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Venom Review

October 6, 2018 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
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Venom Review  

Directed By: Ruben Fleischer
Written By: Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel and Will Beall; Based on the Marvel comics and characters created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie
Runtime: 112 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Tom Hardy – Eddie Brock/Venom
Michelle Williams – Anne Weying
Riz Ahmed – Carlton Drake / Riot
Jenny Slate – Dr. Dora Skirth
Reid Scott – Dr. Dan Lewis
Scott Haze – Roland Treece
Peggy Lu – Mrs. Chen
Ron Cephas Jones – Eddie’s Boss
Melora Walters – Maria

The execs at Sony Pictures and Avi Arad finally have their long-awaited, highly coveted Venom movie. However, instead of a golden goose, the final product is more like a stale potato chip. Just like in the comics, Venom is a character who has never really worked all that well on his own. Unfortunately, celebrated actor Tom Hardy and a talented director such as Ruben Fleischer are unable to overcome that obstacle.

In a standalone movie that appears to have no relation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the extraterrestrial symbiotes arrive on Earth in a remarkably similar fashion to the 1990s animated Spider-Man television series. Except this time, there’s no friendly neighborhood wall-crawler in sight. The symbiotes are slimy, sentient organisms that came from an interstellar comet, and they are in high demand for Life Foundation magnate, Carlton Drake (Ahmed) — a proxy for Elon Musk with a God complex. After the Life Foundation’s spacecraft with the symbiotes crash lands in Malaysia, one of the creatures escapes by jumping from hapless victim to victim, and one of them has a name that makes this film’s connection to the Spider-Man family rather confusing. Drake’s cronies get the other specimens and return them to his lab in San Francisco, which is also the home of ace investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy).

Eddie Brock is apparently an outstanding example of his field and has been granted an exclusive interview with Drake on his interstellar exploration efforts. While Brock’s bosses order him to softball Drake, Brock wants to expose Drake as the dirty fraud that he is. He even goes so far as violating the trust of his fiancee, Anne (Williams), who is a lawyer for the firm who represents Drake and his company, by reading her confidential legal documents. Brock’s ambush interview attempt goes off about as well as a superhero snapping a super-villain’s neck, and he basically loses everything as a result. His career goes down the toilet. Anne subsequently dumps Eddie, and no other news outfit will so much as sniff him.

Meanwhile, the Life Foundation under Drake’s orders starts conducting human trials with the symbiotes by exposing them to homeless people. Eventually, one of the project’s lead scientists, Dr. Skirth (Slate), grows a conscious and opts to blow the whistle by informing Brock, and a clandestine break-in of the lab leads Eddie to become inexplicably bonded with one of the alien symbiotes, which goes by the self-proclaimed name of Venom.

The symbiotes are in search of the perfect host to bond with, and it appears Venom has found the ideal match in Brock. The alien organisms seem to have an ulterior motive and plan of their own, and Drake wants his specimen back. Eddie tries to cope with his new existence playing host to a violent, aggressive alien parasite. On top of that, the symbiote that escaped from the crash site, Riot, is seeking to return to San Francisco, and it does not have positive designs for planet Earth.

The first half of the movie follows the basic superhero movie origin story template without many deviations, and that makes events rather boring. The plot definitely picks up after Brock acquires the symbiote, whens Venom starts asserting its personality and intentions toward Brock. The interactions between Eddie and the symbiote are entertaining, but the symbiote’s character arc is incredibly clunky.

Unfortunately, what really hurts the movie is the second act is completely rushed. The Venom symbiote character is basically first introduced, and it comes off as a rather malevolent, violent creature. Then, on what appears to be a complete and total whim, the creature decides its going to be a good guy and is the symbiote with a heart of gold who wants to save the planet. This sudden turn for the character is rushed and doesn’t jive with any of what took place in the first half. There’s some minor lip service about the symbiote empathizing with Brock, but comes off in a very disingenuous manner.

Additionally, the Riot symbiote is given this contrived globe-trotting subplot that’s artificially prolonged and makes no sense. Admittedly, the idea of such a creature getting out into the world should be terrifying, but the symbiote’s final destination makes this whole subplot utterly pointless.

In the Marvel comics, Venom always worked best as the anti-Spider-Man. Venom worked best as a villain. He was the dark shadow to Spider-Man. Both Venom and Eddie Brock collectively embodied the dark side of Spider-Man and what could happen if Spider-Man embraced violence as strength and saw compassion as weakness. Unfortunately, the strengths of the character were ones that director Sam Raimi never really liked or understood.

Venom is flawed because it wants to embrace Venom being the good guy when that idea doesn’t work. What could’ve made this film really interesting was to embrace the darker aspects of the Venom character. Instead, it’s more or less a run-of-the-mill superhero origin story, but with Venom as the main character. Sure, the Deadpool movie hit a lot of similar notes as an origin story, but Ryan Reynolds’ amazing performance coupled with the more outrageous content allowed that movie to play around with the genre, experiment and provide audiences with a type of comic book film experience they hadn’t really seen before. Venom has to mostly play it safe, even though there are still hints of what this movie could’ve been.

Tom Hardy is a talented actor, and the scenes where he’s dealing with Venom becoming a part of his brain are mostly played for humor rather than the potential terror or Cronenberg-esque body horror of having a murderous, malevolent alien bonding with him both mentally and physically. To the movie’s credit, many parts of the Brock and Venom interaction are amusing and provide some of the movie’s stronger moments. The movie is at it’s most fun when Venom is truly unleashed. Unfortunately, there’s not much else to really anchor the film other than full-blown Venom looking cool and providing some exciting action moments onscreen. The fully realized Venom is impressive and makes for a more satisfying design and appearance than the much-maligned Sam Raimi version in Spider-Man 3.

Eddie Brock/Venom doesn’t even rank in the top 10 performances on Hardy’s resume, but it’s a decent performance where he at least appears to be trying. Riz Ahmed is basically the dime-a-dozen corporate suit comic book villain, aside from the Elon Musk variations.

The four screenwriters and Ruben Fleischer are able to put together some strong action scenes, but the second act is where the story falls apart. Venom is only about 112 minutes long, and a sizable chunk of that length is the closing credits. Large swaths of the second act, possibly showing more of Venom’s development or Brock swaying it to humanity’s side, appear to have been gutted from the runtime.

Fans of the character might be satisfied to finally see some semblance of their favorite character finally make it to the big screen. That could very well be enough to get them into a theater.

Due to the character’s popularity in the 1990s, Venom was eventually transitioned into becoming an antihero and then basically a full-on superhero for Marvel Comics. However, that turning point is when the Venom character went into decline and started losing his way. Venom is no hero. He doesn’t work as a hero. The Venom movie fails to prove otherwise.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Venom...has its moments. It's not the dumpster fire of the caliber of say Catwoman or The Predator. Tom Hardy gets to play around a bit as both Eddie Brock and Venom. Seeing Venom onscreen does look cool at times. The movie's major failings are its weak script and questionable editing, with a rushed and likely gutted second act. Imagine Lilo and Stitch, but without Stitch's growth and development as a character. That's sort of how the symbiote works in this film. A Venom origin story without Spider-Man doesn't really have a good reason to exist.