Rating: 2.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Venom is an unusual movie, in that the second act is the best part. The beginning is dull and by the numbers, and the ending is a boring CGI battle between the hero and his dark mirror villain. But the middle, somehow, is a lot of fun, with some good laughs, (relatively) exciting action sequences, and a fun central relationship between Eddie Brock and his symbiote.
I’m not sure how to get into discussing the plot of the film, as it’s very stupid, but I’ll give it a shot: A Silicon Valley guy, CEO of the Life Foundation, who made his money in pharmaceuticals, has become obsessed with private space travel and finding a way to fortify humanity to survive the various disasters that are looming in the near future. On one of their space flights, his crew finds several alien life forms on a passing comet, and brings them back to Earth. One of the life forms gets free and causes the ship to crash in Mongolia, and escapes by hiding itself inside one of the human bodies, while the other three life forms are recovered by the Life Foundation.
Eddie Brock, who someone basically says right into the camera is the best investigative journalist around but who actually is demonstrably terrible at his job, has somehow intuited that the Life Foundation is evil, and he steals confidential information from his lawyer fiancé’s laptop to ambush the CEO at what was supposed to be a puff piece interview. Obviously the CEO doesn’t confess on the spot, which I guess it what Brock thought would happen, and Brock is fired from his job and his fiancé justifiably breaks up with him.
Months later he’s living in “squalor” in San Francisco, pining over his ex-fiancé, when a whistleblower from the Life Foundation asks him to sneak in to their facilities and bear witness to the cells full of homeless people who are being infected with and killed by the alien symbiotes. Of course, he gets infected with one of them himself, and based on some accident in genetics, they’re compatible, and so together they become Venom.
The symbiote explains to Brock that the one that escaped in Mongolia (remember it? It escaped for no reason? And then possessed a body and flew to San Francisco for no reason?) is named Riot, and will take a rocket back to their home planet and rally an invasion force and destroy the world, and Venom wants to stop them because, well, Venom was kind of a loser on its home planet, and could be a big-man-on-campus on Earth if it doesn’t get destroyed. Never mind that by the time an Earth-developed rocket gets back to this home planet it’ll be like hundreds or thousands or millions of years later (look, I’m no astronomer).
I really like the back-and-forth between Brock and Venom, and I wish the rest of the movie had the same buddy-comedy energy that you get in their scenes. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I would’ve enjoyed it as much if it hadn’t been so unexpected after the very boring first act. Still, it struck me by surprise when I found myself laughing at their dialogue, and I had to stop and say, wait, is this movie funny on purpose? So while I’m not going to try to quote it all or go through every moment, there’s a very solid 30-minutes in the middle of this film.
I like that Brock’s ex-fiancé’s new boyfriend is just a genuinely good guy and there’s no revelation that he’s a secret jerk.
I went through most of it above, but the story is very generic and boring. The villain is a standard lunatic corporate guy, and he gets a symbiote of his own in a ridiculous scene where he’s aimlessly wandering his compound alone—the only time he’s ever alone in the entire movie—and runs into the little girl that the symbiote possessed, who made it through their security somehow, and the symbiote just takes the CEO over.
Also, speaking of security, the Life Foundation has a massive army of armed soldiers to chase down Brock once he escapes, and zero security cameras. Like after Brock escapes, they are completely mystified as to who broke in, with no way of figuring it out.
The final battle between Venom and Riot is incomprehensible. They look almost exactly the same, except Venom is black and Riot is gray. The setting they’re fighting in is also all blacks and grays so they completely blend into the background. Venom says Riot has different powers than he does, but no difference is really clear, and it boils down to a lot of jumbled tentacle slapping. And also I forgot to mention Venom himself looks terrible, and the CGI is never able to convince you that this thing exists in the same space as the real human actors.
Michelle Williams seems completely bummed out to be in this dumb movie, and the scene where she becomes She-Venom has to be a low-point for her career. It looks absurd and there is absolutely no point to including it, except I guess it’s a thing from the comics.
The post-credits scene is really something else. Woody Harrelson is too old to play Cletus Kasady, and too Woody Harrelson to pull off the bright red clown wig he’s wearing. And while Carnage is certainly the most recognizable Venom-related villain, it promises a sequel will include more incomprehensible symbiote-on-symbiote CGI battles, though I guess at least Carnage will be a different color.