Much like the titular, drooly comic book counterpart himself, Venom’s second attempt at cinematic immortality is a rather confused beast plagued by many different voices clamouring to be heard.
Sam Raimi’s buy-two-supervillains-get-one-free attempt; the critically overstuffed Spider-Man 3, cast the goopy menace as a skinny, last minute threat played by Topher Grace to create a That 70’s Venom to very underwhelming effect that’s still regarded by some as a genre low point to this day.
Sony’s retry, rewired with a surprisingly strong cast, seems to have emerged, blinking and confused from an underground bunker with no idea what leaps and bounds Marvel Studios and Christopher Nolan have made in the genre over the last decade and then proceeds to make every mistake we had hoped had been purged since that time.
As stale as old popcorn, the movie washes over you like a tepid shower with no water pressure. As in it gets the job done, sort of. In a weak, deeply unsatisfying sort of way.
So let’s start on the good points, shall we? Firstly, as a long time Venom fan, it is deeply fulfilling to see a hulking, dribbling, toothy monster, rambling on disjointedly about eating pancreas’ and the like, but some weak CGI near the end of the film dilutes some of that awesomeness. What isn’t diluted, however, is Tom Hardy’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink performance. Doubling down on the kind of deeply strange, tic-based acting style the likes of Nicolas Cage and Mickey Rourke have made their bread and butter, Hardy portrays journalist and symbiote life-partner Eddie Brock essentially as Woody Allen. A mess of shrugs, stutters and nervous body language even before he’s possessed by black alien taffy, Hardy cuts loose later on, veering alarmingly into 90’s Jim Carrey territory. It may be broad, it may be wild, it may be actually terrible but one thing this performance is not, is boring.
In comparison, the rest of the charismatic cast is horribly muted. Michelle Williams never has had THAT much luck with big blockbusters but Riz Ahmed and Jenny Slate seem whacked out on pain killers compared to the off the chain lead. Even Ruben Fleischer, who directed the awesome and very charming Zombieland, finds it tough to string everything together despite the film playing like an odd wish fulfilment piece like The Mask.
While much kefuffle was made as to whether Venom is part of the MCU in general (it isn’t) or even if Tom Holland’s Spidey makes an appearance (he doesn’t), the movie in tone and execution actually feels more in line with the Andrew Garfield run of movies (some script dusting off done there, Sony? Hmmmm?).
In fact, to further belabour the point of Venom feeling like past comic book movie experiences, there’s a very Ghost Rider feel about the whole thing. Down trodden character does deal and ends up with a morally fluid, heavily CGI alter ego. Learns to co-exist with cool character while delivering a very strange performance against a stupendously flat villain in pedestrian action scenes. Plus CGI anti-hero plays far better as simply as a bitchin’ image rather than a three dimensional character.
To be honest, I didn’t flat out hate this movie, most in part due to Hardy’s chronic oddness, and I WOULD give another Venom a go but unless Sony seriously starts to pull it’s socks up, that’s gonna be all she symbi-wrote.