With the passing of the legendary Stan Lee, it felt appropriate to see one of the final films to feature a cameo from the Marvel giant, before it moved to home entertainment formats. The road to a big screen solo adaptation of David Michelinie & Todd McFarlane’s creation has been a long difficult one, and Venom is, unfortunately, a very mixed offering.
Thanks to the cooperation of Sony, everyone’s favourite web-slinger was able to appear to date in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War. With the untitled Avengers sequel and Spier-Man: Far From Home still to come, Spidey has a bright future ahead. In the opening titles of this spin-off, however, the Marvel logo appears proceeded by three dreaded words: In Association With.
Sony was clearly confident in being able to handle the revised story of alien symbiotes crash-landing on Earth without the intervention of Kevin Feige and friends, but by removing the relevance to Spider-Man entirely, the whole premise feels lost from the outset.
Venom has previously appeared on the big screen as one of the two-too-many villains in Spider-Man 3, in which it’s fair to say the character’s full potential was never exploited. That said, one of the major problems in this solo outing is that it’s never made entirely clear what his powers are. Similarly, the rules of the world they visit are never satisfactorily explained, and we are asked to go along with proceedings as they happen, just because they are. That might have been alright by early 00s standards of comic book moviemaking, but times have changed, and Venom feels oddly dated by today’s benchmark of comic-book movies.
The plot itself is entirely guessable from the trailer, so we’ll skate straight over that, much in keeping with the movie’s spirit. The whole enterprise feels in a rush to cover a lot of ground. Within the first fifteen minutes, we meet all the principal characters and see their worlds turned upside down. As a viewer, too little time is spent getting to know them, before being asked to care about what happens for the remaining hour and a half.
Perhaps this is an attempt to avoid the slow, often tedious sluggishness that besets most of the rival DCEU movies, but in forgoing time to develop backgrounds and relationships, it’s tough engaging with the characters. The cast is undoubtedly beyond the quality of material they’re tasked with bringing to life.
You can’t blame Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed for wanting to get on board the comic book franchise bandwagon, but they are better actors than this film deserves. Tom Hardy is channelling his best everyman persona, but the strange paradox of Eddie Brock means it’s hard to believe in either his cutting-edge investigative reporter bravado or shameful sad-sack loser shuffling. He’s always far too buff for any number of baggy hoodies to hide.
The biggest struggle with Vemon is the uneven tone. Neither too dark and gruesome as the trailers might have you believe, nor darkly humorous enough to be genuinely entertaining, the film always feels unsure of itself. As a result, Hardy’s decent stab at a comedic performance feels out of place and falls flat.
Director Ruben Fleischer has a background in funny and helmed the enjoyable Zombieland for instance, as well as numerous small-screen comedies. Perhaps if he was given free rein to make an all-out gorefest, the symbiote characters require, what might have emerged is a film that definitely delivers on at least one level. Instead, aiming to inject humour into the ‘odd couple’ duo of Brock and Venom simply does not work, leaving us with a weak, diet Deadpool taste in the mouth.
With too many unnecessary curse words for the kids, but not enough bite to the action for adults, Vemon fails to become the sum of its parts, leaving casual fans alienated from what should be a familiar enough world. Having made an awful lot of money there are bound to be sequels, and naturally, there’s a mid-credit sequence designed to tee-up franchise continuation. Perhaps by then, I’ll be ready for another dose of Venom.