We none of us, least of all your humble correspondent, lives in a vacuum. So perhaps it’s because I’ve recently seen THE PREDATOR that the mere, yet aggressive, mediocrity of VENOM did not make for a completely awful cinematic experience. Which is not to say that this ploddingly plotted effort is good, but for sheer ineptitude, it pales in comparison.
We are once again in the Marvel Universe (MCU for the cognoscenti), so if nothing else, we have a cameo by Stan Lee to look forward to. There is also Tom Hardy. As Eddie Brock, cycle-riding investigative reporter, he’s a rumpled mook with ethics that are most charitably characterized as situational. Hardy is rugged when he needs to be, hangdog when required, but most importantly, he’s wryly funny when it matters most, which is most of the time after he’s colonized by a symbiote, the eponymous Venom.
It’s a long story, but the gist is that evil billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmad) has been conducting his Life Foundation in ways that are more than situationally unethical. Eddie finds out when he peeks at the confidential email of lawyer girlfriend Anne Weying (Michelle Williams wearing a middling blonde wig on her head and a what am I doing in this film expression on her face throughout). Instead of turning in a puff piece when assigned to cover Drake, he corners the billionaire on-camera about some wrongful deaths, which summarily costs Eddie both his job and his girlfriend.
Living on what might be the skids in any city but San Francisco, Hardy spends his time shambling from bar to bodega consuming a diet of booze, tater tots, and antacids. It’s during one of these bodega runs that Eddie is approached by Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), a scientist at the Life Foundation troubled by the number of corpses that are piling up around the latest experiment. That would be finding a suitable host for the life forms Drake has brought back from space. In no time at all, Eddie has been colonized and is doing unwholesome things to lobsters while sitting in their tank, and Annie is enlisting her new doctor boyfriend (Reid Scott) to run tests to find out why Eddie has gone bonkers
With fantasy, one must play fair. The rules of logic in our universe, by definition, are not going to apply. Hence, fantasy. But it’s not unreasonable to expect an internal logic to be at work within the story, and, alas, one does not find it here. From Venom, though perfectly capable of doing so, failing to introduce himself once ensconced in Eddie instead of letting his host consider him an auditory hallucination, to the way Anne, fetching in mini-kilted skirt and go go boots, manages to penetrate massive police lines in order to find Eddie after he’s wandered off, babbling in a decidedly schizophrenic fashion and become the center of murderous mayhem. As to why she’s still involved in his life after he cost her her job by violating her email, that makes no sense in any universe.
The action is as standard-issue as the romance between Eddie and Anne. Cars careen, guns blast, and the weaponizing of an MRI is achieved. Unoriginal action sequences arrive with predictable regularity, and Drake’s thugs chasing Eddie are interchangeably sadistic. They’re also incredibly inefficient, between trying to talk Eddie to death instead of shooting him as ordered, to continuing to use the bullets that didn’t kill Eddie/Venom the first time. Or the second, third, etc, etc, ad infinitum ad nauseum. Which is not to say that the twisting toothiness of Venom and his ilk isn’t interesting. One minute he’s writhing coils, the next a spiky amalgam stuck to glass door that for some reason is able to contain his ability to slick and/or pound pretty much anything else into shards or pulp. Or a shardy pulp. Still, when he’s in independent mode, he’s a veritable Rorschach Test in motion with a tongue like a pangolin’s tail. And, of course, there is the climactic face-off (literally and figuratively) that reduces a few buildings to rubble that livens things up at the end.
The most interesting thing about VENOM is Eddie’s phone. It survives punishing battle and a prolonged dip in San Francisco Bay without ill effect. A film about its exploits, now that’s a superhero flick that I could have gotten behind.