Our critical process: rip off the head, slurp down the brains, give star rating.
Looks like Sam Raimi’s spider-sense was bang on the money. The director of the first three Spider-Man movies always made it clear he was never a fan of parasitic anti-villain Venom, whose presence in Spider-Man 3 helped to unbalance a movie that was already overloaded with villains. Now the unholy alliance of investigative journalist Eddie Brock and extraterrestrial goop is the headlining act, you can’t help feeling that Raimi was right to be sceptical. Because Venom is a mess, the sort of lazy blockbusterby-numbers that treats little things like story and character as disposable commodities – and feels like a cynical effort to milk Sony’s lucrative Spider-Man rights while their super-asset is off fighting Thanos in the MCU.
As a Spider-Man spin-off it’s totally redundant, a brand extension that shares minimal connective tissue with its web-slinging forebear. The Wallcrawler is totally absent here, and aside from a few sly nods to Spider-Man lore, the only reason a newcomer might guess the two were linked is that Venom’s eyes look vaguely like Spidey’s. That was logical in the Spider-Man comics, where the alien symbiont Venom joined with Peter Parker before hooking up with Eddie Brock, but here it’s more like some weird cosmic coincidence, as probable as an alien invader landing on Earth in the mood for a bit of Spidey cosplay.
Venom also looks, well, disappointing. In the comics it’s easy to see why he’s such a fan favourite, that simple matt black riff on the Spider-Man suit so effortlessly cool that you can understand why someone would want to put it on a t-shirt. Reimagined in live action, however, he looks like a walking oil slick with eyes, his unlikely steroidal physique and sharp, pointy teeth proving more ridiculous than iconic. That slobbering, prehensile tongue, meanwhile, is just unpleasant, like Gene Simmons from Kiss mixed with your worst nightmares.
Venom’s grotesque appearance, coupled with his insatiable desire to eat people – being a hybrid of man and alien burns a lot of calories, apparently – suggests a higher horror quotient than you’d usually get in a superhero movie. Yet despite having enough violence and gore to justify a 15 certificate, the movie never feels particularly scary. It also struggles to give any emotional weight to the psychological drama of its lead character’s literal split personality. Tom Hardy throws himself into the role(s), turning up the “look at me acting” twitchiness when he’s Eddie Brock, and having fun with the heavily treated Venom voice. Yet it never feels like an impossible struggle for a man’s soul – as cannibalistic alien symbionts with designs on world domination go, Venom is relatively benign.
Which leaves you wondering why the filmmakers didn’t go all out to make this a Deadpool-style comedy. There are a couple of big laughs, maybe even the beginnings of a hilarious comic partnership, but the humour’s just too low in the mix to stick in the memory.
Venom looks like an oil slick with eyes
It’s never clear whether Venom is supposed to be a flawed hero, wisecracking anti-hero or useless villain – he’s just… there.
Instead, bad guy duties are left to Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake, a multi-billionaire businessman so obviously evil that the filmmakers missed a trick by not giving him a moustache to twirl. There’s precisely zero ambiguity about his motives for using the arrival of a quintet of alien symbionts to further his supposedly worldsaving medical research – he’s the sort of guy who can’t wait to get cracking on the human trials. It’s a colossal waste of an actor of Ahmed’s talent, for whom this could have been a massive Hollywood breakthrough after being one of the standouts in
Rogue One. Michelle Williams, as Brock’s lawyer ex-fiancée Anne Weying, is left similarly shortchanged by a one-dimensional role that veers from being the movie’s sole voice of reason – it’s hardly bulging with likeable characters – to totally sidelined.
While Venom’s earned enough money at the box office to make a sequel inevitable – a closing credits sting even hints at where it might be going – the live-action Spider-verse is looking like a creative non-starter, much like almost every other cinematic shared universe that isn’t the MCU. In fact, the most damning thing about Venom is that the brief post-credits sequence from the upcoming Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse animation contains more wit and invention than the whole of the movie that preceded it. Where’s Spidey when you need him? Richard Edwards
“What do you mean there’s no more pepperoni pizza?”
He was furious there were no eclairs on the sweet trolley!