“Venom” blunders with poor writing and substandard action

One WSS reporter reviews Sony Pictures’ latest superhero flick “Venom,” released Oct 5.

The official poster for “Venom”

The last time we saw Venom, the voracious Spider-Man villain created by Marvel Comics, was over 10 years ago as a side villain in the Sam Raimi-directed “Spider-Man 3.” Immediately upon the release of the film, the character’s role was slammed by critics and comic book fans. Viewers, including myself, felt that clumping in the character of Venom–one of the most notorious and favorited Marvel foes–in a film already bursting with plot substance was a poor decision that did not do proper justice to the character. Afterwards, likely in response to the reception, Sony Pictures set out to create a solo Venom film that would stay true to the comics and present a more developed look at the character.

“Venom” follows renowned journalist Eddie Brock as he investigates the mysterious deaths associated with the Life Foundation, a scientific corporation that specializes in space exploration. One day, as he breaks into their laboratory to expose them to the public, he finds himself suddenly bonded with Venom, an alien creature from a species known as the symbiotes, who can take over human beings. Together, Brock and Venom are forced to work together to stop Carlton Drake, the notorious founder of the Life Foundation.

In foresight, “Venom” had a lot going for it. An extremely talented ensemble cast led by award-winning actor Tom Hardy was to spotlight the film; it was to be directed by Ruben Fleischer, who helmed the well-received horror-comedy hit “Zombieland.” There’s also the fact that Sony had a whole 10 years to develop the film. That’s right. They were actively working on bringing Venom back to the big screen for an entire decade. You’d think that would be enough time to carefully look over what they did wrong with his character in “Spider-Man 3” and put out at least a half-decent product. Unfortunately, while the cast tries their hardest to make it work, “Venom” can’t help but feel like a large mess.

While the cast tries their hardest to make it work, “Venom” can’t help but feel like a large mess”

One of the biggest issues with “Venom” is that it has no idea what kind of film it aspires to be. Does it want to be a horror film? An action film? A comedy? The film’s tone constantly jumps between different moods, yet it never actually sticks with a single one for more than several scenes. As the film opens, we are introduced to the symbiotes and the dangers they pose in a sequence that skillfully utilizes supernatural and horror elements. However, right as that scene ends the film jumps to a more lively, comedic tone as it introduces Eddie Brock and his upbeat day-to-day life. Several minutes later the film decides it wants to be more of a drama and incorporates more serious elements into the story, and then several scenes after that, the horror elements are back as we see the symbiotes killing humans at the Life Foundation. This cycle continues throughout the entire film. It keeps on hopping back and forth, experimenting with different tones to the point where it becomes almost dizzying.

And then there’s the writing. If the jarring tone shifts were bad, the writing somehow comes off as even worse. For whatever reason, the film decides to simplify every piece of dialogue to the bare minimum. The result? Almost all of the spoken dialogue from the actors feels awkward and misplaced, and there are no moments in “Venom” where you can feel any type of connection or bond with what the characters are saying. It is as if the writers either decided to pen the film with a very young audience in mind or they had a very lowball expectation of the audience’s intelligence when doing the writing.

Brock/Venom fight against the villainous Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed.) Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

The action and visual effects are other areas of disappointment. An exceeding amount of the action is dependant on computer-generated imagery to function, and while this in itself is not a huge flaw, it is the quality of the visuals themselves that make the sequences blunder. Never does any of the action feel genuine; instead, it all comes off as cartoonish and unrealistic the majority of the time. While the CGI and action scenes could be passable if the film was released in the early 2000’s, they collapse under today’s standards.

Tom Hardy stars in the titular role as Eddie Brock, the journalist who bonds with the Venom symbiote. In past ventures, Hardy has shown himself to be one of the most capable actors working in Hollywood today, so I was excited to see how he would take on the role. After watching, I can say that he did not disappoint. Hardy does a great job at expressing the character of Brock and his disruptive personality from the moment he first appears in the film, and he is also able to bring enough charisma to solidify his position as the main protagonist. His performance in the film clearly shows off his wide range of acting capabilities – on the one hand, he can play Bane, the brooding and intimidating masked villain from “The Dark Knight Rises” and on the other, he can play a character such as Eddie Brock, who is practically the opposite of Bane in every way. If we ever end up seeing “Venom” rebooted again in the near future, it would be a major disappointment if the filmmakers decide to recast the role of Brock.

[Tom Hardy] is able to bring enough charisma to solidify his position as the main protagonist”

The female “lead” of the film is Michelle Williams, who plays the role of Anne Weying, a lawyer who is Brock’s love interest. The reason I put lead in quotation marks is because while she is advertised as the main female protagonist in the film’s billing, she appears in the film for an unexpectedly short period of time. To make matters worse, when she does come up in the film, the character is reduced to nothing but a clichéd part as the female romantic interest that tries to aid Brock. While Williams plays the role as best as she can, she is unable to save a character who ends up being underwritten and generic.

The foe in “Venom” is Carlton Drake, a role that is taken on by Riz Ahmed. Ahmed tries his best to bring the character to life, but ultimately what makes Drake feel inadequate is that he is practically one-dimensional. His plans involve finding the rest of the symbiotes and unleashing them upon the world, yet what are his motivations behind this? The film’s best answer to this question is something along the lines of “I want to fix issues people have to face in today’s world.” Sure, if his methods of “fixing” these problems actually made sense then I could give some slack to his character, but as it stands his motivations are practically nonsensical.

Brock and Venom working together. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Even though the film itself was a large blunder, Sony does manage to do justice to the character of Venom. They nail his personality and character traits, and his relationship with Brock is one of the high points of the film. We don’t actually get to see his full-fledged form as much as I expected, however, this didn’t end up being as large of a problem as I would have thought. Some of his best moments are moments where we don’t actually see him in character, but rather hear him urging Brock on in his head. Moreover, the few genuinely humorous moments in the film occur in scenes where Venom and Brock are seen working together.

In conclusion, “Venom” ends up as nothing more than a disappointing mess and waste of potential. Its main problems were scattershot tone shifts, meandering dialogue and writing, blundered action/visuals and some poor character work. While Tom Hardy’s performance and the portrayal of Venom act as saving graces, I would definitely not recommend seeing “Venom” unless you go into it with very low expectations. Grade: D+