It's almost inconceivable that we made it until 2018 without a Venom movie. I remember being captivated as a pre-teen in 1993 when the “Maximum Carnage” miniseries brought Venom and Spider-Man together to take on Carnage, and the general enthusiasm the character has enjoyed since then should've all but guaranteed him a meaty, non-Topher Grace film at some point.
It's only when you see Venom, directed by Ruben Fleischer and starring Tom Hardy, that you realize why it took so long. The character doesn't quite work without Spidey, and filmmakers probably had no idea how to present him. Is he a big scary murderer who we should fear, or an oversized cartoonish monster who we might kinda love? Fleischer and his screenwriters go for the latter with a drop of the former, and the results are as whelming (neither under or over) as you might expect.
Eddie Brock (Hardy) is a journalist who dates a nice lawyer named Anne (Michelle Williams) and likes to stick up for the little guy. When he asked to do a puff piece on sketchy CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) he steals some confidential info from Anne's laptop and winds up single and fired. At the same time, Drake is gathering alien lifeforms known as symbiotes from outer space and testing them on humans; through a very stupid series of events, one called Venom attaches itself to Brock and the two team up to stop Drake and also maybe eat body parts.
It's insane to type all that out. It's just as insane to note that it's PG-13; if Logan and Deadpool have taught us anything, it's that there's quite an audience for R-rated comic book movies. Hell, you might even get an Oscar nomination. Instead, Venom has its titular character talk a lot about killing people and eating them, and he does in fact kill some folk. But it's never particular violent or fitting; it mostly makes Venom feel like a braggart as opposed to a true threat, which maybe is the point? It's unclear, and probably not what fans were expecting.
It's hard to say whether Fleischer was the right person for the job. I can see why the director of horror-comedy mashup Zombieland would be an attractive option, and I'm sure he helped recruit the actor who'll play Cletus Kasady (stay for the post-credits scene for the worst wig/closing line in cinema history). But Venom's 90 percent comedy, 10 percent 'darkness' ratio can feel odd at times. Is it good that Venom is killing and eating bad guys? Who are this symbiote and this journalist to decide between life and death, and why should we cheer for them as a result? It feels like someone decided “meh, just say he's an anti-hero” early on and just let it be.
And the tone isn’t the only issue. Comic book movies aren't expected to have bulletproof plots, but Venom provokes more than a few eyebrow raises. No security cameras anywhere near the symbiote testing facility? Venom likes Earth because he was “a loser” back home and therefore relates to Brock on some innate loser-y level? Hardy's recent claim that a big chunk got cut feels right; there must've been connective tissue at one point that was dumped to make already-very-long bike chases and fight scenes even longer.
Despite all this, the movie is really not that bad. Williams isn't asked to do much—likely why she took the role—and Ahmed makes “nondescript Musk-ian supervillain” look surprisingly dignified, but Hardy gives his all. The best chunk is the middle hour, in between “the symbiotes come to Earth” and “two big symbiote-men fight,” where Brock comes to grips with whatever is inhabiting his body. It's clichéd and stupid but fun; Hardy twitches and jerks like a superstar, and you can kinda see why the Oscar nominee was excited to play a big dumb comic book character.
If you were never going to skip a Venom movie, go see Venom. If you think it looks stupid, you're right; stay home and binge something better. What you see is what you get here, but it could've been so much worse.