Like a turd in the wind.
There is a moment in Venom where the titular multi-tentacled anti-hero is threatening a burglar inside a convenience store. He tells him he’s going to eat both of his arms, both of his legs, and then eat his face right off of his head. “You will be this armless, legless, faceless thing, won’t you?” he narrates to the petrified thief. “Rolling down the street: like a turd in the wind.”
Why am I opening my review talking about turds? Because as awkward and misplaced as that line sounds, it is perhaps the most accurate description of this movie. Venom is violent, creepy, edgy, seethingly disturbing, and just when it begins to build up into something interesting… it takes a wrong turn and nosedives into the pavement. It’s already been demonstrated countless times before, but if you need further proof as to why great comic book supervillains make for terrible superhero movies, look no further than Venom.
Based on the Marvel comic supervillain of the same name, Venom follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who has a nasty habit of following people who do not want to be followed. After accusing a high-profile tech CEO of purposefully murdering test subjects at an alarming rate, Brock loses his job and is abandoned by his fiancee Ann Weying (Michelle Williams). Now without a job, a career, and a love life, Brock just sits alone in his apartment, drowning himself in pity and alcohol.
One day, Brock unknowingly comes into contact with a gooey substance that reveals itself as a life form: a symbiote that physically and mentally bonds itself with Eddie. Granting Eddie super-strength, speed, agility, and a menacingly toothy grin, the symbiote creates a new life form that is neither Eddie Brock or the symbiote. Together, they are reborn as the man-eating monster known as Venom.
You might remember that this is not Venom’s first live-action outing for the big screen. You might be better off forgetting it. His first attempt at the spotlight was in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, where he was played by “That 70’s Show” actor Topher Grace. He was rightfully and relentlessly mocked for his insipid, whiny, pathetic portrayal of an otherwise terrifying character. If I come out of the theater and I am annoyed by Eric Forman instead of shaken by Eddie Brock, you know there’s a serious problem here.
The best thing I can say about this new Venom movie is that it does an excellent job rebooting the character, washing your memory of his God-awful debut a decade earlier and updating him with a sicker, more menacing design. A large part of that is in thanks to Tom Hardy, who switches between playing the two different characters here in mesmerizing contrast. When he portrays Eddie Brock, he molds him as a sort of vulnerable, pitiful character: a failing journalist who is drunk for half of the day and down on his luck for the other half. But besides playing the exasperated and horrified Eddie Brock, Hardy also voices the Venom symbiote possessing his body, and the way he expresses Venom’s menacing, snake-like delivery is just downright chilling to listen to.
This in combination with the efforts from the visual effects team makes for an ominous, visceral presence in this 10-foot CGI creature. One of the best things about this movie is when the Venom symbiote breaks out into his full form, taking complete control over Brock’s body and just starts running over any enemy in his path. When the movie breaks out into full-blown creature-feature action, that’s when the film is at its best, with Venom’s tentacles flailing about, making giant spider-like leaps, and chomping off bad guy’s heads like they’re the stem of a Tootsie pop. Many fans were reasonably concerned what Venom was going to look like in this movie with his last big-screen appearance still in our memory. I want this on the record: Venom looks and feels vicious, and he rightfully earns the title of lethal protector.
So the Eddie Brock and Venom characters are fleshed out very well in this movie. What isn’t done as well? Essentially everything else.
For one thing, Michelle Williams does nothing for this movie. Her character could literally have been portrayed by Megan Fox, and she would carry the same emotional relevance throughout the movie. That goes double for Riz Ahmed, who plays the movie’s villain named Riot. His character is essentially a gray-scaled clone of Venom, which doesn’t do any favors for the movie’s final battle where black and gray goo basically just splashes against each other over and over again.
The real problem here lies in how the characters are written. They aren’t organic. They don’t feel like they belong here. And unlike Eddie Brock and his venomous alter-ego, their roles don’t have any real impact on the story as a whole. Ann Weying is here because every superhero apparently needs a love interest, and this story wouldn’t be complete without some complicated romantic feelings involved. Riot feels especially shortchanged. Instead of being the relentless, unhinged force he’s supposed to be, he just feels flat and artificial: like a final boss in a video game instead of a mortal enemy for our hero. That lack of effort into fleshing out these characterizations makes for dull, uninspired portrayals, which is especially unfair given the talent and caliber of these two actors. If you don’t believe me, look at Williams’ work in My Week With Marilyn and Ahmed’s work in Nightcrawler. Then look at their performances here and tell me they were given ample material to work with.
All in all, Venom is not the worst movie in the world, but it isn’t really a good one either. It’s just sort of there flailing in the whirlwind of superhero mania that hops from one franchise to another. I am curious as to how the series will progress from here, as Sony has relentlessly teased that they wanted to launch their own cinematic universe from this movie. I at least have more hope for the Venom cinematic universe than I do for, say, the DC Extended Universe. But on its own two tentacles, Venom is ugly, messy, and something I’d much rather forget about: like a turd in the wind.