Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel, Todd McFarlane, David Michelinie
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Jenny Slate
Venom is certainly a mixed bag, but however many times you root through it you always manage to pull out something good.
In a time when every Marvel film is intricately linked, Venom stands out on its own. Rather fittingly, it has chosen to refuse to conform to the rules which have governed Marvel's (now seemingly foolproof) approach to the MCU and decided instead to write its own. In some ways it has succeeded...in others, it has not.
Venom is full of what can only be described as odd creative choices. A major one is Venom's personality, which leans more towards humorous than sinister, which is a contrast to his more nightmarish physical appearance. It works surprisingly well though and doesn't harm the film in any way beyond causing a little dissonance when he is first introduced. Similarly, the film's wider tone is all over the place, at first hunkering down into a gritty thriller before choosing the path of a more lighthearted action-comedy. Venom's arrival has a strange and unexpected influence on the film but, for the most part, those involved manage to make it work. The script is acceptable, if not forgettable, aside from a major plot point relying on a flimsy decision from Venom which is shamefully lazy writing.
The film-making demonstrated by Venom is not particularly elegant, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The film essentially takes the form of several set pieces strung together one after the other, each of which brilliantly showcases Venom's extraordinary power and abilities; a high-speed pursuit gives us hints of the dexterity and strength of the character, while an encounter with a heavily armed SWAT team treats us to a spectacularly dynamic view of Venom in a full rage. Not to mention he looks astonishing, and far more intimidating than when he debuted in Spider-Man 3 (2007). This film takes advantage of showing off what this new character can do. The final showdown towards the end of the film does turn into a bit of a CGI mess which could have done with being slowed down ever so slightly, but even this continues to show the imagination and inventiveness behind the character's design.
Like the film itself, Tom Hardy's performance also suffers from some tonal turbulence and doesn't deliver the greatest first impression. His interpretation of Brock at first can't help being a little confusing and not especially likeable, possessing an odd, stumbling demeanour which resembles that of an alcoholic. However, when he (finally) becomes a host for our title character, Venom, his performance is enhanced, and he clearly begins to enjoy the role. His back-and-forth with Venom is (strangely) hilarious, and his journey from host to more of a 'partner' is quite enjoyable to watch unfold. The scenes in which Brock and Venom interact are definitely the strongest of the film, and they propel Brock's likability skyward.
The rest of the cast are mostly just along for the ride. Michelle Williams is given a dismal role with even more dismal dialogue as the unnecessary romantic interest, but she does well enough with what she has been provided with. It is refreshing to see Jenny Slate in a more serious role and proves here that she can manage them. Riz Ahmed is the typical two-dimensional villain found in most origin stories, but brings a real ruthless edge to his lethally determined Carlton Drake. None of them are particularly exciting, but neither are they distracting from the film's main attraction.
A more fundamental difficulty faced by this film is that Venom is not designed to be a main character. He typically only works well when surrounded by context - and by context, we mean fighting against Spider-Man. To have his own film feels like ever so slightly too much, and it seems to have struggled to pull together enough material to make a full movie. This may explain why it takes so long for Brock and Venom to meet, and why a semi-romantic subplot has been awkwardly shoehorned in. That said, there is no Spider-Man shaped hole in this film - as a standalone, it feels stretched but not too thin, just about managing to fill its 112-minute run-time.
Venom definitely has issues, some more significant than others. But, despite this, it still manages to hold onto one of the most valuable and immutable of film qualities - fun. If you forgive a few surprising creative decisions and hold out during the first 40 minutes of 'scene-setting' you will find yourself having a fun ride through San Fransisco on the back of a deranged alien life form.
In one line: Venom has some huge hits and some spectacular misses, but overall is a fun and feisty introduction to a visually incredible antihero.