There is definitely something wrong with the design of Venom’s head. It’s a little too perfectly round and a little too small for his massive body. It’s a subtle thing, but something about it just doesn’t quite sit right, which is a shame as the designs of the Symbiote and Venom/Riot are both faithful tributes to the comic incarnations.
Following on from a lacklustre showing in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 with the painfully miscast Topher Grace, Sony is trying for a second time to bring one of Spider-Man’s most iconic rogues to the big screen. Venom stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, the second and likely most well known host of the Venom Symbiote. A lot of inspiration for the story here seems to be taken from the Venom: Lethal Protector comic storyline where Venom is presented as an unlikely hero, a focus on the homeless as pawns in the story, an enemy in the form of the Life Foundation and attempts to create yet more Venom-type creatures.
The story kicks off with Life Foundation’s failed mission to return some unspecified samples from outer space. One of these samples, a Symbiote, escapes and goes on a murderous rampage. Six months later and down-on-his-luck reporter Eddie Brock attempts to infiltrate Life Foundation’s head Carlton Drake’s (Riz Ahmed) lab to prove who is responsible for the killings. One thing leads to another with Brock unwittingly physically-bonding with the parasitic Venom Symbiote.
A lot of things happen until we reach our dark, blurry, CGI-heavy climax. There’s a lot of gunfire, explosions and general mayhem and murder, which Sony seems to think makes for a good story. Sony are wrong.
The biggest sin is that it lacks any sort of subtlety or nuance. Unlike the Symbiote’s first appearance in the comics, where it initially appeared utterly benign and helpful, here they are vicious, malicious killing machines that murder enemy and bystander alike without a care in the world. Drake is immediately obvious as a villain without even a vague attempt at making him relatable in any way. He didn’t have a moustache to twirl, but you could almost see him doing it. His motivations for his experiments and ultimate goal for the Symbiotes and mankind is both insane and frankly astoundingly naive as more than one character points out during the film.
Plot holes? Oh, yes.
Character motivations? Murky at best.
Sudden face-turn from one of the characters? Yup, there is that too.
The effects are of varying quality. Generally the Symbiotes are very well done, especially in their “gooey” form, appearing viscous, unsettling and definitely alien, but the actual Venom/Riot humanoids are just a little too shiny, though both appear impressively fleshy when their mouths/tongues are on full display. Unfortunately, the final climactic showdown is a CGI-fest of two near-black CGI characters beating each other up against a grey background at night. It’s mostly just a whirl of swooping cameras, limbs, explosions and scenery destruction that leaves the audience craving more than they are given. It’s reminiscent of the somewhat disappointing final fight between Black Panther and Killmonger where two unreal CGI characters beat each other up with no real sense of realism or tension.
But it’s not all bad. The action is entertaining and the interactions between Brock and the voice in his head are well done (especially when you realise that Hardy also provides Venom’s voice). Hardy himself is thoroughly entertaining, playing Brock as an impotent man now he’s lost his place in life; cowardly, directionless and, as Venom himself points out, “kind of a loser”. Ahmed is wasted and given little to work with beyond a cardboard cut-out villain role. Films such as Rogue One show he is capable of so much more when given the chance.
Venom is a mixed bag, mainly supported by the strength of Tom Hardy’s performance. There is potential here and the blatant sequel-hook mid-credits teaser shows us where Sony plans to go with it. Does it deserve a sequel? Time will tell.
Venom is now on general release in UK cinemas.