'Venom' Review: Action-Heavy, Clunky Launch for Sony's Marvel Universe

Venom is looking to launch Sony’s Marvel Universe, an isolated world from the Marvel Cinematic Universe filled with its own interconnected stories and Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock at the forefront. But, does the film deliver enough to warrant sequels, spinoffs, and ensembles?

At the front of the film is Eddie’s relationship to Venom, a symbiote from a foreign planet. The film certainly takes its time with their introduction, establishing Eddie's rise and fall as a journalist and fiancé first, as well as Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and his Life Foundation's transparently evil schemes. When the human-symbiote relationship does take the screen, Venom finally gets a bit of excitement and the pacing picks up.

Slowly, audiences get to know the character who prospered in his career as an investigative journalist. When assigned to an interview with Dr. Drake, he is asked to tone down his instincts and allow the piece to be puffy, if a bit dishonest. Knowing Eddie's history and inability to do so, Eddie's boss asks him anyway, prompting the first question of the film from audiences of why he would get such a task to begin with -- because of course he goes off the rails with the interview to create the film's plot and ultimately house a symbiote.

Still, Hardy gives the film everything he’s got. He impressively trots around Atlanta streets disguised as San Francisco acting like a wild, skitzophrenic-looking former journalist who has lost everything. Some scenarios will tee the performance up for mocking, such as a sequence seeing him jump into a lobster tank which wasn't intentionally funny, but Hardy is clearly committed to the part. More of the actor as Brock and Venom could be a good thing in the future, if a more compelling or original narrative comes along for him.

Like Eddie Brock’s body under alien control, the movie doesn’t know if it wants to be gritty, funny, tough, or something else entirely. When a random feeling bout of hip hop music takes over the theater's speakers early on, it feels as though Venom is trying to identify as something else which has worked for other movies, but suffers from never committing to a certain tone.

Above all, it's a poorly conceived script which hurts the film in the end. Awkwardly nuanced attempts at comedy often clog up scenes which Fleischer gave his best efforts to direct. Despite crowded environments and wild choreography, Fleischer kept the mayhem easy to follow and brought out the best possible from his stars. Ultimately, Fleischer shouldn't be blamed for the stiff moments and simple scenarios which were written into the movie.

The action sequences are very entertaining, often offering a sense of raw terror and grit. Many push the boundaries for the MPAA's PG-13 rating, as the film also makes full on its quota for colorful language. Fans of the character will also love to see Venom’s wild tongue letting loose in clouds of smoke before he takes out a entire SWAT team. However, the movie could have only thrived if it came before The Incredible Hulk -- or about five years before The Incredible Hulk. It not only offers vibes of that decade old Marvel movie in its CGI fights but also feels a bit creatively dated by comparison to today’s super hero epics.

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Inevitably, Venom shows clear plans for sequels and expansions, but the studio should take a look at the few bits of Venom which worked and scrap the larger portions which didn’t if they’re going to continue. That said, more of Tom Hardy in this part wouldn’t be the worst thing to come of it.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.