The World Has Enough Superheroes
Returning from a deep space reconnaissance mission, the Life Foundation shuttle is returning to earth with four alien specimens on board. On re-entry the ship crashes with only one astronaut surviving. The head of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake [Ahmed], employs his considerable resources to procure the samples and begin live-subject trials as soon as possible. At the same time we are introduced to Eddie Brock [Hardy], an investigative reporter who loses his job and fiancée (lawyer Anne Weying [Williams]) after he turns a fluff-piece interview with Drake into an attack on his illegal human experiments. After one of the Life Foundation’s key scientists tips Eddie off, he infiltrates the facility and comes into contact with one of the alien samples which begins talking to him and dictating his drives and actions.
Stumbling out of the cinema, as the film burps up its mismatched post-credit sequences, it is immediately apparent that Venom is such a bizarre entity. On one hand it is a typical 2010s example of a weak franchise launcher that bloviates about its importance and grand plans before passing out wheezing, “I can’t go on.” And on the other it is such a throwback to the pre-cinematic universe craze of the late 90s/early 2000s, where any comic property would be adapted with one big (white male) star, an underdeveloped disposable villain, poorly defined love interest, fleeting underwhelming CGI and a score packed with riffing guitars. It is simultaneously both 2007’s Ghost Rider and 2015’s Fantastic Four without being as arguably competent as the former or as laughably imbalanced as the latter.
One thing, however, is abundantly clear and that is the lack of room or time for anyone other than Tom Hardy. Now, I’m not saying that as a dig at the lead, simply highlighting that the script gives us little to no insight into any of the supports; their lives, motivations, backgrounds, none of it is considered to matter. From the get-go Eddie Brock is sold to us as this frankly inhuman cliché. He’s charming, altruistic, tenacious, generous, kind, roguish and an all-round catch. I know this because the opening prologue stuffs it down my throat like a 1950s Disney princess entrance wherein every character (human or otherwise) chirps how pretty the main character is. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if, as he strolled down the street petting dogs and chatting to security guards about the wellbeing of their kids, everyone around him uproariously burst into a chorus of “that handsome man, that talented man, that marvellous Eddie Brock” before whip-panning to Tom Hardy clicking his heels and shouting “Whoo! That’s me.” And yet, when we actually get down to him proving himself, he’s a fucking terrible reporter who blunders his way through both interviews and investigations and a completely untrustworthy partner who opens his fiancée’s confidential emails. Then, to top it all off, he gets infected by an alien symbiotic parasite that is constantly talking about eating people. And yet Hardy’s dual-performance is probably the only good thing about this movie. Despite being absurd and an excuse for another set of voices to the acting scrapbook, the interactions between Eddie and Venom are surprisingly entertaining and visually amusing, which seems counterintuitive but once you settle in to the odd ambience of the film, it almost becomes fitting.
Unfortunately, the supports don’t get nearly as much attention. We have a range of insubstantial individuals but let’s start with the non-villain, Carlton Drake. Riz Ahmed has already proved himself a fantastic actor but he is given nothing to work with. Drake is an admittedly driven and passionate scientific mind who seemingly has mankind’s interests at heart but his methods are callous, unorthodox and without heart. And that’s all I can tell you. He is obsessed with furthering the species but there is absolutely no inkling of why or what drew him down this path. He is merely evil for the fact the film requires it of him. The other lead support is Michelle Williams but I’ll mention her more later but outside of that we have brief appearances from Jenny Slate and Reid Scott who feel as wasted as Judy Greer in things like Jurassic World and Ant-Man, which is genuinely criminal.
A cast heavy with comedic actors is far from unusual for Reuben Fleischer – the man cut his teeth on Zombieland and made a glorious success of it – but much like Gangster Squad, so much of the creative qualities that made Fleischer’s debut so enjoyable and entertaining are all but absent. The pacing and editing are appalling, the script is shockingly flat, the narrative flow feels hole-punched and erratic, leaping from one plot point to another and there is an uncomfortable unintentional comedy running throughout that creates such a tonal unease. Not to mention the fact that it’s a solid hour before Venom properly turns up. With such jumbled asymmetry, it’s hardly surprising that the film’s own internal logic is one of the first victims. From the start we are told so much about the alien entities in heavy expository info dumps from their strengths, weaknesses, bonding habits and abilities; none of which is retained as the continuity shifts to meet the action’s quota. It also robs the film of any actual urgency as Eddie is practically invincible and even if he were to perish, it wouldn’t really change our feelings about him or the fate of this earth – which, apparently, is in significant jeopardy.
This whole endeavour could be labelled as a waste of potential but the truth of Venom is that any adaptation is doomed to fail because while most people feel they love the character, there isn’t a great deal to actually enjoy. A large, snarling, boisterous creation that exists as a parallel to Spider-Man but doesn’t really work as effectively without that adversarial clash. And while I will acknowledge that the Flash Thompson/Venom covert-ops storylines from the comics are pretty decent, this is not what we have been offered and while the franchise may eventually make its way there, I feel it will fall by the side of the road alongside the corpse of Tom Cruise after he rode off into the sunset at the end of The Mummy.
5th October 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
This is a film littered with really stupid moments and two in particular stood out for me. During Eddie and Dr Skirth’s clandestine break-in at the Life Foundation, Skirth reveals to Brock that the symbotic being is of extra-terrestrial origin. Naturally, Brock laughs this off by dismissively saying, “What are we talking about, aliens!? ET phone home?” To which Skirth deadpans a confirmation. While the transitional scene furthers next to nothing, the real insight is the possibility that Tom Hardy has never watched ET because his impression of ET (a very distinct voice and quote) is delivered in the most peculiar way, as if Hardy said on the day, “That’s a dumb voice, I can do better.. also it’ll be another unique voice for my scrapbook.” The other moment is when Anne’s boyfriend Dan (a surgeon with the power to give MRIs to people who don’t appear to have any medical insurance) is explaining the negative effects of the symbiote to Brock, stating “Your heart has atrophied” which is a maddening phrase because the second the organism keeping Eddie alive departs his body, he would be dead. But as stated earlier, that man is invincible.
Michelle Williams is an exceptionally talented actor and the only real saving grace of this film is that she’s only in it for a limited period of time. The script gives her so little to do and introduces her as both naïve and fickle as well as ruthless and headstrong in a mishmash of persona types that should give audiences whiplash but she has so little agency that the shifts are inconsequential and presented as irrelevant. The only thing I kept thinking is how many terrible agents must be working out there because Williams coming off the back of All The Money In The World and landing in this shit is just as poor a decision as Naomie Harris going from Moonlight to Rampage.
“Such poor design.. human beings”
In A Few Words:
“Somehow both extremely dull and erratically busy, Venom is a mess of a concoction that struggles constantly to define what it is and what it could be”