Review: Venom (2018)

Venom needs a detox.

The filmmakers of Venom and I share something in common: We both don’t understand Venom. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 12.59.17 AM
Credit: joblo.com / Sony Pictures Releasing

What is this supposed to be? A movie about a hero who isn’t afraid to be a villain if that’s what gets the job done? A movie about a villain who rises to the occasion and does the right thing? Spoiler, it’s neither. Much like last year’s Justice League (2017), this movie is an unfortunate mess that doesn’t fully understand what it has going for it.

Venom is based on the eponymous Marvel Comics villain, an alien symbiote that bonds with down-on-his-luck journalist Eddie Brock and uses him as its human host. For hardcore fans, the character is best-known for its multiple appearances in Spider-Man comics as one of the web-slinger’s most notorious foes. For the common movie-goer, Venom is best-known for Topher Grace’s cuckoo-banana-puffs performance as the character in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (2007).

“Cuckoo-banana-puffs” is the running theme of this movie. It’s not quite as gritty and serious like the films set in the DC Extended Universe, and it’s not quite as colourful and fun like those set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. An uneven tone poses a problem, considering that Venom is meant to be the first in Sony’s new cinematic universe based on Marvel characters that haven’t yet been snatched up by the MCU. That’s right. Yet another cinematic universe to keep up with.

Sigh.

I’ve decided that I’m starting my own cinematic universe full of Meryl Streep movies where all the Meryl characters come together to form a team and fight crime. You’d watch that right? Donna from Mamma Mia! (2008) and Miranda from The Devil Wears Prada (2006) using songs and shade to battle the forces of evil? Yeah, sign me the fuck up. #Meryl-verse

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 10.36.20 PM
Credit: firenewsfeed.com / Universal Pictures / 20th Century Fox

The movie literally starts with the title card, “in association with Marvel,” so clearly the head honchos at Marvel Studios are like, “no, no, this is not us, this is some other nonsense. Don’t @ us on this.” I suppose it’s so audiences don’t get their hopes up, holding out for a scene where Captain America, Ant-Man, or Hulk’s cousin Barry show up.

Speaking of characters, Tom Hardy is the star of this movie in every sense of the word. More than anything, Hardy’s Venom reminds me of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad (2016): A brilliant stroke of casting that is a shining light in an otherwise tonally-confusing movie. Aside from playing the title character, he seems to be the only one with anything interesting to do, or whose actions matter. Honestly, half of the characters could have sat the movie out, because everything they do either has no meaning, or is something Eddie Brock could have done himself. It really is a tragic waste of fantastic actresses like the hilarious Jenny Slate, and the incomparable Michelle Williams.

Both women are criminally underused, and it makes me question why the movie bothered to cast such versatile actresses, if they weren’t going to be given anything of substance to do. Side note, I read that Michelle Williams took this role partly because she wanted to work with Tom Hardy, and partly because the big-budget paycheque would go towards her retirement, and her child’s college tuition. What a financially-conscious queen. Michelle Williams plays Anne Weying, a lawyer and Eddie Brock’s love interest. She does great with the sparse material she’s given, but I would have loved to see much more of her. In terms of her and Eddie’s relationship, I quickly became, “Team Anne.” She always presents herself as resourceful, fearless, and cool, dressed in bomb pant suits, while he dresses like a crappy bartender. Whenever they were together, I felt like screaming at the screen, “he doesn’t deserve you Anne!”

Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 12.39.15 AM
Credit: looper.com / Sony Pictures Releasing

Yet another poorly-conceived character was the main antagonist, Carlton Drake, played by Riz Ahmed. The CEO of a scientific research organization known as the Life Foundation, the villain of this story is less of a fully-realized character and more of a loose collection of villainous tropes: He’s angry with humans for the way they treat the planet, he has radical ideas that could kill half of the world’s population, and consistently monologues about his half-baked plans. Riz Ahmed is a talented actor, but for this role he needed to be way more creepy and intense, traits that he never seems quite capable of pulling off in this movie. The traits he does does pull off are whiny and rich, bringing to mind James Franco’s characterization of Harry Osborn in the original Spider-Man trilogy (2002 – 2007). Oh my God, I’m having a revelation: Tonally, this movie feels like what the unrealized third entry in The Amazing Spider-Man series (2012 – 2014) would have been. By the way, by myself, I have made more references to Spider-Man than this nearly two-hour movie does. Someone had to do it.

Despite the overall unevenness of the movie, there actually are a couple of strong sequences full of action and intrigue, specifically the opening scene, and a car chase later on. I suppose that’s not saying much though because let’s face it, when has a car chase ever not been cool? While the movie isn’t necessarily bad, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s particularly good. It’s almost exactly what I expected to be: a loud, disjointed, mess, that ultimately has nothing new or fresh to add to the superhero genre. Honestly, you know what would have fixed the entire movie? If it were made as a dark comedy. Let me elaborate.

The best parts of this movie are the flashes of energy that Tom Hardy brings to the screen as he plays the duality of the helpless Eddie Brock, and the chaotic Venom. Their relationship is troubling, thrilling, and at times, hilarious. It’s really entertaining to watch, but the movie always pushes aside that interesting dynamic for something nonsensical or yet another round of gunfire. Here’s how the movie could be drastically improved:

Step 1. Make it a dark comedy. Think of what an asset Jenny Slate would be!

Step 2. Have Tom Hardy be the sole actor, or cut the rest of the cast’s screen time in half.

Step 3. Have Tom Hardy, who is brimming with charisma, explore the complex morality of good and evil, as he, an everyday man, is possessed by a vicious alien who craves human flesh.

Step 4. Add in generous amounts of gripping action and subtle, macabre, humour.

As 2019 quickly approaches, it remains clear that the trend of shared-universe comic book movies shows no signs of stopping. However, with the financial success of Suicide Squad, and the highly-anticipated release of Joker (2019), it would appear that movies unburdened by heroes and instead focusing on the villains is the new trend within the trend. I’m not mad at it, in fact, I encourage it. All I’m asking is that these movies have the daring and the insight to give audiences want they want and embrace the darkness, and grim humour that these flawed characters have a history of showing.

Venom is not the worst, not by a long shot. A fair assessment is that it’s good from far, but far from good. If you’re interested enough in seeing it, do yourself a favour and go on Tuesday when ticket prices are cheap, and spend the extra money on a huge bag of popcorn. Turn your brain off and enjoy the multiple explosions, tolerable CGI, and a finale that the movie just stumbles its way into. Seriously, blink, and you’ll be like, “wait, we’re already at the finale? when did this happen, how did we get here?”

Oh, and just like the cinematic universes that came before it, Venom continues the tradition of including a scene that sets up the inevitable sequel in the middle of the credits. I really wish that would die already.

What did you think of Venom? Are you interested in Sony’s Marvel Universe? Most importantly, who would you like to see in the #Meryl-verse?

Let me know in the comments, or reach out on social media!

 

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