It's hard to believe that it's been over a decade since one of the most iconic villains in comic book history made his cinematic debut, though it certainly wasn't a successful one; 2007's Spider-Man 3 saw the lethal protector Venom make his first appearance on the big screen, and what a mess it was. I liked Spider-Man 3, but the character of Venom was pretty much shoehorned into the last 10 minutes of the film, lacking any of the conflict in the comics that made the character interesting. Now, after years of speculation and production issues, Venom's first solo outing released this year, directed by Ruben Flesicher and starring Tom Hardy as the titular character. Surely this film's portrayal of the character couldn't be much worse than Spider-Man 3's, right? There will be spoilers in this review.
I'm not going to pretend like I know the comics in extreme detail, because I don't, but I do know that once the Venom symbiote takes over Eddie Brock, it tears him apart. It's like a drug, an addiction. This split personality and the moral grounds of the character laying between good and evil make him a very complex and intriguing character. Aside from a few short scenes, 2018's Venom doesn't delve into this at all. Instead, it focuses on the relationship between Brock and Venom in a more comedic light. They bicker and argue throughout the film, but it never feels like it's done to develop the characters or their relationships. Ironically, I never felt like Brock or Venom bonded emotionally. So when it comes to the big emotional climax of Venom saving Brock, I feel nothing at all. Hardy does his best with what he's given (and what he's given is some very awkward dialogue) and, to be fair, he is very entertaining to watch, but this film doesn't have many positives beyond that. The pacing is horrible; scenes and plot points fly by and are given little thought or attention. There is absolutely no chemistry between Hardy's Brock or Michelle Williams' Anne Weying, and the villain is a straight-up generic evil business tycoon. It's a shame because Riz Ahmed, who plays the film's villain, does seem like he's having fun with the role, at least in some scenes. In others, he's completely deadpan and uninteresting.
The CGI itself is also quite poor. I never truly felt like what I was looking at was actually there. This was especially the case in one scene where Ahmed's Carlton Drake is talking to the Riot symbiote which he has bonded with. You could tell Ahmed was just looking into a dead space and not at an actual physical being. The final battle is also a CGI-ridden mess. It's extremely difficult to tell what's going on as Venom and Riot pull each other apart. I honestly think some of the CGI in Spider-Man 3 was better, and that was eleven years ago!
If there's one word that sums this film up for me, it's "predictable." Loser gets powers, is granted extreme strength. Villain he has a grudge with ALSO is granted extreme strength. They fight, hero wins. The end. Now obviously, this is a formula a lot of superhero films stick to, and it CAN work. I'm not saying that superhero films SHOULDN'T stick to this formula, but at least do something interesting with it. Venom does not do this. It goes exactly the way you think it'll go from start to finish. It even goes down the route of pretending a character is dead (in this case, the Venom symbiote), only for that character to somehow illogically reappear alive and well at the end of the film. This is such a tired and overused trope and Venom uses it in the most unimaginative way possible. Even the after-credits scene is typical for a modern superhero film; a character visits some character in prison who is being set up as the sequel's villain. However, the film even does THIS awkwardly. Brock visits serial killer Cletus Kasady, played by Woody Harrelson in a hilariously bad wig, in prison. In the comics, Kasady bonds with the symbiote known as Carnage and becomes one of Spider-Man's most dangerous and psychotic foes. I'm pretty certain that this is where this franchise is going with the character, seeing as they literally have to tell it to us during the scene; the final lines of the film are spoken by Kasady, where he says something along the lines of, "When I get out of here, there's going to be CARNAGE." Everyone in the cinema at this point either laughed or groaned, as did I. Not a good sign for a scene intended to be serious and to set up future films.
Notice how I've only just mentioned Spider-Man? That's right, Venom is a Spider-Man villain! Easy to forget since this film strays from the comic books in that Brock is the first person the Venom symbiote matches with, instead of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, who I assume doesn't exist in this universe. I'm not against straying from the source material, but what made Venom interesting in the first place was his relationship with Spider-Man. If you get rid of that then you have what only feels like a half-baked attempt at a sinister character. Nothing about this film's Venom is interesting or engaging. How did they manage to make a giant, slimy monster who loves biting people's heads off uninteresting?!
Overall, this film is so predictable, so average, and so unengaging that it's actually kind of impressive. A mess, but still impressive. It feels like a film that was made during the early to mid 2000's when most superhero films didn't do much interesting with their portrayals of the characters. If you were expecting a well-written, fleshed-out portrayal of the character from the comics like we've been promised for so many years, you're not gonna get it here. There are positives; Hardy is entertaining, the action is passable, and the score by Ludwig Goransson is actually quite sinister and fits the slimy nature of the symbiotes very well. However, that's not enough to forego the abysmal pacing, awkward dialogue, and misguided tone that turns the lethal protector into somewhat of a punchline. "A loser", as the Venom symbiote describes itself at one point.