The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

‘Venom’ doesn’t pack much of a bite

Written by: Kimberly Pierce, CC2K Associate Editor

The cinematic perils of Spider-Man are well-documented. While the Marvel web-slinger soared with popularity during Tobey Maguire’s run in the early 2000’s, a less than stellar third entry deflated any power the franchise once had. In 2012, with the rights now at a new studio (Sony), and the MCU tearing its way through the box-office, time seemed right for Peter Parker’s exploits to once again take shape with the debut of The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. Unfortunately, dismal box-office takings stymied things once again. Eventually, a complicated deal between Sony and Marvel led to Spider-Man finally returning home in 2017 to join the MCU. With the hopeful movie franchise in tatters, Sony finds themselves left to pick-up the pieces. Cue, the much awaited debut of Venom. Pardon a mixing of universes, but, “with great power comes great responsibility”… and Venom doesn’t live up to the promise.

Venom follows the story of crack, investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). One day when he’s tracking a potential story, he’s infected by a mysterious space parasite and gradually evolves to become “Venom,” an out-of-this-world anti-hero. Brock struggles to not only right his world, his body and his relationship with spunky lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate and Reid Scott co-star. Ruben Fleischer directs the film from a script by: Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel and Will Beall.

Venom comes from a complicated place. The property is best known as an off-shoot of the Spider-Man universe. In fact, the last time Venom appeared on screens is the (now) rather infamous Spider-Man 3 with Topher Grace in the role. The movie comes to life thanks to Sony Pictures, the most recent studio to own the Marvel web-slinger’s cinematic rights. However, the recent wheeling and dealing between Marvel and Sony leaves franchises like Venom wavering in the wind over at Sony. (Remember the Sinister 6 feature audiences were supposed to see?). 

Venom’s biggest struggle is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. There are a number of writers involved, with each bringing their own creative voices. This never works out. As the film plays, parts of the story feels to be at its most comfortable as a comedy, while other scenes lean towards a science fiction thriller or even superhero movie. The prevailing inconsistency of the tone is frustrating as not one tonal thread manages to cycle throughout the entire narrative. 

Where Venom is at its strongest is when the story isn’t afraid to be funny. Hardy in particular thrives when the narrative has a bit of fun. In fact, Hardy is hardly known for his comedic abilities, making much of his name in heavy and dramatic fair. As such, this drastic turn against type feels a bit jarring at the beginning… this is Tom Hardy, why is he being quippy? Furthermore, we can see his mouth this time? Weird!

Hardy also shines in some well-crafted moments of physical comedy. Try not to chuckle as the recently infected Eddie climbs into a lobster tank, much to the disapproving eye of Anne and her sexy surgeon boyfriend (Reid Scott). However, Hardy is at his best in the subtle moments as he verbally spars with the unseen Venom. The movie’s tonal struggles affect Hardy as well, causing his performance to feel uneven throughout the roughly two-hour runtime. At points he feels awkward, out-of-place, and even bored. However, when the tone catches up to him, everything gels and makes perfect sense. 

Unfortunately, the film’s other actors aren’t quite so lucky. Over the last decade, Michelle Williams emerged as a critical darling among her generation of actors. Williams is often one of the strongest parts of any movie in which she appears. It seemed impossible to waste and underutilize her… then Venom came around. On the surface, plucky lawyer Anne Weying desperately wants to play an active role in the narrative. She’s given a few softball moments to assist in saving the day, there is even a hint at the future of the character for Venom fans. Ultimately, she is little more than a foot-tapping, disapproving feminine figure. 

Furthermore, the film’s only other female character, Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) is similarly wasted by the narrative. While there’s an interesting foundation laid to the young scientist, that’s about as deep as it goes. Like many other women in this genre, she’s used, abused and spit-out once she’s no-longer useful to the plot.

Riz Ahmed also suffers from the problems imbedded in the script. Ahmed routinely proves himself a solid performer and a talented character actor. However, he’s almost boring in this role. Much of this is due to a general lack of apparent motivation. His take on Carlton Drake is little more than a number of generic stereotypes of millennial millionaires. By and large, he’s a passive figure. He bullies his underlings into performing experiments involving humans and the symbiotes. Why does he want to do this? What is his ultimate goal? It’s not that clear. He’s such a stereotype that if Riz Ahmed grew a mustache for this role, he would be twirling it.

Stick around for a post-credit sequence. No spoilers of course, but it’s more than clear that Sony still has hope for a potential franchise. Here’s hoping they take more time then they gave this film to construct the sequel they are most certainly baiting as Venom comes to a close. 

Venom is another in Sony’s long-line of underperforming superhero films. Unfortunately, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone packed more charisma and likability in The Amazing Spider-Man than what crossed the screen in the studio’s latest cash-grab Venom. Parts of this movie should appeal to Venom fans, but it’s difficult to argue this as a solid feature. Unless you’re dying to see this, skip it until its available to stream.  

Venom opens in theaters around the country today. 

Grade: D