Fun but flawed: ‘Venom’ fails to make impact on Marvel Universe

It was bound to happen.

After 19 films, critical praise and incredible success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel had to make a mistake sooner or later. Despite the excitement surrounding the film, “Venom” proved to be that mistake.

Produced by Sony, the company that co-owns the Spider-Man characters with Marvel, this anti-hero film is riddled with pacing problems and culminates in a climax too brief and confusing to engage the audience.

The film opens with a chaotic crash, as a capsule from space plummets to the earth, and the black, liquid alien life forms inside wreak havoc on the medical team sent to assess the damage.

Rich genius and scientific innovator Carlton Drake is revealed to have a special interest in the life forms, because he hopes to use the power of the symbiotes to enable humans to live in space. Hoping to expose Carlton’s connection with the deadly crash, investigative journalist Eddie Brock challenges Carlton in an interview, but Carlton quickly destroys Eddie’s life before he can learn any information.

Typical of any comic book origin movie, Eddie, played by Tom Hardy, is shown at his worst — his fiancé left him, he lost his job and he drinks too much. His life changes radically when he is taken to a laboratory owned by Carlton, played by Riz Ahmed.

Horrified at seeing so many bodies of unwitting volunteers, Eddie accidentally exposes himself to a symbiote, the alien life form that caused the deaths. The symbiote, which calls itself Venom, successfully connects with Eddie, who rushes from the laboratory to his ex-fiancé, Anna Weying, to try to understand what is happening to him.

As he gradually learns more about Venom and the powers the symbiote wields, Eddie is hunted by Carlton’s henchmen, who are desperate to find the first successful match for the symbiote. Director Ruben Fleischer does well with the film’s first action set piece, a network of roads that Eddie is chased through at night. This scene begins to show the full power of Venom, and Fleischer cleverly integrates Eddie’s surroundings into the action.

After Anna manages to remove Venom from Eddie using a sound frequency that is harmful to all symbiotes, Eddie is caught by Carlton’s men. Once they realize Eddie no longer carries Venom, Carlton, now matched with his own symbiote named Riot, orders Eddie’s death. Eddie is led into a forest to be shot, but his would-be executors are killed one by one by an unseen hero, who is revealed to be Venom using Anna’s body. Venom slips back into Eddie’s body, and the pair rush to Carlton’s rocket launch pad, which Carlton plans to use to launch himself into space to find other symbiotes.

To stop Carlton and Riot from finding the other symbiotes, Eddie and Venom fight them in hand-to-hand combat on the rocket launch pad as the launche’s countdown commences. When Riot locks himself inside the rocket, Venom blows it up, killing both Carlton and Riot.

In the explosion’s fire, Venom seemingly sacrifices himself to save Eddie, though the film quickly reveals that Venom secretly survived and is still using Eddie as a host body. The two form a friendship similar to those seen in buddy-cop films, and they begin their lives together as a successful host-symbiote pair.

The core of the film’s problems is in its pacing — much of it is dedicated to the initial relationship between Eddie and Venom. While their constant arguing and snappy retorts are certainly entertaining, the moment in which they decide to work together because they have become friends feels rushed and forced.

Venom is not given enough time to gradually care for Eddie, and Eddie is not given enough time to learn to appreciate Venom. Instead of seeing their relationship bloom organically, audiences are forced to watch them argue for over an hour before they suddenly realize they actually enjoy being around each other.

Similarly, the remainder of the plot after Venom attaches himself to Eddie feels as if it moves far too quickly. The beginning of the film builds very slowly, especially for a superhero origin story, with the scenes containing Eddie’s life before he challenges Carlton and eventually meets Venom taking up a substantial part of the first act. The moment Eddie meets Venom, the plot meanders through the exploration of their new relationship before it rushes into the third act and a final battle that holds little to no suspense.

The rules for the characters, specifically what hurts Venom and what could kill Eddie, are never clearly laid out. According to Venom, only fire and certain sound frequencies can kill symbiotes, but Riot threatens Venom with a scythe and sword. The audience knows Riot is a dangerous adversary only because Venom tells Eddie moments before they meet him in a fight. The audience is never shown exactly why Riot is so powerful and why the chance for the heroes to win is so slim.

Furthermore, when the symbiotes attack each other and mold together, a scene that is incredibly disorienting because of their near-identical appearance, Eddie and Carlton seem to be unharmed, even though they are fused with one another. Without a clear understanding of what is threatening to the protagonists, the final battle is hard to follow, let alone care about.

Despite all of these problems, I would absolutely watch this movie again for one reason: Tom Hardy.

He gives an amazing, almost hypnotic performance as both the downtrodden and miserable Eddie and the borderline psychotic Venom. Watching Eddie grow to understand and accept the symbiote that has found a home in his body is incredibly entertaining and satisfying, and his quick spiral into insanity when Venom first connects with Eddie is fascinating. He has chemistry with every one of the actors, and his dedication to the role fills the screen in every minute of “Venom.”

The scene in which Eddie runs from Carlton’s henchmen and relies on Venom to protect him is one of film’s highlights because of the way Hardy transforms Eddie’s terror into hesitant glee. The shift in emotion feels natural, and it makes for a fantastic movie moment.

Ahmed does a good job as the nuanced villain whose manipulative behavior manifests in his incredible intelligence. Every time he speaks, Ahmed makes it clear his character carefully chooses each word to use the people around him. However, Carlton is not given motivation for his evil misdeeds. Sacrifice in the name of science is a tired trope for villains, especially those from comic book movies, and Carlton is manipulated too easily by Riot. 

“Venom” may be one of Marvel’s few big mistakes, but it is far from unentertaining. Confusing, rushed and a bit cliched, “Venom” is not the perfect movie, but Hardy ensures it is still an enjoyable and eclectic film with more than a few memorable moments.