Running Time: 112 minutes
Written by: Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, and Kelly Marcel
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Featuring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, and Reid Scott
Dr. Carlton Drake: “Look around at the world. What do you see? A planet on the brink of collapse. Human beings are disposable. But man and symbiote combined, this is a new race, a new species… a higher lifeform.”
The new Marvel branded movie “Venom” (2018) opens this week in cinemas everywhere, it is a mix of horror, thriller, action and comic book movie that arrives after a slew of great examples of the genre in this year alone, such as “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Black Panther” (2018). To say that expectations have been set low for this movie is an understatement. As soon as the movie was announced by Sony there was confusion among fans about what this movie would be and what it would link to, as well as would it be a part of something greater, especially with all the success of the rebooted Spider-Man in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) that linked directly to the Disney branded MCU. It became obvious pretty quick that this new movie was going to be its own thing with Sony hoping to create their own 100% owned Marvel spinoff which initially was going to be started after the earlier Spider-Man movies, however they ended up failing commercially and being rejected by critics and fans alike. However, after early trailers for “Venom” failed to inspire anybody it became apparent that this was not going to be a great movie especially after the rumored R-rating was reduced to a PG-13 shaving any hard edges off, making the movie more suitable for children than adults. The questions is how has “Venom” landed, especially after realising this is a movie that has been made by committee, so much so that this more than other similar movies has visible cracks throughout it. The answer as is usual is more complicated than it might seem, it is actually not a bad movie in the strictest sense, in fact it is mostly enjoyable but the reasons for that enjoyment come down to a mixture of subject, actors, story and director, with nothing hitting 100% of the time.
“Venom” is directed by Ruben Fleischer who made a name for himself when he emerged with the zombie comedy/horror hit “Zombieland” (2009) that proved the zombie genre was not dead, not only that but there was more than one way to approach a genre. Unfortunately from there Fleischer’s success as a director has been extremely limited so it was with some mixed feeling when he was announced as the director of “Venom”, but in the same breath it appeared that it was going to be R-rated which seemed to suit the director down to the ground. While I have no doubt that Fleischer is a director that can put a scene together his story telling as well as the ability to create a logical narrative are elements that I think he lacks which is evident in all his movies. This is something that is present in “Venom” whether or not audiences think this should have been a PG-13 or R-rated movie. One of the reasons that “Zombieland” was such a success is that there was little or no real plot, it was a road movie that linked nine or ten separate segments but had no arc and did not need one. My personal opinion is once Fleischer learns how to create a movie that has a beginning, middle and end with a coherent narrative he will be an excellent director of not only genre movies but all kinds.
“Venom” is based around journalist Eddie Brock who following a scandal attempts to revive his career by investigating the Life Foundation, but comes into contact with an alien symbiote that bonds with Brock, giving him superpowers as long as they share the same body.
“Venom” has been played before by Topher Grace who was a little closer to the comic book character, here Sony have recast the character with Tom Hardy who has proved himself an extremely capable character actor in many movies, with a fondness for Christopher Nolan films in particular where he has excelled, this is the first time he has carried a movie for the entire running time. What I enjoyed was that this Eddie Brock is almost a fully formed person that lives in a real world where there are consequences for his actions, even though he is portrayed as a martyr, almost as the symbiote calls him, a loser. Hardy does incredibly well to stay the course even while the movie itself threatens to run of the rails as well as performing around some uninspired special effects, its pretty easy to see that it is a stunt man in the bike chase featured in the trailers for example. There are also two supporting characters both doing different things as well as serving different purposes in Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed who both do a great job as they have learnt the secret of being in a comic movie, they know they are in a comic movie, like Hardy, and so acquit themselves very well. It’s been said that actors who make these kind of movies are challenged by acting in front of nothing where CGI will be filled in later, but it is a disservice to good actors when their performances are met by, what is in this movie, some really subpar CGI that should have been better, if I were watching this later as an actor I would frankly be disappointed.
“Venom” is a spinoff from the main ‘Spider-Man’ franchise although that character does not make an appearance here there is no doubt that the original DNA of Venom comes from him. This is supposed to be an origin story of Eddie Brock/Venom, for most of the run time this plays out like any other comic book origin story that audiences are by now familiar with but the issues in it lie in the obvious restructuring as well as narrative that jumps around for seemingly no reason at times leaving the audience a little bewildered. The issues really stem from two elements, that is that there were some behind the scenes meddling that meant some parts have been left out as well and reshot, the other is something that has a direct effect in the tone and what is seen onscreen. This is the fact that Venom in his comic book origin was a villain that was murderous as well as full of rage which has been watered down to make him not only more of a palatable hero but more appealing to young audiences with some of his original motivations left over, like his need for eating living beings head first for no real reason which is an abrupt tonal shift much like the mixed narrative. What is baffling is that this entire aspect of Venom could have been cut out completely without any consequence at all and made it immediately appealing for families. This leads to another aspect of the movie which is the violence without consequence which is something that exists in all comic book as well as action movies where people are thrown around like plastic toys but get up or survive without injury which has to be a negative for families especially if young people identify with these heroes and anti-heroes.
In saying all of that “Venom” the movie is possibly receiving too much of a hard time from critics as its not an entirely bad movie, it is nowhere close to the best comic book movies but it does hold together for its running time which is more than can be said for many really bad adaptations. What works is the casting from Tom Hardy down as well as some of the humour which works as intended, the actual origin of the character of Venom is a little non-sensical, as is the narrative that attempts to hold the plot together which is a shame but to be expected. What will be interesting to see is if there is a sequel will it be better than this, I hope so. The first thing that needs to happen is to tighten up who Venom is going to be moving forward, how he will operate in this new world and if there will be a compelling story to get audiences interested. If you are looking for a fun, brainless night out then you could do far worse than this, it is an action movie that has a long lead in time to try and establish its humans before it turns to its genre roots which is a throwback to its early 2000s counterparts.
“Venom” is out now only in cinemas.