‘Knock, knock, let the devil in’
yells Eminem over the ending credits of this bizarre mess of a motion picture, by which point, Mr.Mathers, I already had: The devil, of course, being Sony Pictures, and letting them in referring to giving them more of my hard-earned wages to watch the latest train-wreck of an offering from the alter of commercialised cinema. I can’t even say ‘I should have known better’, as I did know better; Sony have served up nothing but crap for some time now, and it seems that this trend is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The Amazing Spiderman and The Amazing Spiderman 2 were both awful, and The Dark Tower hurt me in ways I can’t even describe. Mediocrity is the expected norm from this studio at this point. At the very least, you can’t accuse them of being inconsistent. I try not to spoil any major plot points in my reviews, and, in case after reading this you still, for whatever reason, wish to view it, I will keep to my usual standard on that, but the narrative can be summarised as such: Protagonist is down on his luck; protagonist discovers alien symbiote; symbiote and protagonist struggle to co exist for a while; symbiote and protagonist fight other symbiotic antagonist in a giant CGI fuck-fest that is barely discernible and reminded me of the worst parts of the Transformers franchise. Throw in some shady corporate espionage and poor action sequences and you have yourselves Venom, ladies and gentlemen.
Frankly, if you’ve watched one Superhero origin movie at this point, then you’ve seen them all, and Venom makes no attempts whatsoever to stand out from the crowd and do anything unique. When trying to critically analyse a film such as this, something so utterly mediocre and forgettable, it becomes incredibly difficult to remain passionate and engaged in your own writing. What exactly do I have to write about, and where do I start? Do I begin with the awful dialogue? Do I begin with the botched handling of the titular comic-book icon? Or do I begin with the bizarre and erratic performance of Tom Hardy? As every comic-book adaptation tends to live or die based on the handling of the source material, I guess Venom himself would be a good place to begin trying to dissect this festering corpse of a Motion Picture.
He is, frankly, abysmally handled: coming off less as a terrifying threat, and more as a poor one-note joke that quickly grows very old. His dialogue seems like it was written by a ten year old boy – or, alternatively, a studio-hired writer who was trying desperately to appeal to the ‘edgy’ teenage audience – saying such ludicrous utterings as ‘loser’ and ‘pussy’, despite supposedly being an omniscient alien symbiote from a foreign galaxy. Why, exactly, they thought having him sound like a teenager was a good idea is completely beyond me, and it falls flat at every turn. The voice Tom Hardy goes for in this was described by himself as ‘A James Brown lounge Lizard’, but, in reality, it just sounds like a GCSE drama student trying his hardest to do a menacing vocal performance, and utterly failing. The poor quality of CGI doesn’t help matters either, as Venom looks fucking ridiculous. He is about nine feet tall and bulky as hell, looking like he was ripped straight out of a video-game cutscene from the Playstation 3 era.
This is prevalent throughout the film, as the antagonist – another goddamn symbiote, as Hollywood seems obsessed with the ‘character fights dark mirrored version of himself in origin stories’ formula – looks equally ludicrous, and during the final fight sequence it is almost impossible to tell what is going on. It just looks like two CGI blobs slapping each other around with no real way of telling who is who or what exactly is going on. It takes you straight out of the film, ruins all immersion, and leaves it as a very flat experience. Hardy’s bad vocal performance doesn’t just stop with the titular Venom however, as his performance as the symbiote’s human host, Eddie Brock, is just as bad and bizarre. He tries to bring some sort of maniacal, frenetic energy to the role – and definitely succeeds at that – but he seems to be a bit flat and, frankly, boring, compared to what we know he can do. In fact, the last time he was in a major superhero film – The Dark Knight Rises – his performance was considerably better, so one wonders if it was simply bad directing that failed to get anything special out of one of the world’s finest actors. It probably doesn’t help that his New York accent is, as it was in The Drop, absolutely abysmal, and occasionally seems to slip back into his native English on occasions. He’s not all terrible – a man of his quality and talent never could be – and some of the earlier exchanges between Venom and Brock are genuinely entertaining, before quickly growing one-note and tiresome as the film progresses. There is also one amusingly bonkers sequence involving lobsters and a fish tank that managed to solicit a reluctant chuckle from myself.
It is also worth noting, in Hardy’s defense, that he was very vocal about ‘roughly forty minutes of footage being cut out of the film’, and it’s entirely plausible that he did more to develop his character in those lost minutes than we saw in the final film. It’s a shame, really, as the film suffers from a very strange and lopsided pacing issue that the extra footage may well have solved: With the first third being slow, deliberate, and building characters – which we needed – but the final two-thirds rushing from one action set-piece to the next without any real time to breath or develop, meaning that character motivations seems to come out of nowhere – one minute Venom is interested in eating human beings and causing havoc, and then, almost instantaneously, for no real reason, decides he actually likes Earth and wants to stay – meaning you’re not always entirely sure why Venom is doing what Venom is doing from any one scene to the next. It’s poor writing, quite frankly, and the script is strongly responsible.
The villain is relatively fleshed out, and at least is given some motivation for his actions, but, again, suffers from a lack of originality. If you’ve seen one mad scientist who thinks he can save the world but is clearly insane, you’ve seen them all. This means the other acting performances aren’t even worth talking about, as the characters aren’t strong or interesting enough for them to do anything. They try, and nobody gives an outwardly bad performance – other than Stan Lee, who, once again, absolutely stinks in his cameo (seriously, you’d think after all these appearances he’d have learned how to deliver a line of dialogue in a convincing fashion by now) – but nobody really stands out, either. One thing I take umbrage with, however, is the idea put around by a lot of my fellow critics that this is a film ‘ripped straight out of 2004’. As my idol David Lynch likes to say, ‘Bullshit’. This film absolutely reeks of contemporary cinema: Overuse of CGI, boring and unoriginal origin story, poor writing, awful humour, and a film that is clearly the product of stringent studio interference.
We didn’t stop making bad superhero films in 2004: Since then, for every The Dark Knight, we’ve had a Suicide Squad; for every Avengers: Infinity War, we’ve had a Justice League. These problems still exist, and Venom is a product very much of the current times, as opposed to the previous ones. Until studios wake up, leave directors and writers to express themselves and have full control over their projects, this will keep happening, time after time after time after time, and it’s the major reason why my interest in an industry that I was once deeply in love with is sadly fading, slowly, into the night. Venom is every modern aspect of cinema rolled into one atrocity, and I implore you not to waste your time. It may not be an absolutely terrible film, but it is a sadly mediocre one.
Review by Joshua Moulinie