Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Ruben Fleischer’s frenzied take on one of Spiderman’s most iconic adversaries is essentially a romcom between spiraling hard-nosed reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and a gooey outer space mollusk speaking in gravelly tones. The idea of a man attempting to reconcile with a voice in his head and a “parasite” inside his body has all the trappings for sublime body horror/Lovecraftian weirdness, but Venom actually plays more like an early 2000’s comic book movie elevated slightly by Hardy’s goofy comic abilities.
Through a flurry of early montages, we learn that Eddie Brock is a Vice-style investigator with his sights set on tech billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who is killing poor people throughout San Francisco via human trials wherein alien symbiotes bond with human hosts. Eddie gets the scoop by stealing confidential legal documents from his lawyer girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams), goes to Drake’s company for an interview to entrap him, and is quickly fired for his actions. There’s also a scientist working for Drake played by Jenny Slate whose mostly on hand to allow Eddie access to the compound’s quarantined zone where he inevitably bonds with the powerful alien life form.
If Venom’s first half is cluttered and plodding, then the middle section where Eddie and the creature become entangled does manage to find a comedic rhythm. This has little to do with Fleischer’s direction, which ranges from pedestrian to downright incoherent, and is entirely due to Hardy, who channels Nic Cage by way of Elmer Fudd with a riotous physical performance. A sequence where Eddie interrupts a lunch between Anne and her new surgeon boyfriend, Dan (Reid Scott), by chewing on seafood and immersing himself inside a lobster tank, is a prime example of an actor taking bland material and punching it up with all manner of tics, spasms, and funny faces.
The romcom elements of Eddie and Venom’s love-hate relationship is humorous for awhile, but Fleischer never settles on a consistent enough tone for this material to work over the long haul. Moving at a dizzying pace, Venom eventually descends into parodic CGI vomit; including a climatic duel between our anti-hero and a rival symbiote with all manner of Zack Snyder-esque crashing, punching, and explosions. It’s about as thrilling as watching the homeless population writhe in agony as tentacled globs swirl around their intestines while an Elon Musk analog twirls his imaginary mustache.
There’s a sense throughout Venom that Hardy is steamrolling his journeyman director into taking the standard comic book narrative into loopier territory. But the actor’s dedication in leaning into the material’s trash/cult curio potential is ultimately a moot point, seeing as this is still a major studio release taking place inside (or just outside) the MCU. As such, it cannot fully embrace the Sami Raimi Darkman vibes existing at the edges of a rather dull origins story. Instead, Fleischer settles more for Ghostrider/Daredevil vibes, with Hardy’s mumbly, spastic, tater tot-munching slapstick delivering in between dull swaths of plot exposition and deafening action sequences.