Comic book movies have been big business this year. Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 are all among the highest grossing films of the year. It’s not surprising therefore that Sony is looking to continue the trend of big comic book hits by making a movie about one of Spiderman’s greatest villains, the alien symbiote, Venom.
Combining the reliability of the Marvel brand with the super anti-heroics of films like Deadpool and Suicide Squad and the box office draw of Tom Hardy. Will this version of Venom be a success or will we all be left pining for the days of Spiderman 3? Let’s look.
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a reporter with a conscience, always wanting to find the truth. He has a fiancé, Anne (Michelle Williams), a weekly TV show and even a cute cat. But when he asks the head of the life corporation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the wrong questions he loses everything. A few months later, a scientist from the life corporation comes to him to help expose what Carlton Drake has been doing. But when Eddie enters Drake’s facility, he finds that Drake has been using people as hosts for alien symbiotes, brought back from a life corporation space mission. During the ensuing scuffle, Eddie ends up as host to one of the symbiotes. The symbiote, known as Venom, then uses his body to escape and fight off anyone who opposes him.
What did I like?
Venom has received a lot of bad press but not all of it is deserved. For one thing, many of the actors do a fine job. Tom Hardy holds himself well with what the script asks of him, and his accent is not as off-putting as some people feared it would be. And as Venom he manages to steal the show from under himself as he gives the frightening goliath a good sense of dark comedic timing combined with surprisingly good self-chemistry. Riz Ahmed also continues to impress. His character is not afforded any depth, but he plays his role to the hilt and infuses a lot of gravitas into his scenes.
The action scenes and the effects are also quite well done. The symbiotes natural forms are very gooey and suitably gross and when Venom reveals himself, he is just as imposing and intimidating as fans of the comics would want him to be. The action scenes are also suitably energetic. The motorcycle chase in the middle of the film and the final showdown has some imaginative touches regarding what the symbiotes can do.
And the film works ok as a standalone. Despite the connection to Spiderman being a big part of the character’s history, the screenwriters have fashioned a plot that makes Venom a separate entity from his comic origins. While still showcasing Venom’s trademarks including body morphing, weakness to sounds and his emotional connection to his host. Unfortunately, the negatives of the film outweigh everything else.
What needed improvement?
Hardy said 30-40 minutes of material were cut and it really feels like it. The film’s editing is awful. Some scenes lack any clear payoff. For example, when Eddie is on an island surrounded by guards, hiding up a tree, we transition to a new scene, with no indication of what happened. The film’s pacing also suffers because of the editing. Several scenes race by barely elaborated on, the spaceship opening, and the final villain reveal highlight this offence. Then the brakes are applied for lengthy character discussions and comedic scenes. Which could be forgiven, but many of the characters have no personality.
The actors do their best, but the script gives them nothing to work with. Every character is a blank archetype. Eddie Brock is a boring cardboard cut-out who drones on about doing the right thing but never grows as a person. Aside from learning to be ok with eating people, which he takes to surprisingly quickly. Carlton Drake is a cartoon villain, but the worst offender is Michelle William’s character. Whose only function in the plot is to serve Eddie’s story. A lack of romantic chemistry between the two leads also hurts the proceedings. Even Venom, as fun as he is, has little to no motivation for the things he does. This is not helped by dialogue that comes free with any version of Microsoft Word.
There are other points of annoyance too. The music is flavourless and forgettable. The lack of blood is disappointing for a 15 rated character-driven comic book film. Especially in the wake of Logan. And a lot of the comedy is too broad to make an impact.
The Big Problem
What ultimately condemns Venom is that it does not know what it wants to be. Is it a violent comic book anti-hero movie like Deadpool or Suicide Squad? No. Those movies had characters with big personalities and facets that made you feel for them despite their questionable actions. Venom is boring, glum and populated with stereotypes. Is it trying to be a faithful adaptation of the comic? Potentially. But Spiderman’s absence and the watered down violence will not please hardcore comic fans and the lack of explanation for his powers in this universe and the general ineptitude of the rest of the film will alienate non-fans. Is it just trying to entertain? Maybe. But in an age, where comic book movies have showcased more imaginative and complex stories and have become more than just entertaining distractions, the viewing public deserves better.
Venom is a great disappointment that wastes its talented stars and potential for an interesting, violent, character-driven storyline. The script is rampant with clichés, stock characters and boring dialogue. Which is not helped by the final product having been edited with a meat cleaver and a lack of understanding about its target audience. If you want a well-acted popcorn film then there are much better films out there.
Verdict: (1 / 5)