There’s a reason that Disney fought so hard to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, giving us the truly awesome Homecoming in the process. It’s because Sony, which has owned the movie rights to the character and its franchise since the turn of the century, has basically ruined him. We got one decent movie (Spider-Man), one really good movie (Spider-Man 2), a mediocre end to the trilogy, and two rebooted films that aren’t worth the gasoline and matches needed to burn the reels. Now, by all accounts (including my own, having seen the trailers and the preview scene during the credits of this film), the upcoming animated Into the Spider-Verse is going to be pretty sweet. But until then, we’ve got one more pointless slog to get through.
And so we have Venom, focusing on one of Spidey’s biggest nemeses as a reluctant antihero.
I will admit that the film has one really decent action set piece, when the titular alien symbiote fully integrates with Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, seemingly unable to pick an accent in this one) and fights off some cannon fodder in his apartment before ruining it with a jump cut-crazy car chase scene. Also, setting aside the glaring question as to how Venom integrates human speech so quickly, his quasi-inner monologues talking to Brock elicit a few genuine laughs.
Apart from that, though, this is largely a train wreck. Brock’s character is an “investigative reporter” who apparently got famous mugging for his camera and asking “gotcha” questions before editorializing. Essentially, he’s the antithesis of an actual journalist. He’s dating a lawyer named Anne (Michelle Williams, who like her appearance in I Feel Pretty elevates the proceedings simply by NOT playing an aggrieved mother), whom he surreptitiously uses for inside information on his latest interview subject, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a tech billionaire who experiments on poor people, making them sign waivers for when they die. Drake has also sent spaceships on scouting missions to find signs of alien life because, reasons.
That paragraph alone should tell you how absurd this entire exercise is, particularly the fact that Drake would commission an interview with Brock in the first place, thinking he could be intimidated into lobbing softballs. Even if the cause of his local fame is asinine, why would you think he wouldn’t try to trap you with something? You’re a (completely unethical) medical researcher. Do some goddam research!
Anyway, the film opens with a returning spacecraft crash landing on Earth with four alien symbiotes. One of them gets loose in Malaysia, systematically inhabiting compatible humans until it can reunite with its brethren in San Francisco, and become the convenient final villain for the film, Riot. Meanwhile, the other three samples, including Venom, are taken to Drake, where he tries to get them to meld with the local homeless, with predictable results, until a down-on-his-luck Brock gets a tip to sneak into the lab, and the ensuing chaos leads to him taking on the alien parasite by accident.
Now, I have several questions, and we’re basically only two minutes in. One, why send spaceships out to find life at all? Two, how is this in any way sanctioned by any government? Three, there’s no indication we’re in the future, so how does this technology exist? Four, having seen the Columbia disaster live on TV back in 2003, how did this spaceship not disintegrate upon reentry after shedding multiple safety panels? Five, how in the fuck did the ship crash land largely intact, and with one crew member still alive? Six, if Riot was concerned about his compatriots, why run away? Seven, how did three simple glass containers survive a crash landing from outer fucking space? Eight, how can Riot, on a world just as alien to it as it is to us, detect compatible host bodies instantly? Nine, how did it know/learn, over the arbitrary course of six months, that it had to get to an airport and smuggle itself to San Francisco? Ten, how did it know it had to get to San Francisco, of all cities? Eleven, how did it know the little blonde girl was going to San Francisco so it could possess her? Twelve, how was there a little blonde girl travelling from Malaysia to San Francisco unaccompanied?
This is the problem with Sony’s Spidey tenure. These are all questions I thought up instantly, with no real application of critical thought. These are all just obvious, gaping holes in plot and logic that anyone could pick up. Did the producers/writers/director bother to figure these things out? No, of course not! But hey, Venom calls Brock a pussy and eats people’s faces off, but only in the bloodless, implied PG-13 method, because box office! It’s all just so lazy, and that’s before we even get to Drake’s more murdery tendencies, the sinful wasting of Jenny Slate in an expendable role, the cheap CGI effects (particularly Drake’s literal mountain lair, because nothing says “I’m not a super villain” like a headquarters LITERALLY BUILT INSIDE A FUCKING MOUNTAIN), or yet another comic book movie where the bad guy is just a larger version of the good guy.
But most importantly, the film fails because we really never get to explore the true Jekyll/Hyde nature of Eddie Brock and Venom as characters. There’s darkness, internal conflict, moral ambiguity, and so much other good stuff that’s been explored in the books and cartoon series over the years. Even Topher Grace was allowed to lend some nuance to the character. But this? It’s just a mess.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Who’s your favorite Spidey villain? Whose face would you like to eat? Let me know!