Venom somehow manages to be frenetic and lifeless at the same time, like a corpse with current running through it. It writhes and twitches protractedly before turning into a smoldering, sparking heap. I would never be naïve enough to expect anything called Venom to be a Dean Martin Roast, but this is a joyless, dour two hours. It’s really a gyp too, because the resume of the film plays better than the onscreen result. Tom Hardy is clearly a talented dude, and his casting as the slithering anti-hero hits the bullseye. But even top-shelf actors can’t rescue this dreck from being even worse than the previews suggested.
Eddie Brock (Hardy’s American accent is somewhere between Bradley Cooper and Mike Tyson) plays like a younger, shambling Mike Wallace—or, an intrepid, populist reporter out to right wrongs and perforate wealthy bad guys. Riz Ahmed plays Carlton Drake—I swear they pull these generic villain names out of a bowler hat—a smarmy, urbane Zuckerberg-type out to harness the power of captured alien creatures called Symbiotes. (It’s now official, by the way, young tech billionaires have supplanted crinkly, belly-slapping tycoons as the true American villains.) The Symbiotes, who resemble gurgling oil sludge, must join with a human host in order to survive. Through a series of ridiculous contrivances, Eddie is merged with a maniacal Symbiote called Venom. He struggles to contain his new abilities, while the Identikit bad guys chase him through the streets of San Francisco. (The action scenes are staged incoherently, and this movie has the most slow motion car crashes this side of the Blues Brothers.)
Eddie’s newfound tussle with great power and responsibility would play much more effectively if it were part of a larger story. His fall from decency, his battle with duality make for a dark, grubby narrative. The cheerful, fun-loving innocence of Peter Parker/Spiderman is a necessary counterweight, something that’s pointedly missing here. To use a different metaphor, it’s why heroes and villains form a functioning circuit, something nobody said better than Heath Ledger’s Joker: “I don’t wanna kill you! What would I do without you?!? You complete me.”
If there’s a positive to all this, it’s that Hardy still has the potential to be a great Venom. Somebody somewhere needs to give him some better material. And introduce him to Tom Holland, Marvel’s latest and best Spiderman. With strong writing and more nimble directing, these are two great actors I’d pay more money to watch. We’ll give Tom Hardy a mulligan for this go-around. Nobody could’ve brought this movie back from the dead.