Yes, the ‘turd in the wind’ line from the trailers made it into the final cut. Venom is an archetypal ‘edgy teen’ movie (it even has a rather embarrassing Eminem song over its credits) from the early 2000s, dropped into 2018 via, presumably, the same wormhole that brought us such recent-yet-dated disasters as Mute and Baywatch. It’s awful, but trying too hard to lay franchise foundations to ever transcend to entertainingly bad, instead settling for mild bafflement whenever Tom Hardy’s double performance really cuts loose. Bearing greater similarities to grim superhero flops like Ghost Rider and the 2003 Daredevil than the slickly produced and consistently fun MCU, Venom is 2018’s worst blockbuster.
Adapting a well-liked run from the comics, Venom finds disgraced investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) in San Francisco when a gooey parasitic alien (voiced by Hardy) latches itself onto him as a host, creating a 7 foot monster with row after row of massive teeth. It takes ages to actually get into the meat of the story, swathes of boring exposition about Eddie’s life getting in the way of the star of the show, Venom itself.
This backstory also introduces the utterly wasted Riz Ahmed and Michelle Williams, as shady pharmaceuticals mogul Carlton Drake and Eddie’s fiancée Anne, respectively. Both of these excellent actors look bored and confused throughout, and Williams’s role is especially thin and thankless. Hardy is enjoying himself though, and there’s a better and more manic film in here, one that follows Hardy’s energy. As both Eddie and Venom, the dreadful dialogue sounds slightly more knowing when coming from him, though there is no saving the character arcs. Motivations change completely without any explanation, so any attempt to create tension or emotional involvement falls flat.
It’s an ugly film, too. Choppy editing makes the action difficult to follow, and everything is lit and shot with seemingly minimal effort. On top of that, Venom only comes out at night, a murky black CG creation blending in with the dark, empty streets. There are some violent-ish but neutered fight scenes and a hint of a conspiracy story (hindered by the fact that no one behaves even remotely like a normal human), but the vast majority of Venom’s first and second acts are just killing time before the obligatory Big Final Showdown. So little happens before then that matters that it’s actually impressive.
This final fight does not, by any stretch of the imagination, redeem the movie. The big bad is another human/alien hybrid, whose power set is slightly different to Venom’s, but looks very similar, so the climax has a black tentacle monster fighting a dark grey tentacle monster at night, a mess of CG sludge and clunking repetitiveness where the hero and villain are indistinguishable. It’s a perfect capper to an aggressively personality-free and cynical film that’s not as bonkers as some critics made out and all the duller for it.