'Venom': What the Critics Are Saying
Tom Hardy's Venom has arrived, and critics are not impressed.
Marvel's latest title sees Hardy take on one of Spider-man's deadliest foes, previously — and infamously — played in Spider-Man 3 by Topher Grace. Journalist Eddie Brock is writing an expose on a Silicon Valley tech company when he is exposed to a goo-like alien symbiote that merges with his body and provides him with a villainous alter-ego. Riz Ahmed plays tech magnate Carlton Drake, while Michelle Williams is Brock's ex-girlfriend, Anne.
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In The Hollywood Reporter, critic Todd McCarthy writes that Venom is a step backward for Marvel: "At a time when the Marvel universe is both expanding adventurously (Black Panther) and wrapping up other storylines (Avengers: Infinity War), Venom feels like a throwback, a poor second cousin to the all-stars that have reliably dominated the box-office charts for most of this century," he says. At issue is a by-the-book storyline with filmmaking and writing that McCarthy describes only as "blah."
What's more, McCarthy was less than engaged by the central character, who he called a "dope" and "eager doofus." "Hardy has always had a terrific screen bearing and presence, but this may be his least interesting role and performance," McCarthy writes. He instead suggested that the movie showed Hardy would play an amazing Harvey Weinstein.
Elsewhere, Laura Prudom of IGN says that the film lacks proper pacing and tone and ultimately seems confused and muddled. Venom is, she writes, "a muddled hodgepodge that isn’t sure whether it wants to be comedic or take its troubled antihero way too seriously."
Prudom bemoaned the lack of decent writing for actors including Williams and Ahmed, but found something to compliment in Hardy's performance of the title role: "The film's few bright spots are largely due to Hardy’s interplay with himself — this is the second time he’s played dual roles, following 2015’s underwritten but ambitious Legend. It’s frustrating to imagine how much better the movie might’ve been if the creative direction had matched Hardy’s obvious passion for the character."
Indiewire's Michael Nordine was one of the few critics to enjoy the film, saying that its incongruities "ultimately feel more like a feature than a bug." Nordine praised the film's attempt to create a buddy-comedy dynamic between Brock and the symbiote, even if it ultimately fell flat: "Not all of Eddie and Venom’s exchanges land as intended, but those that do are genuinely funny; over time, their relationship even becomes endearing in its own way, which comes as such a pleasant surprise it’s almost enough to recommend the movie on its own," he wrote.
Charles Pulliam-Moore of io9 says the film “strikes an imperfect balance between two extremes — sticking too close to, or straying too far from, Marvel’s source material. And that’s a testament to Sony’s belief that audiences are going to want to watch a charmingly disheveled Tom Hardy murder and eat people in the name of twisted justice in this movie and any potential sequels.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty gave the film a C+ grade, calling it a “flashy-but-tonally jumbled new origin story” for the character. Nashawaty also noted Hardy’s “distracting New Yawk palooka accent” and said his character “feels like a second-tier Marvel player prematurely called up to the bigs.”
“Venom isn’t quite bad, but it’s not exactly good either,” Nashawaty wriote. “It’s noncommittally mediocre and, as a result, forgettable. It just sort of sits there, beating you numb, unsure of whether it wants to be a comic-book movie or put the whole idea of comic-book movies in its crosshairs.”
Bryan Bishop of The Verge called Venom a “bizarre and baffling mess” that is “a trainwreck of a movie, mixing and matching wildly dissonant tones, bizarre plot contrivances and a truly unique lead performance.”
While he might not have much praise for the film itself, Bishop did note its star. “Hardy is always watchable, no matter the role, but there’s so much to take in here that it almost feels like he’s putting on a one-man show. He builds his character almost entirely out of idiosyncrasies, and if the audience isn’t entertained by Brock’s odd mannerisms in one scene, odds are they’ll find Hardy employing an entirely new set of tricks in the next.”
Bishop noted the “rapport between Eddie and Venom is ultimately the film’s most effective emotional element,” but “feels like a movie from the era of sloppy, inconsistent hero films that predominated before The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan and Marvel Cinematic Universe honcho Kevin Feige demonstrated how dramatic and effective superhero movies can be. “
The L.A. Times' Justin Chang compared the film to other recent superhero fare, saying, “Next to the much more visually and narratively elaborate entertainments that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe — or even compared with other snarky anti-superhero movies like “Deadpool” — Venom feels like pretty weak poison.”
“Which is not to say that it’s terrible, exactly,” he continued. "For a movie conceived as a liberating celebration of badness, it’s probably nowhere near as bad as it should be … the movie tells a stale, workmanlike origin story, cursorily updated with drive-by references to climate change and fake news, and outfitted with cheaply serviceable visual effects.”
Noting comments made recently by Hardy that the film had a lengthy portion left on the cutting-room floor, Chang said, “The slapdash, tossed-together feel of Venom, the sense that it’s over just as it’s getting started, would seem to vindicate Hardy’s reservations.”
Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out gives the film two out of five stars and says "the PG-13 rating seriously hurts." Rothkopf states that it is "superfans, not casual cineplexers expecting just another monolithic smackdown, who are going to feel the most crushed as Venom slides off the rails."
The A.V. Club's Jesse Hassenger says Venom is "reminiscent of the post-Spider-Man, pre-MCU superhero pictures, the ones made with some degree of star power and/or production value but lacking a sense of purpose beyond showing off a live-action exclamation of a famous comics character."
He notes "it’s disappointing to see Sony’s nascent, fumbling attempt at a Spider-Man without Spider-Man universe stumble through so much superhero-move detritus: perfunctory side characters (especially the women); the ultimate villain that’s essentially a supersized version of the hero; the fact that Venom becomes a de facto hero almost immediately; and, of course, a dopey mid-credits teaser presuming automatic interest in other characters who have interacted with Venom in the comics. The filmmakers seem faintly aware that not all comic book characters are superheroes, but unsure of what else Venom could actually be."
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