TL;DR – There are moments when Venom comes together and is a really entertaining film. However, those moments are spread in-between a dull story with some bland action, and an anti-climactic ending.
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene, and a post-credit trailer thingy (that you should totally stick around for)
I don’t think I have seen a film that gave such a bad first impression in quite a while. As a rule, I try to avoid trailers where possible, because of both the spoilers and also because they could taint my view of the film before I have even walked into the cinema. But even with that policy, it was hard to escape the “like a turd in the wind” quote, one of the worse lines of dialogue uttered in a blockbuster film in recent memory. Add to this the filmmakers are trying to build a universe around just Venom, after failing to do the same thing with Spider-Man. All of this was a recipe for disaster. However, walking out of the cinema I have to admit I might have been a bit too harsh on Venom … well, only just a little bit.
So to set the scene, we open as a shuttle is making its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, then bang everything goes wrong and it ends up crashing in the forests of Malaysia. We soon find out that the shuttle was carrying four extra-terrestrial samples found on a comet and well one of them is missing. Not only that it is about to walk out of the crash zone right under the nose of Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) because these samples are more than meets the eye. In San Francisco, we are introduced to Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) local investigative reporter and nice guy looking out for those forgotten by society. He is engaged to Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) a lawyer working for Drake’s Life Foundation, and one day after snooping in an email he shouldn’t he gets both himself and Anne fired from their jobs and of course, that ends the engagement. Sometime later Drake is finally at the point where he can test the symbionts on human test subjects, but while the bodies start to pile up Dr Slate (Jenny Slate) has a change of heart and calls on Eddie to expose it all, and then everything goes to pot.
Well, first things, first. There is quite a bit about Venom that I actually liked, and it would be remiss of me not to mention it. The cast is really putting in some really fascinating performances. Of course, we have to start with Tom Hardy who is doing double duty as both Eddie Brock and the titular Venom. Now when I was growing up we didn’t have Spider-Man, rather it was X-Men for TV, and Footrot Flats, Tintin, and Asterix for comics. Which means that I am not as familiar with the universe in and around Spider-Man, so I can’t tell you if this was a faithful adaptation of the character (I think from the context that it might not be) however, it is a compelling one. The back and forth between the two characters is truly the highlight of the film and where some genuine laughs can be found. For example “Hi Eddie” ‘Scream.’ As well as this, I think that Riz Ahmed does a really good job embodying the evil businessman. We have seen a lot of this type of character this year, but he at least makes the character feel rounded and you can at least understand his motivations. Add to this Michelle Williams’ character had a lot more agency than you often see in similar roles, and the banter between Anne, Eddie/Venom, and Dr Dan (Reid Scott) also got more than a few laughs. However, Jenny Slate is completely wasted here in a dully written supporting character.
Now while I think that actors were giving their all in the film, unfortunately, the general overarching plot was of no real consequence. By about maybe the end of the first act I could tell you with absolute certainty how the film was going to end, and I was completely correct. This would be anti-climactic all on its own, but it is compounded with the action. We get quite a few action set-pieces in the film, some work well, but others are an incomprehensible mess. They started off perfectly fine and indeed the fight as Eddie is being protected by Venom for the first time was a lot of fun. However, unfortunately for Venom, even here I could not help but think back to Upgrade (see review) that I watched earlier this year that did a similar thing but just that little bit better. From here things just start falling apart, as each escalation actually ends up devaluing the characters in some way. For example, we get a chase sequence on a motorcycle, which is quite good. However, it also makes no sense because Drake is clearly trying to keep his illegal alien/human testing on the down low, but then he also is using explosive drones to attack a motorcycle in the middle of San Francisco’s downtown setting explosion after explosion off in front of thousands of witnesses. Though this is all a step up from the final confrontation that was a hackneyed CGI mess.
You can have a great cast, with a great rapport, and it means nothing if the heart of the film is not there, and with Venom, you can see gears grinding in the background, even before the “Yes we must franchise this to death” in the mid-credit scene. So instead of focusing in on the relationships that they were developing, to much success, we have to put it all on hold so we can have our completely unearned act three big battle. Now, while I have levelled this same critique at films like Wonder Women (see review) before, at least they were trying to have something to say before going through the motions. Add to this, I have a feeling that a couple of big chunks got cut from the film, and I have also a feeling that they dialled everything back to make sure it was that PG-13 rating. All of this led to the film feeling like it was missing the impact that it was clearly going for and I assume somewhere in the missing footage is the rationale behind Venom turning from a villain to an anti-hero, but alas we will likely never know.
In the end, do we recommend Venom? And well no sort of. Look the film is much better than I was expecting it to be, but that might just be the really low bar it had. However, as I walked out of the theatre I had only one thought in my head, and that was that the trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had more things going for it in the one minute of footage that we see, than Venom had in its entire theatrical run, and well I think that is telling.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Venom
Directed by – Ruben Fleischer
Story by – Jeff Pinkner & Scott Rosenberg
Screenplay by – Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg & Kelly Marcel
Based on – Venom created by David Michelinie & Todd McFarlane
Music by – Ludwig Göransson
Cinematography by – Matthew Libatique
Edited by – Maryann Brandon & Alan Baumgarten
Starring – Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Ron Cephas Jones, Michelle Lee, Vickie Eng and Peggy Lu with Woody Harrelson
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: PG-13
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