Leading up to the theatrical release, everything about Venom was on a downward trajectory. The buzz peaked early with the announcement of Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom. But then came the disappointing trailers, the PG-13 rating, and comments from those involved that there would be no ties to the existing Marvel universe. Quickly, Venom went from feeling like the dark, villainous, anti-hero of fanboy’s dreams to “uh oh is this Spider-Man 3?” level worries. No matter where you fell on that hype spectrum, it was clear that Venom was going to live and die on the back of Tom Hardy.
Credit to Hardy, it is clear that he is doing all he can to single-handedly carry the film. But even he cannot overcome a miserably boring and generic character introduction that runs the first 20 minutes of the movie (18 minutes too long). It takes half of the movie to get to the meeting of Hardy’s Brock and the symbiote Venom. Not surprisingly, this is the first time the film is able to have any sort of decent action or fun. The nature of the relationship between Venom and Brock allows Hardy to really ham things up in a Nic Cage over-the-top fashion — but in a good way. It takes too long for the host/parasite duo to hit its stride, but when it does, the back-and-forth dialog between the two characters feels like a solid odd couple/buddy cop pairing. In the hands of a lesser actor, this lone bright spot may not have existed.
Outside of Hardy’s performance, things are quite messy. Riz Ahmed is neither scary nor sinister as the main villain. Michelle Williams seems wholly disinterested and unsure of what her character’s purpose is (I don’t blame her for either). Every single character’s motivations are flimsy. The explanations of Venom and the other symbiotes’ origins opens far more plot holes than it does answer questions. Lastly, the CGI effects top out at average but bottom out at terrible in a few key sequences.
Venom is a movie that is in the right place, but the wrong time. It feels cut from the same mold as cheesy 90’s entries such as Darkman and Spawn. Without a doubt, it would have fit perfectly in the mediocre early 2000’s era of Raimi’s Spider-Man and Singer’s X-Men. But we are in the age of the Marvel cinematic universe and cheesy mediocrity is not what audiences have come to expect from comic book movies. Especially those with any sort of Marvel label.