If it looks bad on paper, imagine how bad it would look on screen. That's the golden rule studios need to follow while greenlighting projects. In the case of Venom, it took 3 writers and years of development hell to fill out lesser than usual number of pages with a great amount of difficulty. The end result is not a surprise.
From the very first scene, a slapdash origin setup for its central cannibalistic symbiote followed by a super casual introduction of the main villain (Riz Ahmed as evil scientist Carlton Drake) as if he had just walked out of the loo with a towel wrapped around his waist, a knot settles in the pit of your stomach. You know what's coming ain't good. What you don't expect is how thoroughly incompetent the film would turn out to be in the hands of director Ruben Fleischer and writers Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel.
Fleischer, best known for Zombieland and worst known for the all-star dud Gangster Squad, never manages to inject any sense of smoothness and momentum into the narrative, hopping from one scene to the next as if saying that taking your time is for kids and Zack Snyder. Yet, for all its hurriedness and choppiness, somehow the first proper action sequence kicks in just before the midpoint. At least it's well shot. I will not be able to say the same for any other scene that has gone before or would follow.
Fleischer and his team of writers never gather sense of character or pacing. Eddie Brock, our protagonist, is never fleshed out as a person. We never find out what makes him the benevolent hook-or-by-crook investigative reporter that he is. His down period is cruelly played up for a few laughs rather than letting the audience get any sense of the loss he's experiencing due to one mistake he makes for the greater good. By the end, do we have any idea what made him such a great host to Venom?
In fact, we never do find out what makes for a good host in general. A big deal is made initially about how difficult it is to achieve symbiosis with the symbiotes but by the pre-climax, just about everyone is a good host to the aliens and it's tea and biscuits all around. In fact, the film is littered with so many plotholes that the film ends up falling into them. Why does nobody ever try to track down the missing symbiote? Why does Jenny Slate's Dora Skirth not warn Eddie that he has been taken over by a species that so far had killed all its human mates? Why did Carlton need Skirth to tell him Eddie's name when there must obviously be cameras in a high-tech lab that tosses out weaponized drones like tennis balls? The cherry on top is a ludicrous third-act pivot of motivations to justify the superhero tag.
Instead of actually working on these blatantly obvious issues, many tactics from the Book of Lazy Filmmaking are applied to distract from them and somehow add some weight to the proceedings: a friendly beggar who obviously gets into trouble, a villainous threat that is kept on ice for most of the duration of the film to keep the prospect of the final confrontation alive, casual tossing out of information pertaining to the symbiote's weaknesses so that they can be utilized in the climax.
It's hard to say if the editing by Maryann Brandon and Alan Baumgarten is really bad or if those poor souls are trying their best to make up for perfunctory writing and lazy direction? All I know is that at one point, Riz Ahmed just randomly walks into his own usually heavily populated but at the moment somehow completely empty lab, shouting "hello?"... and then a kid just pops out of nowhere. Thankfully, his first instinct is to ask if she's lost.
Tom Hardy is genius in a role that offers him nothing to play with, so he decides to go solo. He is saddled with a clunky narrative device that involves interactions between him and Venom inside his head, which are unconvincing at best and don't even have the wit to make them entertaining, but Hardy plays Eddie during these portions like an eccentric person who is going through cocaine withdrawal and then gets possessed by a spirit in a Chaplinesque horror comedy film. He gives it just as much as he gave the character of Bane, outfitted with TWO accented gruff voices, and he is immensely watchable at every step of the way that the film is not. He is a gift that Venom and Ruben Fleischer do not deserve.
I was pretty excited about Riz Ahmed's tentpole lead role but as it turns out, he's quite poorly cast. I get the idea of making him a simple talking man who approaches his subjects like a preacher offering salvation to the doomed but he never poses any threat whatsoever. Also wasted are Michelle Williams and Jenny Slate, continuing the film's trend of shaming fantastic indie actors for reaching out to grab the paycheck that Sony hands out.
If it wasn't already evident by the inept trailer, the entire film reiterates the same point many times over by the time it trudges to its embarrassing conclusion: Venom is an unsalvageable, unwatchable mess. If you're a massive superhero fan (pretty much everyone I encounter nowadays is) and you can't get yourself to skip this one, be rest assured that you'll never be able to skip any of the dozens of others that are surely coming our way soon enough.
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