It is rather strange to give classic comic book villains – Venom, The Joker – their own movies. Villains exist in opposition to the heroes; it would be like filming The Dark Knight without the Joker. If you, instead, make the villain the protagonist of your story, you have to essentially give them their own hero’s journey, and so cast them as heroes of a sort as well, and that undermines their role in the grander scheme of things. If Spiderman’s villains are their own tortured heroes, then real evil is shoved downwards another layer deeper into the world. You could repeat this trick again and again until all reality is shades of grey.
It is perhaps fitting that in this age of cultural relativism, post-modern lack of meaning and complicated global politics full of lies and deceit that our popular entertainment shows a similar, recognizable realism in that villains of the past are not actually villains but victims too, all depending on perspective. So now we have villain Eddie Brock, who is actually a victim through his symbiosis with the alien villain Venom, who is actually a victim because he’s a loser from the place he originates. Now we also need a new villain, sucked from a writer’s thumb, to inject life into the story of a villain turned hero.
If all this sounds like a bunch of tortured storytelling by screenwriters twisting and turning in their seats in discomfort, then you’re right. And all because of a corporate impulse to exploit a cultural property. The first problem is that all this shifting of perspective is an uninspiring premise to begin with. At that point, if you’re a fan of comic books, all you can hope for is that the writers are clever enough to do something interesting with it. So, did they?
Well, Tom Hardy is doing the best he can and he’s talented enough to give an entertaining performance. Many scenes are clearly meant to be funny, but they are closer to bewildering, because for the longest time the tone of the film stays unclear. The whole first half of the runtime is taken up by Eddie Brock living his life, and in a way it is admirable that the story takes its time to establish the characters, but it is all sort of stretched out and moving through clichés. Especially the corporate villain is uninspired.
Once Eddie and Venom are merged, things get weird. Some of it is bad, like a motor chase that goes on for far too long. For some reason this is the film’s main action scene to show off Eddie’s new powers, but it is bland filmmaking. Once Venom starts talking to him, there are interesting moments. Weird too, as the mental connection between Eddie and Venom is sometimes like buddies or adversaries, or even lovers. Michelle Williams, playing Eddie’s ex, has a pretty unremarkable side-role as the woman being concerned for his health all the time, and at the end they’re like: “Oh well, that happened.”
Venom, while occasionally interesting, has the strangest pacing issues, which are probably the result of extensive cutting and reediting of scenes, and the tone is all over the place. Most of the comedy is bad and feels out of place coming from a big bad alien. Generic rap and a shitty Eminem song serves to lubricate the acceptance of the film by the general audience, but it sounds terribly forced. Oh boy, that metaphor did not come out right. All in all, an unfocused, confused corporate product.