When a movie fails, there are two possible outcomes. One is that it’s bad and boring, and thus forgettable, because there is nothing about it to make an impression other than its overall badness. Or, it’s bad yet entertaining, because while it doesn’t work, it fails in some interesting way that makes it watchable even if it is, objectively, Not Good. This describes Venom. Is it bad? Yes. Does it make sense? Not entirely. Is it funny? Borderline hilarious. Is it SUPPOSED to be funny? Probably not. Does it seem like everybody is acting in a different movie? Of course. Is Venom a bad movie that is still entertaining and even fun to watch? Amazingly, yes. Should people pay to see it? I mean, probably not. But in the right mood, with the right people, this can be a fun time at the movies.
Venom is the worst parts of the Sam Raimi and Sony reboot Spider-Men combined, and it also features one of Tom Hardy’s more bizarre performances. It starts out like a proper movie, establishing everyone’s motivations (and setting up a slew of future victims of Venom’s hunger). We have Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a billionaire scientist with a private space program which suffers a catastrophic loss when a rocket bringing back biological samples from a comet crashes back to earth. Then there is Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative reporter who sounds distractingly like Mike Tyson. Eddie is known for hard-hitting news, so he can’t take it when his boss assigns him a puff piece on Carlton Drake, and he attempts a piece of “gotcha” journalism that blows up in his face, costing him his job, as well as the job of his lawyer fiancé, Annie (Michelle Williams).
Cut to six months later and Eddie Brock can’t find work—Drake’s blacklisting is so thorough Eddie apparently can’t even get menial jobs—and Annie left him because of the whole “used my privileged legal information to try and bust a subject and got us both fired” thing. This is where Venom is strongest and actually working like a real movie. Eddie is selfish and temperamental and his actions have dire consequences for him and those he loves. He has to learn from the ground up about doing good for the sake of good, and that doing the right thing is usually unglamorous and not materially rewarding, but it also shouldn’t cost everyone he knows their livelihood. If the movie kept on this track and introduced Venom as someone who also has to absorb these lessons with Eddie, then it really could have been something.
It does not, however, keep on that track. About halfway through, Venom takes a hard left into sh*tshow territory, but even as it gets worse, it gets unintentionally funnier. It starts with Hardy’s performance as a person who is, basically, possessed. Once the alien symbiote known as Venom infects Eddie, he starts hearing voices and performing amazing physical feats as Venom boosts him through a couple good chase sequences. Hardy makes some weird choices—when doesn’t he?—but one thing he does really well here is his physical performance. He is completely believable as someone being yanked around by some interior force. But no matter what Hardy does, once Venom starts spinning out, it spins so fast and so hard it’s dizzying.
That whole thing about learning to do good for its own sake is abandoned—Venom never really learns this, he just acquiesces when Eddie informs him that only bad people can be eaten. There’s an entire section of the story missing about Venom and Eddie learning to get along, they go from mutual antipathy to perfect accord in the span of about two minutes. And the inevitable third act showdown between Venom and another symbiote is so visually incoherent it borders on Transformers garbage disposal territory. Venom starts out okay, but then it just gets…crazy.
And thank god! It’s bad but at least it’s interestingly bad. Venom is a mess, but it’s endearing in its weirdness, and even when it goes completely off the rails it’s still totally watchable. It’s not good but it is unique, and there are definitely people who will appreciate Venom for the weird outlier it is in the contemporary superhero landscape. You can see the outline of something quite different and more radical before it was stuffed down into an acceptable Marvel-esque shape and a PG-13 rating (it really should have been R). If you can’t make a good movie, at least make an entertaining one, and that is what Venom does.