There feels like there is a growing trend in studio blockbusters where you can feel a better, more interesting film underneath layers of studio interference. Venom joins the ranks for Solo, Antman and other films where there is a glimmer of originality stifled by the studio's desire to appeal to the lowest common denominator. As a result, I will be surprised if Venom has staying power.
The first hour of the film is a slog. After a "Life Foundation" spacecraft crashes, its cargo escapes. That happens to be an inky, goo-creature that wants to bond with a human. Life Foundation chairman Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) believes this is man's salvation. Humans will be able to live on other planets if only they can bound with an alien. Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) ends up losing his job and his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams) after trying to go after Drake. To further explain all the exposition Venom throws at you would bore you, like the first hour of this film did for me.
Then Brock bonds with the inky, goo-creature and Venom shifts into a weirder, more fun film. Tom Hardy throws himself all in for this performance. Venom marionettes Brock's body, kicking butt and eating people's heads off. There are moments of pure joy as Hardy does his best Laurel and Hardy routine. A scene involving a tank of lobsters is particularly funny.
Venom is an anti-hero when he takes full control and a sidekick to Brock otherwise. This creates a buddy-actioner dynamic that is fun for a while. There is a bromance between them that is generally enjoyable. But this only lasts for a little while. Like many superhero films, the finally features a murky, hard to follow showdown between CGI creations. The action is poorly constructed by director Ruben Fleischer. This is a shame because his Zombieland is a successful film with fun action scenes in it.
If you can look past all the issues within Venom, the pot of gold is Hardy. He is out of control, giving a manic performance that rivals his performance in Bronson for its sheer craziness. He twitches, grunts, howls, shakes and stammers through the film's golden middle. The issue is the film around this middle part never works. Trapped somewhere in here is a weirder, better film. Those that are disappointed in Venom may say that the PG-13 rating neuters the film. I don't agree. The real issue is that you can feel the studio interference moving this film away from something stranger.
Hardy shines brightly in Venom but like the character he plays, this film is torn between two things it tries to be. One is a sub-par Marvel film that hits every trope in the book.
The other is a bizarre buddy comedy between a reporter and an alien.