The advertising tagline for the chronically dull and odious Venom reads: “The world has enough superheroes.” Thus implying the panacea for Hollywood’s over-supply of smug do-gooders is this film’s protagonist: an egomaniacal ‘gotcha!’ TV journalist with a voice inside his head belonging to an alien parasite. An instance if ever there was one of the remedy being worse than the poison.
Venom’s narrative is Jekyll and Hyde by way of Ren and Stimpy, carrying a defeatist message about accommodating rather than overcoming terrible things inside yourself. There are times when the film comes close to championing the role of the press in keeping powerful people accountable, only to devolve into a ham-fisted portrait of intrepid idiot Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his extraterrestrial split-personality.
Brock’s pride, as they say, comes before the fall, which occurs after he hacks into his own financee’s computer for material about a hot scoop. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? The audience naturally respond with ‘diddums’ when the protagonist loses his girl, job and mind, eventually transforming into the titular character – who is in effect a kind of bizarro Spider-Man.
Brock investigates the nefarious scheme of an Elon Musk and Lex Luthor-like bad guy, boyish billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). He is an obnoxious villain who blurs the line between entrepreneur and mad scientist, envisioning a future where humans share bodies with aliens and live in space. Drake experiments on people by introducing them to an aggressive alien parasite, which causes among other irritations bad dialogue and zombified face expressions.
The alien takes a liking to Eddie, thereby providing his only friend. Being possessed by an evil extraterrestrial makes it hard for the protagonist to function in society, which is the foundation for both the film’s drama and comedy. By the end of his journey, Brock has learned so little about life he declares the world a place where people are either really good or really bad: a pathetic end to a pathetic adventure, from which the protagonist emerges, like the audience, dumber and the worse for wear.
Director Ruben Fleischer and his screenwriters sweat over the core concept – that Brock will morph into a man-beast – for a good hour. They transition to offbeat comedy when Venom overcomes body and mind, demanding his human vessel commit social faux pas. In a grotesque parody of delayed puberty, the protagonist notices strange things happening to his body and begs his mother-surrogate ex-fiancee Anne (Michelle Williams) for help. She can only watch in horror as Brock plonks his caboose in a restaurant lobster tank and munches on live crustacean.
The film is agonisingly slow to its feet and bland in every way – especially visually, with a made-for-Netflix style and dated-looking CGI effects. Somehow Tom Hardy, in his first starring role since Mad Max: Fury Road, manages to stay above the material while it strangles and smothers him, contributing a semi-likeable performance in the ghastliest of circumstances.