Sometimes it is hard to get through a movie when the primary thought going into it is, "Why is this a thing?" Sony's insistence on creating a series of films based on Spider-man's rogues gallery is, well, strange to say the least. Venom makes for an especially odd choice to kick things off. For starters, he's not that interesting of a comic character to begin with (most '90s characters aren't). And then, of course, there is the fact that what made Venom even mildly entertaining was his connection to Spider-man.
With that in mind, Venom was always going to be a tough sell. And, with the final product now available, it is certainly a mixed bag. Sony doesn't exactly have a great track record on Spider-man films (their last four have been various degrees of less-than-good, although I accept that many people did seem to like Homecoming). Mix in the reports about how the studio allegedly cut Tom Hardy's favorite 30-minutes of the film, and it already sounds like yet another notch in Sony's belt of interfering with the process to the movie's detriment (a la Spider-man 3).
Thing is: Venom is such a middle of the road, highly forgettable film that it's barely worth talking about at any length. It is neither good enough to suggest people go out and spend money on it, nor is it bad enough to recommend as a surreal experience to postulate what must have happened in production (see 2015 Fantastic Four). There is nothing truly awful present, but there isn't anything genuinely incredible either.
The big issue plaguing it, however, is just how long it takes to bond Venom with Tom Hardy. Despite his strange speaking patterns, Hardy's performance is weirdly entertaining and engaging. He goes all in and it is a joy to watch. To its credit, the film becomes shockingly enjoyable when the two actually are connected and learning to live symbiotically - something that never actually gets established throughout the film, even though it "pays off" in the end. Hardy's Eddie Brock acting against himself is great fun, and the back-and-forth with the voice in his head is often humorous. In many ways, it actually works pretty well!
Unfortunately, these sequences are book-ended by a first and third act that are both incredible slogs. There's a horror element in the first that could use a lot more attention, as it has a bit of an Invasion of the Body-Snatchers vibe that could have been more interesting if given attention. Otherwise, it's just another slow, boring comic book origin story. These are a dime-a-dozen at this point. Riz Ahmed does what he can as an Elon Musk-esque villain, but similarly doesn't get enough time. Largely, he just sits in his lab being stereotypical in his menacing behavior.
For the finale, we are treated to yet another in a growing list of CGI fights between hard-to-distinguish characters. It was shades of Incredible Hulk in that it was just a Venom fighting another Venom, but neither creature was identifiable enough to stand out in all of the action. Setting it all at night and with shaky camera work might mask the CGI edges, but conversely makes it nearly impossible to actually see what is going on.
There is a shockingly solid film somewhere in here, though, but much depends on what ultimately was cut. The thing about Venom is that, being a villain, he doesn't really have much of a rogues gallery. He is part of a rogues gallery! Outside of Carnage, there isn't really anyone interesting for him to do battle with. What should have been done is get Brock and the symbiote connected substantially earlier in the film, and had them interact more to find the other loose aliens. The bulk of the film should have been about Brock and Venom's relationship, that way it makes sense and means something when Venom decides in the end that he likes Earth. Instead, we are meant to care more about Brock and Anne's relationship (played by an insanely under-utilized Michelle Williams), which goes literally nowhere. In fact, it would have made less sense and been fundamentally more problematic if the two wound up back together at the end, given that Brock did use her for his own gain and that she had found a nice, stable, healthy relationship with her new doctor boyfriend Dan.
Additionally, the strength of the film is absolutely Hardy's performance. He absolutely carried the parts with just him and Venom, to the point where just that for two hours would have been infinitely better. In every way possible, there needed to be more of that, and less of the other paint-by-numbers elements.
They'll greenlight a sequel because it made enough money, but there really just isn't enough there to justify it from a creative standpoint.
Reductive Rating: Ehhhhh.