For nearly as long as Hollywood has been making films about Spider-Man, they’ve tried (and largely failed) to make films about Venom. While it might be strange to consider a hero having to compete against one of his most iconic villain’s own solo movies, it makes perfect economic sense. After all, why sell audiences one franchise when you could be selling them two (a business model that Marvel has refined to an artform in its own right).
The thing is, though, that Sony, the makers of everything from Sam Saimi’s Spider-Man trilogy to Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man duology, isn’t alone. Warner Bros already has a Suicide Squad movie under its belt and a Joker movie in the pipeline (several Joker movies, as it actually turn out). Fox’s X-Men: First Class (2011) actually began its production life as X-Men Origins: Magneto and Deadpool (2016) is only a slightly more heroic character in Marvel’s comic continuity than Venom himself eventually becomes. Hell, Sony nearly made a Sinister Six movie before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) crashed and burned and the infamously terrible Spider-Man 3 (2007) was originally supposed to be the launching pad for a Venom solo movie a full decade before actual Venom was unceremoniously jettisoned into theaters.
So how’d Venom turn out? Well… not good.
Venom follows the exploits of bombastic, rock star journalist Eddie Brock: a stalwart reporter who can’t turn down a good story if his livelihood depended on it. After coming across a confidential e-mail incriminating his lawyer fiancé’s client of abducting and illegally experimenting on the homeless residents of San Francisco, Eddie confronts the Elon Musk-a-like owner of the company in what’s meant to be a light-hearted human-interest piece on the company’s recent space exploits. In doing so, however, he gets both him and his now-ex fiancé fired from their jobs, forcing him to scrounge up gigs however and wherever he can find them.
As it turns out, however, Brock wasn’t wrong about the space-obsessed celebrity scientist responsible for the recent disappearances. He is actually using them in experiments with alien symbiotes his company recently discovered in deep space – creatures which, when fused with a human host, grant them extraordinary abilities. And when Brock breaks into their labs in an attempt to salvage what’s left of his career, he gets exposed to one, named Venom, making them both targets of Not-Quite Elon Musk and his new symbiotic partner.
The mere fact that this movie was in some stage of production for over a decade is a truly astonishing, truly disheartening realization. Rooted in a film released the year before the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched with Iron Man (2008) and finally coming to fruition in the same year that brought us both Black Panther (2018) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), it emblematizes the very worst characteristics of both decades’ superhero movies.
Venom is as wrong-headedly produced as both Spider-Man 3 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). It’s as transparently gimmicky as Ang Lee’s Huilk (2003), as emotionally bereft as Daredevil (2003) and as visually drab as Fant4stic (2015). Its visual effects are aggressively overused as Green Lantern (2011) and as dated as Spawn (1997). At a time when even the first string of X-Men movies can’t quite hold up with the modern-day heavy-hitters, Venom feels downright paleolithic.
The thing is, though, that on paper, at least, Venom should have been a good movie. Tom Hardy is perhaps the actor best-suited to this particular character and Ruben Fleischer, the director of horror-comedy Zombieland (2009), is uniquely ideal for a film aiming to strike this particular brand of pseudo-horror superheroics. And then there was the long-promised R-rating (now downgraded to PG-13), which would have allowed for the kind of violent, horror-adjacent, punched-up action sequences that we’ve seen in Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017) and the character’s source material demanded in order to tell the kinds of stories that the character is known for.
But, of course, everything went wrong after the planning stage. Rather than the brash tough-guy from the comics, Tom Hardy seems to be channeling is inner Adam Sandler to portray a character that more resembles the title character from The Waterboy (1998) than the sociopathic journalistic from Nightcrawler (2014). Whatever Ruben Fleischer was intended for this movie got hollowed out on the cutting room floor, where an alleged 40 minutes of material (including, as it turns out, all of Tom Hardy’s favorite scenes) were cut from the final version of the film after Sony’s eleventh hour decision to swap the movie’s R-rating for a more teen-friendly PG-13 one.
So what’s left of the movie is a garbled mess: at once as indecipherable as Tom Hardy’s phlegmy dialog as the titular Venom and as obviously unfinished as the unmistakable FX rush job that made its menacing anti-hero look like a lumpy wet turd. None of that’s as bad as the film’s climactic showdown between black-skinned Venom and slightly lighter black-skinned Riot: an indecipherable flurry of movement, CG explosions and dizzying camerawork that came off like the afterimage of a Michael Bay fight sequence.
At least the movie has a sense of humor about its own existence, though. At one point, Venom admits to Eddie that both of them “are kind of […] loser[s].” Shortly before the credits roll at the end of the movie, Eddie’s former love interest, Anne, stops just short of looking straight-on into the camera when she says “I’m sorry about Venom.”
Yeah, Anne. I’m sorry about Venom too.