Blu-ray Review: Venom

Right out of the gate there was really nowhere to go but up for Venom as far as his appearances on the silver screen are concerned. It would’ve taken a massive misstep in story, visuals and acting choices to knock the character farther down the totem pole than it already was after being awkwardly crammed into 2007’s villain-packed Spider-Man 3; but luckily, this rebirth of the popular anti-hero checks off two of the above boxes, and two out of three ain’t bad.

Let’s start off on a positive note in that Venom is a fun movie. At almost two-hours long it’s a fast-paced flick that’s loaded with action, some solid laughs and has some amazing visuals. For some that’ll be enough, as it does succeed in making Venom a memorable beast of a presence on screen instead of the previous incarnation which I’m pretty sure everyone would like to forget. That said, the story lacks the depth that would have made the movie just as memorable, choosing to focus on explosions and combat over making audiences really care why any of it is happening.

Venom stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist who tends to put the search for the truth above his best interests when it comes to having a happy life. His stubbornness in this regard costs him his job and the love of his life, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), who breaks off their engagement after Brock uses private information found on her work computer to accuse Life Foundation CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) of wrongful deaths caused during human trials of his acclaimed life-saving drugs.

Six months later, with his life in shambles, Brock is pulled back into the game when a scientist from the Life Foundation finds him and tells him that he was right, and that Drake is killing people while trying to find a way to achieve symbiosis between humans and a trio of alien Symbiotes that Drake’s team recovered while in space. You see, Drake is a young realist, and he believes that our time on earth is coming to an end, so the next obvious step in evolution is to take to the stars. To do this, he’s spent countless millions to fund missions to space, and in doing so, he’s finally struck gold in the form of four Symbiote samples. The problem is, these Symbiotes can’t survive in an oxygen-rich environment without human hosts, and those hosts have to be perfect matches or else the Symbiote will reject them – and by reject, I mean painfully kill.

With the help of his scientist contact, Brock is taken to the lab where he’s quickly left alone in rather awkward fashion, only being told not to touch anything before the scientist runs off to distract a guard I’m not sure needed distracting. Needless to say, Brock touches something moments later after seeing his homeless friend, Maria, quarantined inside a glass cell. Alarms go off, the cell opens and Maria tackles Brock. We quickly see the Symbiote leave her body and enter his, and as Brock tries to escape the facility, he begins to hear a voice inside his head and realizes that he’s just a tad bit stronger and faster than he was when he first entered.

Now, the back and forth between Eddie and Venom (the name of the Symbiote that now shares his body) is actually quite fun more often than not. There are some genuinely funny moments between the two, and as Venom takes control of Brock’s actions, we’re treated to some awesome action sequences and visuals of the Symbiote in action. My biggest issue with the character is that everything just happens too fast for it to feel natural.

The true origin of the Symbiote comes from the Spider-Man comic world, where Spider-Man achieves symbiosis with it and has the black suit and has to keep it in check more. Now that’s something that Spider-Man 3 actually got right to an extent. But here, Venom is being kept separate from the MCU (at least for now) so there’s never any mention of Spider-Man or any MCU characters, and the new film origin of the Symbiote takes a bit from the “Venom: Lethal Protector” miniseries, and the “Planet of the Symbiotes” story arc.

There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, it would’ve been great to have been able to do this all properly with Hardy and Tom Holland battling it out in a Spider-Man sequel, where in the end Brock becomes the anti-hero that can go either way; however, that just wasn’t meant to be, so as far as origins of an anti-hero go, this one isn’t bad. It’s just that it’s too rushed. One minute Venom is talking about how the Symbiotes want to destroy earth and that’s why they’ve come, but soon after that he climbs a tall building, looks at San Francisco at night and says something along the lines of, “your planet isn’t entirely ugly,” and then decides that he’ll help Brock stop the Symbiotes. Eddie asks what changed his mind, and Venom responds, “You did, Eddie.”

See, now that’s the main issue with the story. At no point did I ever feel that the two were bonding on that level. Eddie isn’t a bad guy, but he doesn’t really do anything altruistic during their very brief time together that would all of a sudden make Venom turn on his entire species. Sure, Venom says he’s not that popular of a Symbiote back on his world, but that’s some pretty wishy-washy stuff right there. There’s no real reason why there couldn’t have been more to the character of Brock that makes him engaging to the audience for more reasons than “cheer for him because he’s the good guy.”

Marvel characters are full of depth and that’s why they’re so popular, as audiences can often relate with their struggles. They’re not black and white, as the best Marvel villains in the MCU so far have all been viewed in shades of grey where you can’t really argue against their reasoning – or at least you understand where they’re coming from. Venom feels much more black and white than he should for a character being pushed as an anti-hero. Although he looks cool and watching him battle it out is awesome, he feels quite generic in his cause and I don’t feel like anything was really learned by any character over the course of the film.

That all said, Venom is still an entertaining enough movie if you’re looking for some mindless action. That always sounds bad to write, like it’s an excuse for the movie, but it’s more of a positive shout out to the strengths of the movie on the visual and action front, while also pointing out that it’s just lacking any real depth that would require you to engage it on a philosophical or emotional level. Combining those two sides of the coin is what the MCU has almost perfected across the board, and while it’s not a part of that universe at the moment, here’s hoping that Venom 2 not only brings the carnage we’ve been promised, but also a more symbiotic relationship between the story and the action that surrounds it.

Venom looks great on Blu-ray, with a majority of the battle sequences taking place at night or in darker locations, the sharp picture transfer here works wonders and allows Venom – a black alien – to stand out cleanly against all backdrops with no muddy visuals anywhere on the screen. The CGI is abundant in the film, but it looks natural to its surroundings more often than not, which is a feat all superhero films look to achieve and don’t always do so successfully. The action moves fast, but it’s never hard to follow and the dark, tonal feel of the film comes through well on the visual front. The audio transfer is also really well handled, with Hardy voicing Venom as well, and interacting really well with the voice inside his head, which comes through nice and clear (so those who had issues with his Bane voice need not worry this time out!)

Special Features:

Venom is pretty packed with special features, and they even brought in Kevin Smith who gives some nice background information to the audience in a way that comes off a lot more friendly than it does sometimes when it’s producers trying to explain the world with their often limited knowledge of the deep history of these characters. I’d be 100% fine with Smith appearing on all superhero Blu-rays with his take on the film and character, but for now I’ll be happy that we have him here.

Venom Mode – So instead of a commentary track we instead get a pop-up video type of trivia bubble mode that you can play during the movie. Obviously this is something to throw on during a repeat viewing, as it’d be fairly distracting having this happen on your first watch; however, it’s a fun extra that gives some nice tidbits of knowledge about the character and references in the movie that even die-hard fans may have missed.

Deleted/Extended Scenes – Never been a fan of these, but I checked out the three here just to see if they added anything to the story. Usually not the case, but maybe for pacing I thought they’d cut something out that may have helped flesh a character or two out…but that’s not the case. The extended post-credit scene lets that surprise character be a bit more creepy for 30 seconds or so, but nothing of any substance to see here.

From Symbiote to Screen – This 20-minute feature talks about Venom, his origin, what they had to change when bringing him to life without Spider-Man, how he can be both a villain and a hero…it’s one of a few really solid special features that fans of the movie and/or character should definitely watch if they’ve picked up the Blu-ray.

The Anti-Hero – This feature lands at 10-minutes in length and talks about the character of Eddie Brock, and how he grew to become an anti-hero of sorts after starting out as a major Spider-Man villain. Again, it touches on some of the same notes as the feature above, but not really repeating information as much as delving further into a specific topic.

The Lethal Protector in Action – This is a nine-minute feature that looks at the stunt work in the film, with a pretty hefty look into the motorcycle chase scene and all that was involved in bringing the pivotal action sequence and Venom’s full reveal to life.

Venom Vision – This is a seven minute feature that looks at director Ruben Fleischer’s work behind the camera and what he brought to the film, and how he envisioned the story coming to life.

Designing Venom – This is a featurette that’s just over five minutes in length and talks about the design of the character, why he’s missing the iconic white spider on his chest this time out, and how they had so many versions of the character from various appearances in the comics to choose from when designing this Venom for the big screen.

Symbiote Secrets – This is an Easter Egg hunt, where they point out a number of Easter Eggs you may have missed when watching. If you’re a big fan, challenge yourself to look at the background, signs on buildings and such when watching the movie and then come watch this featurette and see how much you saw or missed.

Select Scenes Pre-Vis – This is a 14-minute feature of animated storyboards for eight scenes in the film. Always interesting for those who like this sort of thing to watch what was planned out before come to life on the screen alongside the drawings.

Music Videos – There are a few music videos here, with the main one being Venom by Eminem, which comes in at just under five minutes in length. There’s also Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Sneak Peek – There’s also a brief scene from the animated hit film at the end of the credits for those who may be interested. I’d recommend skipping it and just waiting for the film to come to Blu-ray and enjoy it in its entirety, but at least it’s an option to tide you over if you don’t mind the tease!

Sony Pictures Presents Venom. Directed by: Ruben Fleischer. Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel. Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Woody Harrelson. Running time: 112 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Jan. 8, 2019.

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