Dan's Review: Rushed "Venom" is sloppy, but fun
Oct 04, 2018 03:01PM
● By Dan Metcalf
Tom Hardy in Venom - © 2018 Sony/Columbia Pictures.
Venom (Sony Pictures/Columbia)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Michelle Lee, Woody Harrelson.
Written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel, based on the "Venom" comic books by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
The new age of “comic book” movies has been in full swing since 2002, when Sam Raimi released the first Spider-Man movie. Yes, there have been successful films based on comic heroes dating back to the first Superman film in 1978, but none of them developed into successful, sustainable franchises. Even Raimi overstayed his welcome by the time the atrocious Spider-Man 3 hit the streets with its strutting emo-Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) battling against the parasitic Venom (Topher Grace). Ironically, the very next year, Marvel stepped up its game with the release of Iron-Man, launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe and setting the standard for the comic book film industry. In the meantime, Sony has tried yet another (unsuccessful) reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, eventually conceding that the Marvel folks could do better by loaning out their most successful licensed superhero to the MCU (it’s working so far). That left Sony with no real comic book film material to work with – except Venom, an antihero character created by Todd MacFarlane and David Michelinie. I don’t know if the Sony folks just can’t help themselves, but we’re getting a Venom movie this week, regardless of their intentions.
Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a street-smart San Francisco journalist engaged to the lovely Anne (Michelle Williams), an up-and-coming attorney. When he interviews the unscrupulous Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a billionaire who dabbles in pharmaceuticals and space exploration, he asks too many questions and is fired for accusing Drake of using unethical testing methods on human subjects. Eddie’s actions also get Wendy fired, since her firm had been representing Drake’s “Life Foundation, a pseudo-philanthropic/science front for his evil deeds. Wendy breaks up with Eddie, who is forced to live in the slums of SF, looking for any work to keep food on his table. Circling back, it’s important to note that one of Drake’s spacecraft has crashed in Malaysia, carrying a few parasitic entities that get loose before his team can recover all of them. Drake uses the remaining parasites for human testing on unsuspecting homeless people in his lab. Drake’s leading scientist, Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate) begins to grow a conscience and contacts Eddie, hoping to stop her boss from killing any more people with his tests. Skirth helps Eddie sneak into the lab, where he is infected by one of the parasites. The parasite happens to be “Venom,” a tar-like being that transforms into a larger-than-life humanoid monster that surrounds Eddie and takes over his host body whenever threatened. Venom and Eddie develop an ongoing dialogue, with Venom adhering to monstrous animal instincts (most notable being the urge to bite the heads off humans) and Eddie trying to temper those promptings. When Drake’s thugs come calling, Venom takes over in a series of intense chases and battles. Wendy and her new doctor/boyfriend Dan (Reid Scott) get involved, as Venom transfers to some unsuspecting hosts until being reunited with Eddie as he faces Drake in a final showdown. Drake, incidentally has become host to another more powerful parasitic entity, setting up the big boss battle finale.
Venom, while enjoyable as a mind-numbing, intense comic book action flick, has a fair amount of flaws. The biggest shortcomings are the story and dialogue, both of which feel rushed and missing any nuance. Another concern is the villain, another poorly drawn personality with no apparent motivation for being so darned evil; a placeholder that just – “is.” I have no doubt Riz Ahmed is a fine actor but his talents seem wasted on such a thinly conceived character.
One of the more glaring inconstancies of Venom its the tone in which a very R-rated character seems stuck in a PG-13 movie. There are several moments that infer some very grisly, violent actions by Venom and his kind, but they are filtered down into something that feels unauthentic.
The one bright spot for Venom is Hardy in the leading role. He has the charm and screen presence to pull it off, even when the rest of the film lacks much intelligence.
Also worth noting that Venom is set up as the launch of (yet) another comic book film franchise, with a post-credits scene intended to keep the story going. I suppose the possibility of Hardy continuing in the rile will depend on the success of the movie. Venom may resonate with audiences who are content with awesome special effects and substantial action or violence, but it probably won’t go down in history as a great film - or even a very good comic book film.