Everyone wants a cinematic universe. You got a franchise collecting dust in your cupboard? Brush off that property, separate even the most inconsequential characters and give all of them a movie. Ghostbusters, Men in Black, DC comics, Transformers, Marvel comics, Star Wars, frickin’ Baywatch? Yeah, you could make ten movies out of all of them. Count that money.
Sony’s been trying to turn Spider-Man into a cinematic universe for years. The problem? Well, Spider-Man is lonesome. He has no compadres like the X-Men or the Avengers. Give a movie to Aunt May or Mary Jane? Nah. But you know what? Spider-Man has an awesome rogues gallery. Let’s give a movie to each of his villains!
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Venom” tells the story of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a reporter who gets canned for spewing off questions with unsubstantiated sources and who betrays the trust of his girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams). When a crazed businessman, Riz Ahmed (Carlton Drake), brings strange alien symbiotes to Earth and attempts to fuse them with unwilling participants, Eddie tries to redeem himself by breaking the story. But one of the symbiotes syncs with him, creating Venom, a monster that Eddie must harness and control to stop an alien invasion.
The film is a very predictable by-the-numbers venture. Introduce hero, introduce antagonist, love interest, save the world, blah blah. It’s very bland for something that could have been different. There are so many superhero movies that the idea of doing a movie about a supervillain holds some promise. You could bend the formula a little bit and adding a dual personality would have given the story some depth. For example, imagine a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde portrayal, with Eddie’s good nature contrasting with Venom’s evil. The interplay between Eddie and Venom in the film is the best part of the story, funny and horrifying at the same time. Eddie tries to be a hero with his newfound gifts. Venom shows him the value of power and justice at all costs. As both characters try to control each other, Eddie must confront the darkness within himself as well, Venom helping him understand the violence of the news stories he has covered in the past and putting it into perspective. The world is a vile place without rules and the only way to extract justice is to take it. Eddie suffers a personal loss that drives home Venom’s hardcore beliefs. By the end of the story, Venom and Eddie are one, for better or worse.
Do we get that? Nope. We get symbiotes throwing motorcycles in the air during a high-speed chase, a makeout threesome between Venom, Eddie and Anne and Eddie eating a lot of tater tots. A lot of tater tots.
It very nearly teeters into the realm of so bad it’s good territory. A few more gross-out moments, some more nonsenical plot moments and a better beginning to the story (it takes forever for Eddie and Venom to meet) would have put it into classic bad film territory. As it is, it’ll just have to settle for pretty bad, kinda fun.
When Eddie rushes through a nice restaurant, jumps in a fish tank and eats a live lobster, the film solidifies itself as a piece of crap that earns your endearment. Who knows if that was what intended or not, but it doesn’t matter. Glorious nonsense.