Review: Venom


Okay, let me get something out the way. There are Marvel movies then there are Marvel movies. What do I mean by that? Well one has a puppet master in producer Kevin Feige pulling the strings making a cinematic universe rival studios have tried to replicate and failed tremendously. The other side of Marvel movies is studios trying their darndest to hold onto properties with neither the foresight nor the vision to make them stand out. It’s the reason why Sony Pictures gave us two different Spider-Man franchises before Spider-Man: Homecoming (which was co-shepherded by Feige and incorporated into his cinematic universe). 20th Century Fox has played with X-Men so many times that sequels and spin-offs would try to correct previous mistakes and alter time lines.

The best exceptions to Marvel movies not overseen by Marvel Studios are Logan and Deadpool. Both broke away from the mold of what was expected of the superhero subgenre ditching teen-friendly PG-13 ratings for R, and giving the titular characters satisfactory closure or welcomed new beginnings.

And then there’s Venom, which has nothing to do with Spider-Man or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its existence seems to be assurance that Sony Pictures has at least one comic property where it retains a majority of control with the possibility of building a franchise.

When we last saw Venom he was pigeonholed as a secondary nemesis to Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. That was 2007, when Tobey Maguire was still our friendly neighborhood do-gooder – before Sony rebooted the character with Andrew Garfield (and then later with Tom Holland). Topher Grace was the investigative reporter Eddie Brock who came in contact with an alien symbiotic organism to become Venom.

For the reboot Tom Hardy steps into the role of Brock. Hardy is no stranger to comic books; he played Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Respected for his commitment to his roles, Hardy has proven to be a chameleon. A year after bulking up to break Batman’s back he was a rage of emotions behind the wheel in Locke. A few years later he almost delivered a wordless performance as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road. And he had us seeing double as the Kray twins in Legend.

Having worked with auteurs like Christopher Nolan and Nicolas Winding Refn we’d be lucky if Venom was under such capable or audacious hands. Instead Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame directs, and the product feels like it was made at a time when superhero movies were trying to find their niche in theaters after the success of Tim Burton’s Batman. The special effects are shoddy and the frenetic editing is used to sanitize Venom’s carnage and his penchant for eating the heads of his victims.

Venom‘s tag line “the world has enough superheroes” may be true, but if that’s your selling point for a movie about an anti-hero that eats heads like they were Tic Tacs and rating it PG-13 you should have seen the writing before it hit the wall. The movie is tone deaf, gravitating from comic book movie to slapstick comedy because of choices made in the editing room. Some of Venom’s one liners are amusing but oftentimes occur unexpectedly.

Here we have Eddie Brock, now living in San Francisco after getting the ax by The Daily Bugle in New York. This bit of exposition is the closest we have to a connection with Spider-Man as Peter Parker’s job is as a photographer for that paper. The intrepid reporter goes over the line when handling what should be a cookie-cutter profile on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), CEO of the Life Foundation, an outfit regarded for its advances in bio-engineering. Brock loses his job and his girl, Anne (Michelle Williams), who dumps him as he contributed to her firing from a law firm.

So Brock, Drake, and Anne. All that’s missing is Venom, the alien creature brought to earth, now chilling inside Drake’s labs – until one of the R&D doc’s develops a conscience and convinces Eddie to do a story on the human experiments being done at the Life Foundation. Eddie gets too close to the story and becomes the story when symbiosis occurs. Hello, Venom.

The interplay between Hardy struggling to control his body and not give in to the inner-thought desires of Venom (hungry for tater tots and chocolate?) are okay. Then things take a turn when Venom becomes a more tangible beast showing Eddie what he can do in the presence of armed henchmen inside his San Francisco rat trap apartment. The group has come to collect the specimen for Drake and are systematically devoured (some literally) before the action spills outside to an auto chase.

Working with Darren Aronofsky’s longtime cinematographer Matthew Libatique should have been a plus. But most of the action is at night and the image suffers. The chase through the streets of San Francisco should have been a set piece highlight but becomes convoluted with Venom’s black phlegm exterior. Just wait until the final battle between Brock and Drake – you know it’s going to happen. I was getting flashbacks to the special effects pornography of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies mixed with Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin.

Dumpster fire? Horrible mess? Trainwreck seems a most appropriate descriptor for Venom. Tom Hardy’s commitment to character is to be applauded but everything around him goes off the rails. Hardy has a physicality about him that makes him tough and timid, a perfect human specimen for Venom. The movie as a whole, though, is regrettably forgettable.

Stay through the credits and you’ll see a cameo of Venom’s next adversary, if a sequel ever manifests. No offense, Tom, but your madcap antics as Venom are cheeky at best. Ditch the madcap and get mad again. Mad Max style.

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