VENOM IS A WHOLE LOTTA FUN. LET IT BOND WITH YOU IF YOU FEEL SO INCLINED. STOP APOLOGISING. ENJOY IT!
Think a 1990s throwback mashup between SPECIES and THE MASK. Add hints of 1950s sci-fi paranoia meets paranormal exploitation flicks. A dash of 1980s body-horror / body swap fun (American Warewolf in London, BIG). LOTS of CGI sugar-rush video-game like action. Mix with TOM HARDY, a MARVEL super-brand comic book property but some degree of independent zest within a franchise mentality, some scenic shots of San Francisco and a lovely leading lady and..boom! There you have it. VENOM!
A comic book super-hero flick need not provide a didactic lecture on jurisprudence or ponder civics and the meaning of life. You don’t HAVE to dwell on a death of a supporting or indeed lead character for three hours. It is ok to just provide a simplistic, bombastic, visual treat and thereby appeal to every adolescent’s imaginations, as well as to those entrusted with being ‘grown ups’. VENOM does just that.
There are no pondering, pretentious monologues here. Zero pandering to political correctness. It’s a refreshing CHANGE to the comic book sub-genre. And that is apt because the whole film is about dealing with metamorphosis and when we think of the ‘best’ Marvel and DC product on film, what we tend to think of are the game changers. MARVEL, for me = Robert Downey Junior in IRON MAN. He and that film built the resulting ‘universe’. Simple. Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN and Chris Nolan’s 2008 DARK KNIGHT: yes, good on own terms but it was the shock value of novelty, fused to a resulting tidal wave of copy-cats that made them definitive. And whilst VENOM might not be anything like as ‘good’ as those films, certainly in critical reception, it is at least its own thing.
This film breaks away from trends, whilst binding a few en route. That makes for a sometimes tonally confused product but at least there is an energy and dynamism, radiating from the core. A pervasive mood of experimentation and wild abandon in the world inhabited are oozing from the screen like the ‘symbiote’ goo which bonds to our hero. One therefore overlooks and forgives a great many weaknesses in the script and its execution because the sheer joy and escapist ethos grab you and it’s impossible to let go.
As to those flaws? The plot is paper thin yet over-stretched. A LONG build up has investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy) investigate a tech company that is using human subjects. That, in turn, clashes with the agenda of his beloved girlfriend (Michelle Williams), tasked with the corporate defence of the baddies by her law firm, who in turn, fire her. Bye Bye relationship, girlfriend, house and finally..job..as Brock begins to rot in the life of a loser. Very occasionally, he crosses paths with his ex, who has now moved on to an inexplicably nice and helpful new boyf that just happens to be a Doctor. Meanwhile? The evil nasty baddies continue their vile experiments, unchecked. After what feels like an hour or so, we finally get VENOM action and a sequence of set-pieces from there until the inevitable monster mash ending. And yes, there is a pointless mid credits sting (avoid at all costs; makes zero sense: sequel bait of a most presumptuous nature).
Much has been made of whether or not this movie exists within any ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’. Frankly, it does not matter. One can watch as as self contained thing or impose, via jumping on the odd line / nod/wink..some sort of continuity with the Tom Holland Spider-Man films. Fine, either way. And yet, bizarrely? SONY teased a connection from day one of pre-production and MARVEL never truly did a definitive job of dismissing the notions of an overlap in brand.
So, if you ARE a comic book movie purist enthusiast? You MIGHT feel a BIT cheated. Remember that Venom is MEANT to be a spin off FROM Spider-Man’s darker self, hence the look of the costume? Without that nod to Spidey..it begs the question of how and why the alien ‘symbiote’ took the form that it did. And it’s presumptuous and exploitative , arguably on BOTH Sony AND Marvel’s parts to leave that web looming in case of sequel / franchise re-alignment as contracts renew /expire and so on. Avi Arad has a LOT to answer for, frankly, as Producer. Tonally, this movie has an identity crisis as big as its hero’s! Bizarrely, the UK censors classified it a ’15’ without exception (I was asked for ID). Yet far nastier products have been passed as ’12A’.
If you have a certificate like that: USE it, same way Brock really ought to have more adult fun with his symbiote powers. Kids can still enjoy it, provided things are executed with that kind of Pantomime nod and wink style that enables parents to get certain jokes which fly over the kids’ heads? And comic book violence can go further than what we see in this film, without being truly traumatic.
I’ve said before: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, though nominally a ‘family friendly’ comic book film, features psychological violence that simply is not in the VENOM lexicon. It’s a bit awkward and sad; watching this film that is supposedly edgy and raw and ‘dark’ yet in its way far more innocent and harmless than its mainstream Marvel counterpart product. Paradox! Next time: have a tone and STICK to it. Go all out naughty, adult, hard R. Maybe? But one would not wish to limit the Box Office potential and Tom Hardy has a lot riding on this. Or does he? He kind of plays the Hollywood game yet does his own thing. A truly symbiotic career plan!
Hardy is funny and charming in the lead although one could argue that he is a greater physical threat as his ‘normal’ bodied self and the scenes where he performs in action and fight scenarios do convince, with or without CGI. His take on the alien parasite is at once endearing and anarchic and manages to convey a wealth of complex backstory exposition in a single one liner. THAT’S how sharp and concise and effective the story-telling here is, in PLACES, though not in every scene. Curate’s egg.
There are some vocal issues and the usual Tom Hardy audibility challenge: certain scenes whereby one simply cannot understand him. But that’s kind of a trademark (BANE!) and he is a visual actor in any event who arguably belongs in the silent movie era, such is his innate ability to convey character and story in a single look. Seriously: there are ‘body-horror’ scenes in this that Hardy somehow makes at once tragic and comic; repellent and sympathetic. It’s called being a ‘film star’, as well as of course, his remaining among our finest actors.
Much has been made of Riz Ahmed underplaying the villain role. So what? That is PRECISELY how villainy in a corporate or state sponsored guise would operate. Slow talking, methodical, hypnotic: of the timely zeitgeist that would police basic investigative reporters in the name of sinister ‘progress’.
MICHELLE WILLIAMS is ADORABLE. Sexy, smart, stunning. Some will bemoan the fact that she is not flanked up enough as a WOMAN! But surely equality is about just that? Why MUST she have her own sub-plot and agenda. This character is functional: sure. But it’s no Damsel in Distress, either. Enjoy watching a powerful, professional, sexy woman. And if that threatens you as a prospect, then perhaps YOU need to redefine gender equality /feminism etc.
The action is by no means memorable but functional enough. The CGI is of course a LOT better than its counterpart of a decade ago, though even now there are issues in capturing rapid fire action and visceral fight scenes with what are not flesh and blood / real world figures. They’ll get there in time though and the lighting, sound and camera angles do bring comic book panels alive here. The scenic shots are immersive, too. It’s like going to San Francisco, albeit a very 1990s era one (was reminded also of THE ROCK from 1996 and SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER from ’94).
DIAGNOSIS: YOU HAVE A PARASITE SYMBIOTE EMBRYO of a possible franchise here. It is not unmissable. VENOM does not change lives or reshape an art form. But it passes the time perfectly; sets up a nice lads’ (and ladies’!) night at the movies and is a competent, likeable piece of harmless FUN. B-