Venom opens with a spaceship owned, by the biotech firm Life Foundation, blazing up in the atmosphere and crashing to Earth. Shortly after the crash it is revealed that the vessel contained several alien lifeforms called ‘symbiotes.’ All but one of the aliens are retrieved and the events of the crash are covered up by the Life Foundation whose philosophizing CEO, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), seeks to utilize the creatures for space colonization (if they can live here, he muses, we can live there). Before he can accomplish this, however, he needs to find suitable oxygen-breathing hosts for the extraterrestrial beings, as they cannot live in Earth’s atmosphere long without one.
Enter Eddie Brock, investigative reporter and man of the people. Brock suspects that Drake is more than he appears and attempts to gather information on the tech magnate through his fiancee, Ann Weying, who works for the Life Foundation as a attorney. Through a covert search of Weying’s computer, Brock discovers a confidential brief which contains information on three individuals who had recently expired during Life Foundation clinical trials.
Brock lands an interview with Carlton Drake and is cautioned, by the news company he works for, to only ask safe questions. Brock agrees but backtracks during the interview, accusing Drake of building a empire on “dead bodies” and that the CEO recruits “the most vulnerable among us” for tests which end up killing them. Drake responds by declaring “There is a lot of fake news out there these days.” Brock then begins naming the individuals who had died in Life Foundations clinical trials (confidential information he had obtained from Ann) at which point Drake cuts the interview short. Brock tells the CEO “We’re not finished,” whereupon Drake coldly remarks, “Yes, you are, Mr. Brock.”
Drake’s words prove prophetic as Brock’s life swiftly falls to pieces in the wake of the interview. Brock’s boss fires him. Ann leaves him. He loses his apartment. He sees a acquaintance get robbed at gun-point by a thug at a convenience store and is powerless to stop it. He sees a happy couple in front of his new abode and becomes depressed. He tries to meditate and is interrupted by thrashing guitar music emanating from his neighbor’s apartment.
After his fall from grace, Brock is approached by Dr. Skirth, the Life Foundation’s top scientist (and gaudy scarf afficianado), who witnessed one of Carlton Drake’s experiments that caused the death of a homeless test subject who had volunteered without understanding the nature of the project. Brock initially wants no part of her scheme and declares he is done “saving his fellow man” but swiftly changes his mind and is smuggled into the Life Foundation by Skirth where he sneaks into Drake’s lab and discovers numerous humans in glass cages, one of whom is a acquaintance (a homeless woman who he used to purchase newspapers from). He tries to bust the woman out and succeeds, setting off the alarms. The woman leaps at him and pins him to the ground whereupon a strange substance seeps from her body into his own. The woman then falls over, dead. Brock, horrified, flees the foundation, kicking down steel doors and leaping off walls with superhuman speed and strength and manages to escape but quickly comes to realize a entity has taken up residence in his body. He begins hearing a voice in his head. This voice, he comes to learn, belongs to the symbiote Venom, who has found Brock to be a rare, suitable host. Despite the alien’s considerable powers, Brock has his own life as leverage, for if Brock dies, so does the alien.
Thus, Brock must negotiate an acceptable moral framework with the alien to keep it from killing innocent civilians out of hunger, whilst simultaneously attempting to stop Drake’s cruel, human-symbiote experimentations.
Venom is a strange film, not because of the gooey, sentient alien lifeforms in it, but rather because of the character of Eddie Brock and the bizarre tone he and the alien ‘Venom’ set after bonding. For example, there is a scene where Venom declares to his host that he is hungry as Eddie rushes into a upscale restaurant where Ann and her new boyfriend (a doctor) are eating. Wild-eyed, anemic and sweating profusely, Brock declares that he broke into the Life Foundation and then proceeds to grab food off a nearby dish, proclaim it is “dead” with great agitation and then put it back on the dish to the perplexity of the waiter. He then rushes to another table where he spies a patron’s sandwich and growls like a lunatic before lunging at it, smacking around several diners in the process. Ann and the doctor attempt to intervene as the patrons gasp and mutter amongst themselves amidst the grotesque spectacle, but Eddie, heedless, shouts that he’s hot, removes his coat, and jumps into the lobster tank, sighs and grabs a lobster from the bottom and begins gnawing on it like a feral racoon.
The back and forth between the lead, the love interest, and her new love interest (the doctor) is also amusing and far more believable than I expected it to be. I had expected the usual trope of the couple breaking up and then meeting later after the protagonist receives more development, leading to a confrontation between the protagonist and the new love interest (who is usually an insufferable boor). However, this is a trope the film skillfully evades as when Eddie meets Ann again, the doctor tells Brock he’s a big fan of his work, Brock then thanks him. Later in the film the doctor covers for Brock after he losses his mind during the restaurant scene by claiming that Brock is his “patient” (even though he is not).
It is in these strange comedy-of-manners vignettes where the film proved most effective, which was surprising to me, since the film was marketed as a dark, gritty, brooding thriller, which it isn’t (it is light, frenetic and often quite whimsical).
The action scenes are another matter.
Some of the action scenes are interesting, particularly the very first manifestation of Venom within Brock in his apartment, the swat team face off and the bike chase scene, but generally, they’re a little difficult to follow and are lit rather dimly which is exasperated by the design of Venom itself (himself?) is completely black save for its eyes, teeth and mouth, and thus when it is placed against the backdrop of a dark city it is difficult to make out where the shadows end and the alien begins. However, this was a relatively minor issue.
My harshest points of criticism pertaining to the film, however, lies not in the action scenarios themselves, but rather, in the treatment of their effect upon those involved. At one point in the film, Brock is confronted by a squad of heavily armed men who open fire on him, Venom engulfs the mans body and together the errant reporter and the alien entity tear the goons to piece (literally), however, because they are presented as mere faceless goons and the aftermath of the fight is not displayed, there is little gravity to the situation. Near the end of the film, Venom gnaws the head off of a robber in front of a cashier. Eddies response is to shrug and walk away as she gasps in paroxysms of fear. The scene is not funny, nor is it horrifying, its is just odd and tone-deaf. The tone-deafness, it should be said, has nothing to do with the oft complain about PG-13 rating but rather a fixation on things being momentarily ‘cool’ than believable. The scene also establishes the old cashier now knows (just like the guitar rocking flatmate) that Brock is no longer a normal human and yet Brock (a intelligent, if obsessive guy) is wholly unconcerned. Why he is unconcerned is never explained. It would have been very easy to have Venom say something about disposing of the old woman so that he wouldn’t be found out and then have Brock declare that such a course of action would be, not just morally unacceptable, but practically superfluous, as no one is going to believe her anyways, just as no one believes country farmers who claim to have been abducted by aliens.
That being said, the film offered considerably more to mull over than I had presumed, due in no small part to the complexity of all of the central characters, particularly Drake, Brock, Ann and her newfound love interest and was well-paced and genuinely humorous.
Its more Sam Raimi than Joss Whedon; a energetic romantic comedy of manners disguised as a dark action film (though it does have some genuinely tense scenes as previously mentioned, accentuated through the film’s fantastic soundtrack, particularly the protagonist’s memorable, thrumming theme). I quite liked it, and in that I appear to be with the majority, as, though the film was panned by professional critics, it received overwhelmingly positive reviews from its general audience.
End Credits Scene and Sequel
The end credits scene features Eddie Brock returning to journalism and scoring a interview with a notorious serial killer named Cletus Kasady (a well known villain from the Spider Man comic series). Kasady tells Brock that when he gets out there will be carnage (a reference to the name of his symbiote in the comics).
The actor portraying Kasady, True Detective alum Woody Harrelson, has publicly confirmed he’ll be starring in the yet-unnamed sequel to Venom (likely in the capacity of central antagonist), which is slated for release sometime in 2020.
There is also another end credits scene of 0 narrative consequence, rendered in cartoonish CGI, which was nothing more than was franchise marketing. It was entirely superfluous, confusing and aesthetically jarring (since Venom is live action and the second end credits scene is not). Any cut of the film which excludes the goofy, Sony add on (and the annoying Eminem rap song played before it) would markedly elevate the aesthetic cohesion of the film.