I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Pretty ironic, huh? Here’s a comic-book movie about a guy who, I’m guessing, allegedly becomes something bigger and better — or at least different — than he is on his own as a result of accidentally hosting in his body a powerful and morality-challenged alien parasite. And yet this is a movie that is somehow even smaller and lesser than all the noisy, junky, clichéd bits that comprise it. I mean, I’m not familiar with the Marvel character this is based on, but how can it not be the case that Eddie Brock/Venom is supposed to be a joint entity that is more than the sum of his/its(?) parts? Wouldn’t it be missing a trick if this concept wasn’t being deployed in service of, at a bare minimum, that theme?
Many, many tricks are missed in this woeful misfire of a movie, which isn’t just not about any of that but not about anything at all. Bad enough that Venom is all plot yet no story, all action without any motivation, all “characters” it would be an insult to cardboard to call “cardboard.” But all this sound and fury signifies nothing. It’s not even trying to be about anything. Bad enough that Venom is dull and dated. But what is the point of Venom, on any level? Why does it have nothing to say about any of its potentially hot-button elements: billionaires who want to change the course of humanity? reporters who want to save the world? the body horror of possession by alien parasite? Why does it identify an unexploited niche in our current superhero ecosystem — the movie’s tagline: “The world has enough superheroes” — and then do absolutely zilch to exploit it?
In what might be the biggest waste of an origin story ever, it’s a full hour into this sub-two-hour movie before reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy: Dunkirk, The Revenant) has been infected with the alien parasite brought back to Earth by Elon Musk–ish Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, City of Tiny Lights). Prior to this, it’s mostly Eddie moping around because his girlfriend, lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams: All the Money in the World, Suite Française), broke up with him because, behind her back, he used privileged information from her law firm that he got by breaking into her computer, which cost her her job. And it didn’t even do Eddie any good, because the story he pursued on the basis of that info, one in which he was trying to nail Drake for doing evil things, also got Eddie fired from his unnamed TV network, for reasons that we never quite grasp but that, it is hinted, have something to do with some hold Drake has over the network. Do the four credited screenwriters explore the idea, maybe, that Eddie is a jerk as a boyfriend but a great reporter who sticks it to both aspects of The Man as represented by mad-scientist billionaires and lickspittle corporate journalism? Nope. So that first hour of the movie adds up to a big steaming pile of who cares.
And then, once the slithering lizardy alien starts using Eddie’s body however it wants — but only in ways appropriate to a teen-friendly rating, so, plenty of bloodless violence but that’s about it — another huge chunk of runtime is exhausted by a lazy, tediously familiar car-motorcycle chase through the streets of San Francisco, as Drake’s goons attempt to get the parasite back from Eddie. You’ve seen this before, and it’s boring and repetitive and utterly fails to finally inject any of the excitement the movie has been missing thus far. Director Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad, Zombieland) could have used this sequence to take advantage of the fact that the movie is available in IMAX, but he doesn’t. There is no justification for the ultra-big-screen format… except for the premium it adds to a ticket price, which fans — me included — are happy to pay if it amps up the thrills. But there are no thrills here.
Venom feels like a direct-to-DVD clunker with a script dusted off from the 1990s — and no, tossing in a few late-2010s catchphrases such as “fake news” and adding a few drones didn’t update it. This feels like an exercise in corporate contractual obligation; was there a licensing agreement about to expire? (How mercenary is this movie? One of the postcredits scenes is just an ad for the upcoming animated Spider-Man movie, Into the Spider-Verse. This is a betrayal of the postcredits spirit.) This is what cinematic spinning of the wheels looks like. It’s so perfunctory that it saps even its excellent cast — Hardy, Williams, Ahmed, and also Jenny Slate (The Lego Batman Movie, Landline) as a Drake scientist — of all their charisma. They are slogging through this incoherent mess just like we are.