“Venom” (dir. Ruben Fleischer) stars Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed and Michelle Williams, and follows journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy), who becomes the host for a sinister alien life form called Venom (voiced by Hardy). Eddie wants to stop millionaire megalomaniac, Carlton Drake (Ahmed), from further experimenting with other alien life forms called symbiotes and killing the people that they inhabit. Meanwhile Venom needs to eat people for survival. Venom speaks to Eddie in his head as the two form an unlikely bond to achieve what they desire.

A version of Venom already exists in cinema from 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” (dir. Sam Raimi), played by Topher Grace. This Venom garnered a lot of criticism due to being thrown in towards the end of the movie and not possessing the physical look or comicbook motivations of the character. The trailers for Tom Hardy’s “Venom were praised for what appeared to be a loyal adaptation of the titular character’s roots. The character looked and sounded more accurate than Grace’s Venom, and, from the trailer, it appeared that “Venom” would be rated R for its brutality. However, weeks before release, a PG-13 rating was announced, ultimately meaning less violence and gore. But violence and gore don’t make a great movie. Great direction, writing, performances, structure and pacing make movies enjoyable and fun. Unfortunately, “Venom” has none of these, leading to an extremely underwhelming experience.

Starting with the positives, “Venom” accomplishes a fun dynamic between Eddie and Venom once they finally become connected. Their back and forth banter regarding their wants and needs are easily the most entertaining part of this film. That being said, Hardy’s performance is elevated when he is talking to Venom. It feels like there is an inner struggle that Eddie is facing because there is literally something inside of him. Hardy sells this conflict through an over the top performance that mostly works for this movie. The special effects for Venom also look cool. It isn’t anything particularly special, but it works. The action scenes are also fun. I’m reaching because there really isn’t much great about this film.

This film’s biggest fault is its lackluster script. It all feels very formulaic, which scripts should never be. Characters say exactly what they want or are feeling throughout. It never leaves anything to the performances or to subtext for viewers to infer on their own. The dialogue spoon feeds the viewer information until nothing is left to be interpreted from the actions on the screen until the action scenes begin. On top of all of this, no one in real life talks like the characters in “Venom.” It’s really frustrating as a viewer when the characters don’t feel like people, but dumbed down versions of people who might as well be speaking directly to the audience.

The biggest offender of this is Carlton Drake, the film’s antagonist. There are several scenes in his laboratory where he repeatedly spews the same exposition to his scientists about how he wants to change the world so they need to find suitable host for symbiotes. These scenes are boring because Drake is a generic villain with generic motivations that he has shared with his staff numerous times. Don’t you think that, if your goal was to send symbiote bonded humans to a different planet, maybe you would want to keep it a little more hush so your staff doesn’t turn on you? It feels wrong, just like most of the dialogue in this film.

The pacing and structure of the film is also poor. Usually around the 30 minute mark something will happen that launches the main character into the what the story is going to be. For “Venom,” this is Eddie becoming bonded with symbiote Venom. But this happens around the 45 minute mark. Everything prior to Venom’s first appearance is really bland and stale. The film bounces from place to place, never giving the viewer enough time to sit with Eddie and really get to know him as a character. This is partially because of the writing, but even if all of the scenes with Eddie were written flawlessly, the editing and pacing would do them no justice.

“Venom”’s tone is wild and all over the place. You never get a grasp of what the director wants from this film. At some points, it feels like a drama about a guy losing his job and his wife and being given one last shot to do good, while at others, it’s a comedy with Hardy mumbling around his words. If the script was divided into two halves with different tones, it might work, but, it just seems like the tone changes between scenes, which is jarring. The film never even excels at one tone or the other, which makes it even more obnoxious to watch.

“Venom” could have been something great. With a sequel on the way and the possible merging of Marvel’s Spider-Man character into the universe, it seemed like a runaway hit. All Sony had to do was write a compelling script, hire a more talented director and get everyone on the same page with what the finished product would feel like. Instead, “Venom” is a film that takes 45 minutes too long to pick up its pace and never gets a hold of its true intentions until there are about 30 minutes left of the film. It gets the protagonist done right, but ultimately stumbles in every other aspect of filmmaking. “Venom” is one of the biggest disappointments of the year coming from a huge fan of both Marvel and of this character’s comic history.

Grade: D+

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