually takes full control of Eddie’s body, turning him into the vicious creature that fans know and love, it leads to some undeniably entertaining action sequences.
What holds “Venom” back from its true potential, however, is the film’s rather restrictive PG-13 rating. With a character like Venom, an alien symbiote that violently enjoys biting people’s heads off, you would think that Sony and Fleischer would aim for an R rating.
But instead, they chose to only “dip their toe in the water,” as opposed to going in, because while the action is entertaining, every time Venom actually bites the heads off of his victims, Fleischer cuts away from it entirely, never showing you the aftermath.
But even that’s not the biggest problem with “Venom,” as where the movie really falls apart is within the its editing and screenplay. The film’s narrative, when you really get down to it, lacks an overall cohesive structure, and without getting into spoilers, has major plot holes regarding the choices certain characters make as the story goes on.
Frankly, it’s easy to see why since prior to the film’s release, Hardy told various news outlets that around 40 minutes, containing some of Hardy’s favorite scenes, were completely scrapped during post-production.
To put it plainly, “Venom” comes off as a comic book movie that simply could have been so much more. With a character like Venom, Fleischer and the screenwriters ultimately could have made an appropriately dark and suspenseful “comic book horror movie.”
Instead, it just seems like another attempt by Sony to imitate the success of the MCU right down to the inclusion of mid-credit scene meant to setup a sequel.
There will be some people that go to see “Venom” and end up enjoying it for what it is. Frankly though, in this ever-expanding genre of comic book/superhero movies, where different filmmakers have used new styles of storytelling and unique tones to keep this genre from going stale, I think audiences deserve better.