Review: Venom

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Stars: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

Perhaps its just the personas that they’ve maintained, but when you think of Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams, you assume they wouldn’t be the kind of celebrity names engulfed by the Marvel freight train. That they might somehow be ‘above’ it. Like Ethan Hawke. But then here they are, in a spurious property that, therefore, must have a lot going for it. A killer script. A director with vision. A progressive message. Something.

Assumptions can get you into a lot of trouble.

Everyone involved here appears to be picking up a paycheck as comfortably the least interesting comic book movie of our times slithers into cinemas on a wave of poorly rendered CGI.

Hardy – doing an uncommitted Sam Rockwell impersonation – fails to convince as Eddie Brock, a successful on-the-spot reporter in San Francisco who hits rock bottom when he hijacks an interview with Riz Ahmed’s smarmy tech CEO Carlton Drake. Not only does it lose him his job, but also his fiance, Anne (that’s Williams). This bleary-eyed blunder coincides with Drake’s acquisition of an alien species, which he is hell-bent on hybridising with a human because, y’know, the ecosystem.

Drake uses poor people as test subjects because that’s how cartoonish his villainy is. This doesn’t sit well with his conscientious assistant Dr Skith (Jenny Slate), who contacts the unemployed Brock to break the story. All Brock has to do is sneak around the most forward-thinking and top-secret lab in the world, which has no CCTV and, apparently, one security guard. Whaddayaknow, Brock gets infected… with Venom.

The draw here, one supposes, is that Venom is an anti-hero. This alien being that Brock plays host to is chiefly interested in biting off the heads of humans… except this neutered-down Hollywood iteration can’t go all-out bad because Brock has to remain sympathetic, right? Venom is in such a rush to get everything out on the table that we never get to care about Brock one way or another. He doesn’t add-up as a character. Every note reads as false. It makes no odds anyway. Deadpool 2 showed us just how uninteresting free-reign nonchalant violence can be in a comic book flick. That Venom doesn’t even try to deliver on this front is immaterial. It’s just another thing that it isn’t.

But what does it offer? Insults to intelligence, mainly. The story comes apart as you watch it, assembled as it is from the least inspired scraps of miscellaneous other origin stories with precious little care for how it all hangs together. Hardy’s Jekyll ‘n’ Hyde routine has been done to death (and significantly upstaged by his lookalike Logan Marshall Green in this year’s superior sci-fi actioner Upgrade). His Venom alter-ego can’t sustain very much screen time, and scenes of their shape-shifting look, frankly, laughable. Hardy has moderately more chemistry with himself than he does with Williams; they look positively awkward together. While Ahmed and Slate look equally bemused by the roles they’ve taken on.

Everything about Venom is perfunctory. Action scenes lack coherence. Those flailing CG arms swamp the screen with murky goo, while the itchy editing suggests that nothing here was particularly well choreographed. The final showdown – in which Venom fights another alien creature – is appalling; a writhing mass of incomprehensible digital soup.

Hardy can do withered, edge-of-sanity misfits standing on his head, be it for George Miller in Mad Max: Fury Road or for the BBC in his impressive series Taboo and still he feels miscast here. Venom is the most vanilla iteration of this routine to have appeared. It has all the edge of a satsuma.

This is patchwork, by-the-numbers stuff that manages to be significantly less than the sum of its uninspired parts. Director Ruben Fleischer (perhaps sensing he has a turkey on his hands?) brings nothing to table, no imprint of personality or style. Even those goddawful DC movies have an aesthetic that they adhere to (i.e. dark). Venom doesn’t have an impression to make.

Honestly, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is one of the movie’s best moments. That’s not a good place to find yourself.

I’ve only walked out of one movie in the cinema in my life. It was Madagascar and it was a mutual decision with my movie-going partner at the time based on boredom and hunger. Certainly I’ve not walked out on a movie since I’ve been doing this. But damn, I was tempted to with Venom. And as I sit here, well aware I’m short of my usual word limit – but with no enthusiasm to elaborate further – I’m not sure why I didn’t.

Probably there’s a post-credits scene. I couldn’t tell you. I got the fuck out. Avoid.

Score:  1

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