Venom does whatever a spider can (mostly) despite Spider-Man being retconned out of his origin story. The alien symbiote no longer bonds with wall-crawler first and yet star Tom Hardy gives off a definite Peter Parker vibe. Journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) starts a new life in San Francisco after sloppy reporting gets him fired from the Daily Globe in New York. In the comic book, Brock was fired for reporting a false confession that was revealed when the real killer was captured by Spider-Man, whom Brock blames from ruining his career.
Friendly neighborhood Venom
While Brock may not do things by the book, he’s a civically-minded investigative journalist who stands up for the little guy. Even in this personal life he displays compassion by befriending a homeless woman named Maria (Melora Walters). Brock frequently evokes puny Parker in his mannerisms such as slouching and speaking in a low mumbles. When a thug robs his local bodega, he hides in back until it’s over. And he sheepishly avoids conflict with his loud neighbor. That is until he bonds with the alien symbiote, which not only gives him super strength but also a weakness to loud noise. It’s all in stark contrast to the comic book version of the character, who is a selfish, musclebound bully before ever becoming Venom.
Even the symbiote thinks Brock is a loser. In fact, the symbiote admits that among its people it’s also a loser and that’s the reason it decides to stick with Brock . . . well that and the fact that every other host it encountered was genetically incompatible and died. The symbiote explains that on Earth it can be something more. Unfortunately, it’s all exposition. It would have been nice to see this demonstrated in the story with the Venom symbiote being ostracized by its brethren and Venom showing some unique affinity for Earth. The closest we get to that moment is when Venom scales a building and upon observing the city skyline comments that its not a ugly as he thought.
No good deed . . .
The reporter has a brief change of heart when his hard hitting journalism gets not only him fired but also his now former fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), an attorney for the target of his hit piece. Brock makes true but unsubstantiated accusations about dead test subjects during what is supposed to be a fluff piece on Life Foundation CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). The foundation believes the Earth will become inhabitable within a generation and searches out a new planet. It finds a world with millions of alien symbiotes and brings back four of them to help humanity evlove into a space-faring race.
The astronauts are all killed in a crash landing except for John Jonah Jameson III (Chris O’Hara), the son of Peter Parker’s boss at the Daily Bugle. Jameson survives by bonding with one of the symbiotes known as Riot, which is now their leader instead of Venom’s offspring as in the comics. It’s only a short reprieve as the symbiote consumes the incompatible host before transferring into several new bodies in search of his captured brethren. Jameson’s short-lived cameo seems to preclude any possibility that we’ll see a future cameo by his alter ego Man-Wolf, a space werewolf created by a gemstone found on the Moon. But for all we know, he’s already acquired the gemstone and with it its healing abilities.
Brock is blacklisted and initially balks at going up against Drake again when whistle-blower Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) contacts him. He reluctantly agrees after his homeless friend goes missing. The foundation recruits her to bond with the Venom symbiote, which tricks Brock into freeing her so that is can transfer into him. Brock easily escapes the facility with his newfound superpowers but we never get that epiphany that “Wow! I’m a superhero.”
Venom may not have a spider emblem on his chest but he’s got the proportionate powers. The symbiote gives him superhuman strength, heightened senses that approximate spider-sense and a healing factor on par with Wolverine. He seems to climb rather than wall-crawl even though the symbiote itself easily sticks to walls. Most notably, Venom lacks webbing. That means no web swinging! Not that there’s much use for it San Francisco. However, Venom can extend his arm a limited distance to swing short distances. This ability really shines during a wild car chase. Venom extends his arms to move cars, make sharp turns and to get back on his motorcycle when he’s thrown off. He’s basically a Stretch Armstrong complete a shiny coating that unfortunately makes him also look like a plastic action figure.
Somehow, not even adrenaline filled car chase can’t muster more than a lukewarm response from Brock. His only noticeable personality change after bonding with the symbiote is an insatiable hunger.
Likewis there is no difference in Drake when he joins with Riot. The alien agrees to bring the rest of the symbiotes to Earth to save humanity though his true intentions are to destroy it. In the end, the bland protagonist and antagonist are made only slightly less insipid by their better halves. And the only real character development is when the symbiote convinces Brock to apologize to his fiancée while he still can. It also provides some much needed comic relief as the not-so little voice in Brock’s head. Some of the most amusing comments are those Brock tries to ignore. Unlike a typical movie, the hero does not get the girl. Anne has since moved in with Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott) and insists Brock not tell him about a kiss they share while transferring the symbiote between each other. “Look at her,” the symbiote tells Brock. “She has no idea we are going to get her back.”
A post credits scene features Brock interviewing the serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) at San Quentin State Prison. He is isolated like Hannibal Lecter in a cage, in which he writes Eddie’s name in his own blood. Kasady explains that he could do the whole typical madman spiel but instead simply impresses on Brock that he will escape and kill him.
The scene sets up the sequel in the planned Venom trilogy. Unbeknowst to Brock, the Venom symbiote asexually spawns a symbiote that will merge with Kasady to create the aptly named Carnage! The offspring is much stronger and often requires Venom and Spider-Man to reluctantly team up. However, that seems unlikely since he does not have a preexisting relationship with the Webhead, who resides on the other side of the country. Perhaps we’ll see a Venom / Man-Wolf team up. After all, it seems peculiar to introduce Jameson just to kill him off.