Synopsis – When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.
My Take – It’s a basic formula for every super hero to succeed – there has to be an equally strong (physically or mentally) arch nemesis, in the sense Superman has Lex Luthor, Batman has Joker, the Fantastic Four have Doctor Doom, Captain America has Red Skull, likewise Spider-Man, a personal favorite of many, has Venom. While Sony, who owns the rights to the Marvel character, initially introduced/shoehorned the well-known alien symbiote as one of the antagonists in director Sam Raimi‘s ‘Spider-Man 3‘ back in 2007 to negative effect, the success of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and Tom Holland’s winsome turn as Peter Parker, coupled with the ever-growing thirst for anything Marvel related, has deluded Sony to turn once again towards the popular yet fearsome character for his own self-titled film.
Now having seen the film, I can appreciate what a thankless task the studio set for itself. Take one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes and then decouple him from Spider-Man entirely. Rework the origin story to stand on its own. Take an R-rated character, and make him PG-13. And then, of all things, make him kind of a hero? It’s not really kid-friendly, or comics fan-friendly either. So, what is it, then? Well simply said, it’s kind of disappointing. Sure, it’s not devoid of entertainment and sometimes the humor hits sweet spot, but the jarring tonal shift, clumsy plot line and heavy reliance on CGI are eerie reminisces of less sophisticated super hero film from early 2000s.
However, what surprising is that it is actually tough to despise the film as much of what Tom Hardy is doing is nonetheless entertaining, and if you are ready to set aside all the expectations and baggage of what you think a this film should be, you just might be surprised by how much you enjoy just what this film is.
Loosely inspired by David Michelinie’s 1993 mini-series Venom: Lethal Protector, the story follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative reporter, who also hosts his own news show in San Francisco. Fighting the good fight by taking on the corrupt individuals of the city, Eddie has all going for him including a lovable fiancée in Anne (Michelle Williams), a corporate lawyer. However, his life comes spiraling down when he sets his eyes on one of Anne’s clients, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the slimy CEO of the Life Foundation, who has been rumored to be involved in human experimentation for some time now. And when Eddie interrogates him on camera revolving his practices, an offended Carlton uses his power to get Eddie fired. Eddie also gets dumped by Anne, as it was her laptop Eddie used to get his classified information on the scientist.
Months later, ruined and penniless, Eddie sees a shot at redemption when Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), an employee at Life Foundation confirms Eddie’s story. But the thing is Drake isn’t testing a medical miracle, but a fusion of man and symbiote, a mysterious, gloppy alien that crash-landed to Earth on one of his company’s space expeditions, all with the hope to evolve our species before global warming eradicates us all. While Eddie manages to break into the lab to get his required proof, he comes out of the lab accidentally merged with the black symbiote. Initially confused about the voices in his head and his deteriorating health, Eddie realizes that he must coexist with this foul-mouthed, snarky, hungry creature before it decides to murder him and use his new found abilities to save the planet from Drake’s plans.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), who knows how to pull off a mix of tones, the film is more of throwback to comic book film in a lot of ways — rooted in those pre-MCU days, when it was enough to take a comic book character and throw him on screen, in the midst of some very creative action set pieces, and let the silliness abound. They didn’t have to be faithful to any comic arcs. They could be “inspired by” the source material in the loosest sense of the term — remixing rather than recreating the original elements. The opening act of the film returns viewers to the early 2000s era of grounded superhero origin stories and diabolical, comic-book-but-not-too-comic-book plots that spend way too much time in underground laboratory sets. There’s no graphic treatment or stylistic twist that gives it the cinematic oomph of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or Ang Lee’s Hulk or any form of painstaking exposition of a complicated backstory. And rated a cool PG-13, the film foregoes pushing the gore buttons to even indulge the blood thirstiest action fans.
As a matter of fact, the film itself is fun to watch overall. When it gets going, it gets going. While it is so damn flawed, which I will get to in a moment, there are genuine laughs that will come out of you, whether the scene is intentionally funny or not. The film is at its best when director Fleischer loosens up and unfurls the film’s true nature: a twisted rom-com between Brock and the rude symbiote that’s attached itself to him. Yes, surprisingly the film’s most intriguing relationship is that between Brock and Venom—because it’s the one that the film bothers tying a logical bow around. The film’s strongest elements involve Brock and Venom getting to know each other via a sort of prolonged, difficult internal courtship. Even though their symbiotic relationship may ultimately be, as in nature, mutually beneficial, the film makes clear that such relationships are not always easy. The film is so terminally juvenile and inappropriate that it brings you to a point where you can’t tell if you’re laughing at it or with the profane symbiote torturing our protagonist.
At first there’s a struggle as Brock has to curb Venom’s carnal urge for human body parts while Venom has to deal with Brock’s stubborn human morality. But they eventually learn what drives each other insane, what hurts their feelings, and what warms their souls. It all adds up to a twisted, weird, but ultimately sweet sort-of romance that wouldn’t work without Hardy’s commitment to a specific brand of silly, clunky physical comedy. Without a doubt, the moment we finally get to see our titular character on screen, he looks fantastic. The inner thirteen-year-old in me literally had a blast watching him literally bite the head off of people.
The CGI was cool and the design of the character appears like it was lifted directly from the comic-book pages. The film also has at least two winning sequences for me that have explosions, choreographed take downs of extras, and some sweet utilization of CGI to bring out Venom’s fluid, whip like movements to bare. It’s not the most dynamic, but it is miles above his first appearance back in the 2007 film. However, despite the hints and promises, the story department never hit the dark aspect that this antihero demands. Other than being just formulaic and rushed together, it takes shortcuts by skipping over a lot of build-up, character, and plot development just to get to the comedy. There is not a single innovative idea in the entire film. There was a cookie cutter villain, a predictable love triangle, and a cliché plot conflict.
The entire plot progression just felt forced. There just wasn’t anything compelling in the story that made me get involved with the story. One of the biggest problems of the film is it doesn’t know what it wants to be. The film blends together romance, gory action, and the comedy together but never really finds its voice. The film felt disjointed with the comedy completely out of place for the tone of the film. Not every superhero film needs to try to add humor. The poor humor and romance subplot also slowed down the dark violent action that should have been the centerpiece of the Venom film. There is no reason this film should not have been rated R.
Another major issue is the overall climax. As seen in the recent trailers, there are multiple symbiotes with varying agendas. This aspect is never fully explored and the film rushes past this to get to the action, which (unfortunately) falters during the climax. Most importantly, the editing in this film is completely choppy, especially during the symbiote fight at the end. The camera is too close to the characters fighting that it’s hard to tell who’s who sometimes. Every action sequence prior was done so well that the climax ultimately was a huge let-down.
While this film is without a doubt, an unbalanced, desperate attempt to kick off a universe nobody asked for other than the studio that stupidly screwed up way too many times, it’s in line with the absurd, shot-from-the-waist instincts of Tom Hardy’s performance. Yes, whatever element works here can be credited to Hardy, who displays the reluctant anti-hero so dysfunctionally well. His gesture, slight twitch and banter with the alien invader are a blast. Hardy is certainly the leading component of his film. His ability to play an awkward, down on his luck, vigilante reporter is quite spot on, as well as the uncanny ability to play a crazy person as well. It came off naturally, held good chemistry with the rest of the crew, and certainly was entertaining to watch him interact with a digital, altered voice of Venom.
I’ve said it before, but Hardy‘s ability to play any type of role continues to be present in his acting. The material he was working with may not have been the best but he still delivered it well. He was all around a likeable protagonist worth rooting for. Michelle Williams portrays a likable cheesy ex-fiancée, who is given leeway to be equal parts supportive, skeptical, and badass while dealing with her split-personality ex. Jenny Slate also does a better job with the material she has despite having minor screen-time. However, Riz Ahmed ends up being yet another generic villain with an agenda that is never made clear. Ahmed has proven himself a great actor, but here he is so over-the-top. In smaller roles, Reid Scott, Ron Cephas Jones, and Scott Haze are alright, while Woody Harrelson scores in his excellent cameo. On the whole, ‘Venom’ is a fun yet forgettable popcorn flick led down by its imbalanced tone and poorly-written script, with Hardy’s performance being a sole savior.
Directed – Ruben Fleischer
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 112 minutes