The good news is that despite almost universally scathing reviews, Venom is actually a pretty entertaining film.
Venom is not a good film. Venom isn't a particularly involving film. Venom really actually doesn't have a whole lot going for it.
But yeah, almost despite itself Venom is a pretty entertaining film if you're willing to surrender to its chaotic lunacy and just go with it.
Just do what Tom Hardy does. Go nucking futs.
The problem may very well be that Venom isn't, in all likelihood, the film that you're expecting when you enter the movie theater. Featuring one of Marvel's most enigmatic and completely badass characters, an antihero of sorts if we're willing to stretch, Venom is the kind of film that Marvel probably shouldn't have made but since everything Marvel touches these days turns to gold they probably said to themselves "Why not try?"
Why not, indeed?
So, if you're going to try to make Venom then why not also toss into the mix an Academy Award-nominated actor, say Tom Hardy, who should be able to handle the character's complexities but who won't be so familiar to American audiences that it'll be distracting if it doesn't quite work.
It doesn't quite work. It's not distracting.
Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) directs, though if rumors are true that didn't work particularly well for Hardy as it's said the two had more than a few creative differences along the way. If true, my gut tells me that Hardy was probably right because Fleischer does an awful lot wrong here.
Hardy saves this flick.
It all starts off with Eddie (Hardy), a laid back investigative reporter who takes his work seriously and who isn't particularly thrilled when his boss tosses anything less on his desk. So, he's not exactly enthusiastic when assigned to do a profile piece on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a human hating entrepreneur who prefers finding superior life in the universe rather than dealing with earth's weaklings.
Much to its detriment, Venom starts off quite a while before Eddie and Venom are united, a union resulting from a rocket carrying a lifeform crashing in Malaysia. Destined to be known as the symbiote for reasons I never quite grasped, this lifeform sort of transplants itself inside alternative life beings either killing them or serving up superhuman powers or, hey, maybe even both.
By now, you should have a pretty good idea where all this is going and, if we're being totally honest, it doesn't really matter.
The only real reason to see Venom, but it's a really good reason, is for the performance of Tom Hardy turning in the ultimate buddy performance as both Eddie and Venom. Hardy, I can't help but believe, actually gets this film and gets this character and throws himself, at times quite literally, into the film's dark humor turned pitch black and humor that is so ridiculous that it's downright funny if you've allowed yourself to surrender to it all.
If you don't allow yourself to surrender to it all? You're going to hate Venom.
Hardy has a better chemistry with himself than with Michelle Williams, his love interest in the film, nor do things really click with Jenny Slate as Dr. Dora Skirth, a scientist who tips Eddie off as to what's going on. Rather fortunately, both Williams and Slate are tremendously underwritten here and Hardy spends most of his time, at least in the film's latter half, in his hilariously off-kilter dual roles.
There will be some, especially purists, who will complain passionately about a certain well known absence in the film that I won't spoil here but is likely already known by everyone who is passionate about seeing Venom. While the complaint is valid from a purist's standpoint, the truth is that considering the film's narrative arc and tone it was a valid choice that works really well.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy Venom, a film that I skipped when critics had their promo screening in favor of catching it when it was convenient to me and with a more authentic audience. I'm glad I did. While the haters were vocal, the laughs were even louder and it looks like the film's scathing reviews won't translate into anything resembling box-office poison.
Drop your expectations. Surrender. Have a good time.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic