It’s almost impossible to view Venom in a vacuum. The character became popular as a Spider-Man nemesis, a super-cool bad guy who was as much an anti-hero as he was a villain.
Before Marvel became a movie studio, they let other people make movies with their characters. Sony made a lot of money cranking out Spider-Man movies at the beginning of the century. But, when the creative and financial fortunes of America’s favorite web-slinger began to fade, Marvel struck a deal with Sony to bring Spidey back into the fold.
So. while Spider-Man is off partying with the Avengers, a whole slew of Spider-Man-adjacent characters, including Venom, remain in the clutches of Sony. Since money won’t print itself, Sony has decided to try its luck making movies with its leftovers, starting with “Venom.”
Since Venom without Spider-Man is a bit like Yin without the Yang— and in spite of everyone’s best efforts— “Venom” as a standalone film can only just barely consider itself a success— and that’s with a few qualifications.
For those of you non-comic-book-nerds, Venom is a symbiote, an alien who looks like an amorphous pile of goo that cannot survive on Earth without a human host to bond with.
After being brought back to Earth as cargo from a space exploration and then through a series of plot contrivances, Venom bonds with Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a down-on-his-luck investigative reporter.
Eddie can’t seem to catch a break as he finds himself in the crosshairs of billionaire tech-mogul Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who is busy racking up quite the body count conducting medical experiments with humans and symbiotes. Unfortunately for the movie, Drake makes for a pretty toothless villain.
Eddie quickly learns while Venom gives him superhuman abilities, their motivations sometimes come to cross purposes as Venom doesn’t exactly have high regard for human life.
Director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) does his best to make “Venom” compelling, but he’s fighting with one hand tied behind his back, thanks to a weak screenplay that features about seven different authors (never a good sign).
On the upside, Hardy makes everything better and his twitchy, sweaty take on Eddie really takes off when he and Venom get full into their Jekyll and Hyde routine. Unfortunately, the movie is halfway over by this point and, before this, all we get is some limp relationship drama between Eddie and his love interest Anne (Michelle Williams).
The takeaway here is the character of Venom plays even if his movie is not so great. The fun of Hardy in this role is what makes this movie just barely recommendable and if there is a future for the character, Venom could be destined for bigger and better things and perhaps (fingers crossed) a reunion with Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where movies this slapdash are not tolerated. Here’s to hoping!
“Venom” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.