Netflix UK film review: Venom
Ivan Radford | On 14, Jun 2019
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze
Watch Venom online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Tom Hardy. Michelle Williams. Riz Ahmed. It’s hard to imagine a film capable of wasting all three actors at the same time, but Venom somehow manages it – and, in that sense alone, it’s a remarkable cinematic achievement.
The film is essentially a spin-off from Spider-Man, devoting a whole movie to that villain that briefly appeared in the background of Spider-Man 3. It follows Eddie a Brock (Tom Hardy), a journalist who wants nothing more than to expose the dodgy experiments being carried out by Elon Muskalike Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) – experiments that see the popular billionaire preying on San Francisco’s homeless population as guinea pigs. When Eddie’s attempt to do so mid-interview loses him his job, he takes the drastic action of breaking into Drake’s lab, and there, he winds up becoming the host to Venom, an alien parasite that gives him super strength and an insatiable appetite for anything meaty.
What ensues is an attempt at dark comedy, as Eddie fights the creature within him, which is trying to take control. But as well as humour, there’s action, as Drake sends his armed henchmen to get back his symbiote. And there’s heartfelt drama, as Eddie tries to make up with his lawyer ex-girlfriend, Annie (Michelle Williams). If that sounds like a lot of things, you’re not wrong, and Venom never works out how to juggle them all, unable to decide whether to lean into the laughs or double down on the set pieces – which mostly involve black goo coming out of Tom Harry’s body and hitting other people.
Hardy has said that the best 40 minutes of the movie were cut, and it’s hard not to notice – not only because the minutes left aren’t particularly good, but because they’re full of glimpses of something that might have been better. Hardy clearly relishes the chance to play something outside of his normal wheelhouse, but he never seems to settle into the split-personality gags – a sequence involving lobsters in a restaurant feels rushed and undeveloped. The action, meanwhile, impresses during a car chase through the San Fran streets, but an anticlimactic finale leaves you wondering what else director Ruben Fleischer might have had up his sleeves. Williams, on the other hand, is entirely wasted in a girlfriend-trying-to-move-on role, and even Ahmed doesn’t get the chance to properly villain it up, as he’s inevitably replaced by CGI in time for the final act.
It’s all a bit of a mystery, given that Fleischer previously helmed Zombieland, which nailed the balance of dark laughs and violence action to provide something fun and surprising. Venom, though, is all over the place, with a script that makes little logical sense, while following predictable genre formulae to the letter. At its best, it teases the potential to rival Upgrade, Leigh Whannell’s horror sci-fi about a man losing control of his body. But where that had grisly shocks, brutal fights and a warped, wicked wit, Venom feels all too aptly like a shapeless mess.
Venom is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.