Movie Review: 'Venom'

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams, Jenny Slate
Rated PG-13
112 minutes

“Venom” isn’t a poorly made movie—it moves quickly, the dialogue is punchy, some of the actors are talented—but it’s forgettable, instantly forgettable, a $100 million lesson in how to clear a low bar. It’s a superhero movie—actually, a supervillain movie, tracing the origin of the titular Spider-Man nemesis—and like any movie from any genre with decades of precedent and legions of rabid fans ready to pick apart inconsistencies with the canon, “Venom” dutifully follows the checklist its audience expects. That the movie panders to the viewer isn’t its fault; that it aspires to nothing else most certainly is.

Tom Hardy stars in the role of journalist Eddie Brock and Brock’s alien alter-ego in “Venom.” (Courtesy photo)

There’s a rich story about power and abuse lying beneath the surface of “Venom,” which makes the resulting movie all the more disappointing. San Francisco investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, “Mad Max: Fury Road”) gets a lead that billionaire entrepreneur Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, “Rogue One”) is conducting cruel scientific experiments on homeless people, and he sets out to expose Drake; Eddie’s fiancée, Anne (Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”), happens to be a lawyer who could help see justice done. The problem is, Eddie was assigned to write only a puff piece about Drake, and when he digs too deep, the billionaire gets him fired.

If you were looking for more to that story, you’re out of luck, because that’s when the alien parasite comes along and hijacks the plot. Eddie becomes half man, half goop-monster, transforming against his will into a beast that bites the heads off enemies and commands Eddie around with little consideration for anything besides the hunt for food. The parasite, calling itself Venom, turns Eddie into a shell of his former self: muttering in public, eating chicken out of the garbage, wandering to Anne’s house (now that they’ve called off their engagement) to try to win her back.

Gradually, Venom reveals some of its own character, too—how it’s considered a loser on its home planet, how it feels a connection with Eddie, how it wants to keep living on Earth (even though another parasite, Riot, wants to destroy the planet). These moments are the movie’s high points, cutting through the din of broken glass and Wilhelm screams to give us something more to latch onto. At its core, “Venom” is a buddy movie about two losers helping each other to navigate through a world that has cast them aside.

Of course, in most buddy movies, the buddies have redeeming qualities. Not so here: Venom is literally a sociopathic alien hell-bent on eating humans, and Eddie might even be worse: a thoughtless narcissist convinced of his own intellect and impulsive to a fault. Eddie regularly makes a fool not only of himself, but also of those around him, especially Anne. Making matters worse, Hardy’s performance is uncomfortably jittery, executed well but distracting and unlikable, like being around someone who’s had too much coffee and can’t stop showing you how much his hands are shaking.

Despite this, we’re given to believe that Eddie is actually a gentleman. Anne remains loyal to him, maybe even attracted to him, although more than once he ruins her day—he gets her fired from her job, he crashes her lunch date by jumping into the restaurant’s lobster tank, he gets her dragged into a forest at night and then leaves her there. He is, by all accounts, a terrible person, a reprobate who doesn’t deserve our respect, much less our admiration.

While most of the movie—all the dime-a-dozen plot points, all the associated clichés and plot holes, all the fight scenes shot poorly and edited worse—settles quickly into a murky half-memory, the thing that does float back up to the top is this sense of arrogance and entitlement. Consider the song over the end credits, an original Eminem rap that begins with the lines “When the world gives you a raw deal/Sets you off ’til you scream, “Piss off! Screw you!”/When it talks to you like you don’t belong.” Eddie is already a bad person, but his worst trait is that he believes he’s the victim of a cruel, unforgiving world. The movie actually forgives him over and over, and often at the expense of people who deserved better. It wastes our time trying to get us to do the same. 

  Danny Eisenberg, a Bromfield graduate,
lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

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