The character Venom is the supportive boyfriend you’ve always wanted. He sticks closely to you, has your back, catches you when you fall and protects you from the swarms of bad guys shooting bullets at your head. The latest anti-hero to be welcomed into the comic book universe, however, has proved to be slightly underwhelming. This ultimate force of nature is restrained, held back,and caged, as if Sony don’t know how far they can let him roam. Choosing to remain safely within the boundaries of the 15 rating, gore and violence are substituted for obscenities and sassy dialogue, an unsatisfying and disappointing arc for a character capable of destroying worlds.
We’re introduced to the alien space goo in the opening minutes, its abilities displayed as it inhabits different bodies on its quest to reach the city of San Francisco. Bizarrely, it’s then forgotten about, losing priority as the plot focuses on Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Anne Weying’s (Michelle Williams) boring and unlikeable relationship. After a run in with archetypal bad guy Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a stereotypical villain living in a luxurious mansion and conducting gruesome experiments, Brock’s world collapses spectacularly as he finds himself abandoned by his fiancé and his journalistic career ruined. Over the next six months he spends his days shopping at the local newsagent, watering his plant and listening to his new neighbour play electric guitar late into the night. At the same time, Drake has been testing this mysterious space goo on human guinea pigs, attempting to achieve ‘symbiosis’. When his fellow researchers start to question his ethics, Brock becomes involved and is consequentially inhabited by the parasite which goes by the name Venom.
From here the film frantically displays the capabilities Venom possesses; fight scene is followed by fight scene, followed by fight scene. There are amusing segments where Brock and his new symbiotic companion debate the morals of eating people or causing harm to others, but at times these feel unnecessary; Sony are evidently attempting to follow the popular formula Marvel has expertly mastered of balancing seriousness with humour. With a confused tone, basic plot and dull dialogue, it’s left up in the air as to whether the writers actually re-drafted their screenplay before filming started.
Despite its potential, this is a film which has been censored to a point that it becomes a numbing experience. You don’t go to see a Venom film for the character’s love story or even for the reveal of the evil mastermind’s plan. You go to see the big, ugly alien from space be exactly the creature it is: disgusting and feral. There are times it appears – scenes where Brock eats raw lobsters to satisfy the hunger of the creature inside him – but the actual graphic danger of this character is still only ever hinted at. The film never goes so far as to show you Venom ripping someone’s head off, instead, the level of violence extends mostly to figures being thrown against walls.
Where the film fails with its violence, it fails with its romantic storyline too – the addition of the love story for Hardy and Williams’s characters is forced and clunky. The dialogue coupled with the pair’s on-screen interactions makes for an awkwardly laughable experience, their attempts to show affection strained in effort. Williams fails to meet the same level of charisma and vitality her co-star maintains on screen, coming across emotionless and wooden. It is a shame, as Williams, a talented actor in her own rights, feels like an add on, a character who serves to advance Hardy’s desirability for fans. Her lines are predictable and thoughtless, leaving her little to work with.
Hardy’s performance is considerably better; he is energetic, amusing and seems to enjoy his time on screen. However, taking on the role of any kind of superhero would be a tricky one, and at times his character seems confused, switching in and out from cringing wimp to savvy and confident reporter. Pairing him with Venom does make for a likeable and – at times – relatable character who you begin to sympathise with, but the indulgent use of CGI, especially in the penultimate fight scene, is confused; a blur of snarls and teeth which have no focus.
Venom is, at its very best, an average film. It’s repetitive, with empty characters and lazy writing. Most tragically, it ignores Venom’s potential. With the probability of a second film, we can cross our fingers that Sony will one day let Venom off his leash and show us the monster he is capable of really being.
By Charlotte Jane Riley