Sam’s Take: The magnificent awfulness of “Venom”

Illustration by Steck Von

Samuel Goodrich
Staff Writer

Tom Hardy walks into a fancy restaurant. He’s drenched in sweat, his slimy face is unshaven, his words fumble out of his moist mouth. He tries to talk to someone, but he keeps eating food off people’s plates, complaining about the heat while yelling at other patrons to stay away. He ends his performance by sitting in a fish tank, biting the heads off lobsters.

This is not a scene from a new horror movie, or a goofy comedy Hardy was somehow roped into. This is an actual scene in the new super-villain film “Venom.” The film itself is just as bafflingly awful — either missing clear opportunities to make an interesting movie or going too far to make a comically bizarre mess.

Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a hot-headed journalist who loses everything when he asks too many questions of Carlton Drake, the head of a bioengineering corporation called Life Foundation. Drake has acquired alien symbiotes that meld with humans —  one of these symbiotes finds its way to Brock when he tries to investigate Life Foundation. The symbiote takes over Brock’s body as Venom, an alien that transforms Brock and gives him supernatural characteristics.

“Venom” is a mess of a film. Spending years in development hell, the finished product is an amalgamation of undercooked ideas, dated blockbuster filmmaking and a shocking lack of style or substance.

The plot is nonsensical at times — it feels flimsy and inconsequential. It is standard at best and confusing at worst, often times ignoring the previously-established rules or character motivations.

The performances range between boring and hilariously poor. Riz Ahmed tries his best to be a villainous Drake, but comes off as purely comical. The great Michelle Williams can be sincere and sympathetic, but as Brock’s ex-fiance, she is woefully underdeveloped.

Hardy is the most difficult to pin down in terms of performance. He tries to maintain an accent, but sounds drunk more often than not. He can play a smug jerk fairly well, but not a likable one. His jokester dialogue falls flat, and he’s too cartoonish during the slapstick moments.

Another misstep is the film’s use of comedy. Instead of treating the symbiote like a parasite infecting Brock, he quickly befriends Venom and they soon build rapport. The film becomes a buddy comedy, where the two bond over being “losers” — it’s a misguided and truly baffling decision that counters the very origins of the characters and the marketing.

There are also scenes similar to the one described at the beginning of this review — where Venom begins to merge with Brock — in which Hardy simply mugs for the camera as he eats trash or yells at people in awkward scenes.

I’ve reached a point where it’s become difficult to fully describe the depths to which “Venom” sinks. It would require an explanation of multiple scenes and specific aspects that would make this review longer than it already is. The main thing this film lacks is a clear identity.

Instead of making a violent, R-rated villain movie, the creators made a comic-book-style comedy. Instead of committing to the comedy, they try to be serious or dark at odd moments, injecting some horror elements here and there.

There is no clear point or reason for this film to exist — nothing makes it stand out. It’s a relic from the 1990s and 2000s era of superhero movies which failed to understand that comic book tactics don’t translate to film. It’s obvious the creators knew they had an abysmal experience on their hands, so they made it as brief as possible, making it all the more incomprehensible.

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