When Screen Junkies released their Honest Trailer for Avengers: Infinity War a few months back, they described Spider-Man's role in the film as essentially being "the boy who’d rather hitch a ride into space and die than stay home and be in Venom", and to be honest, they weren't far off the truth. Spidey dodged a massive bullet when it comes to this particular film, since despite having a new lease of life thanks to his inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the recent Into the Spider-Verse animated flick, Sony still acts like the desperate studio that wants to launch their own Cinematic Universe, even though they fell flat on their faces last time they attempted this trick with the terrible Amazing Spider-Man duology.
Their pitch this time is having a universe that involves Spider-Man-centric characters but is completely removed and disconnected from Spider-Man and his world. What we have with Venom is an origin story that bears no resemblance to his comic book history and mythology that's hugely connected to Spider-Man - already there you're losing his motivations and why he's called Venom in the first place! Instead, Venom goes for a completely different origin that involves generic evil corporations and secret experiments that go wrong, along with plenty of forced conveniences and plot contrivances along the way.
To be fair, a solo Venom movie could've worked (at least a good one!), but the last thing anybody wanted was a Venom movie made by Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach and Amy Pascal, a Venom movie that takes place in a universe where Spidey doesn't exist and, most of all, a Venom movie that was essentially made in order to screw over both Marvel and their MCU. Yet that is what we got and, sadly, this schizophrenic misfire makes Spider-Man 3 look like Citizen Kane.
Venom is a cobbled-together trainwreck that Sony constructed as a means to try to catch up with Disney/Marvel's MCU without putting any real time or effort into making it functional or coherent in any way, shape or form. There is a clashing of tones in this film from one scene to the next, with the first 40 minutes or so being this very bland, drawn-out prologue with long exposition scenes (the dearth of drama) and dull character moments that don't make that much impact - in the end, you don't even care whether or not Eddie Brock is going to get his job and girlfriend back. In fact, Eddie has no character development in this film at all, since he starts the movie as an arsehole and ends as an arsehole, making his character completely flat.
Each minute of the prologue feels long and ponderous - with some really bad editing - and once Eddie bonds with the alien symbiote and transforms into Venom, all of a sudden the film becomes this incredibly goofy, awkward, ridiculous black comedy. It goes from being an increasingly boring movie to being a very bizarre and stupid one, where we have a wet and sweaty Tom Hardy puking his guts out, making weird sounds, eating live lobsters in water tanks at a public restaurant, and making out with his symbiote. It's such a bizarre mixture of tones that Venom feels like the perfect successor to The Amazing Spider-Man films, almost to the point where you begin to wonder whether or not this was originally intended to be a spinoff to those films.
Apart from Tom Hardy and his awkward performance, Michelle Williams is sorely underused in a thankless role, while Riz Ahmed is very miscast as the cold CEO businessman that acts like a cardboard cutout baddie with clichéd, generic motivations. Even though the translation of Venom in both voice and design on screen is brilliant (but it's still annoying that he has no white spider symbol!), the rest of the CGI is very rushed and corny to look at (especially during the motorcycle chase sequence). It's quite hard to see at times, particularly during the climactic battle between Venom and Riot, which appears to be nothing more than a CGI sploosh-fest.
The action sequences are also a real let down, since they are choppily edited and completely bloodless despite the fact there are people getting their heads chewed off and spat out, which makes you wonder if the filmmakers involved were trying to make an R-rated flick but were constricted to a PG-13 by Sony.
It's a real shame since director Ruben Fleischer has made notable movies in the past, like the amazing Zombieland, the middle-of-the-road 30 Minutes or Less and the mediocre Gangster Squad, but this is easily his worst film to date as it's everything a movie shouldn't be: boring. This feels more like a Sony cash-grab than a true Ruben Fleischer film, and it's pretty shocking that acclaimed screenwriter Kelly Marcel was involved with rewriting Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinker's screenplay.
Sure, some of the interactions between Eddie and Venom are nicely played, but does that matter when the rest of the film is so lacklustre? If you want a great recent Spider-Man related film from Sony, then just check out Into the Spider-Verse. It'll give you more happiness and joy than this will!
VENOM / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: RUBEN FLEISCHER / SCREENPLAY: JEFF PINKNER, SCOTT ROSENBERG / STARRING: TOM HARDY, MICHELLE WILLIAMS, RIZ AHMED / RELEASE DATE: 4TH FEBRUARY