Venom [2018]

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams & Riz Ahmed
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Release Date: October 2018
Running Time: 112 minutes

Synopsis: Journalist Eddie Brock is trying to take down Carlton Drake, the notorious and brilliant founder of the Life Foundation. While investigating one of Drake’s experiments, Eddie’s body merges with the alien Venom — leaving him with superhuman strength and power. Twisted, dark and fuelled by rage, Venom tries to control the new and dangerous abilities that Eddie finds so intoxicating.

Venom is one of those movies that I thought would never actually get made, with rumours of a solo Venom movie floating around the Sony offices ever since his brief, and somewhat lacklustre, appearance in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. As one of Spider-Man’s most popular enemies, Venom definitely had the potential to spin-off into his own franchise – something Sony Pictures had recognised and after a decade of planning has finally brought to life. However, with Spider-Man now tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio was forced into the odd situation of launching a Venom film without mentioning the Spider-Man character at all. Considering how connected Spider-Man is to Venom’s origins, even going as far to inform the actual look of the character, it seemed like an impossible prospect.

In terms of the origin, Venom actually does a solid job at excising Spider-Man from the plot and focusing instead on Eddie Brock, developing the character into an anti-hero in his own right. The plot is an interesting mix of his Marvel-616 and Ultimate Universe origins, blending the alien and genetic experimentation elements to produce a unique introduction for the character, whilst setting up a rogue’s gallery of other symbiotic threats for Venom to deal with. Definitely influenced by the Venom: Lethal Protector story-arc, the film benefits from its San Francisco setting – not only because it allows it to ambiguously co-exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (allowing for a potential team-up with Spider-Man in the future) but also because it provides a fresh landscape for a superhero movie by avoiding New York City.

While I was impressed with the way the film dealt with “the Spider-Man problem”, the actual movie wasn’t as impressive and often felt cliché. One area where the film really struggled was with the emotional beats and pacing, often rushing the resolution of conflict in an unrealistic manner. For instance, it made no sense that Eddie’s ex-fiancee Ann would risk her life to save him considering he ruined her career – and hadn’t done anything at the point to redeem himself. Their relationship didn’t seem that strong before the break-up, and personally, she seemed better suited to her new Doctor boyfriend. Another area where the film struggled to convey a realistic relationship was between Eddie and the Symbiote – the pair were at odds throughout the film, even to the point where the Symbiote was slowly killing Eddie, yet they both resolved their issues and become Venom. It didn’t really make sense, and didn’t feel earned.

The script may have had its flaws, but the acting performances definitely saved this film from being a complete flop. Tom Hardy was brilliant at bringing Eddie Brock to life, giving this interpretation of the character a schizophrenic nervousness that was only exacerbated once he begun sharing his life with a “parasite” – a role that is a million miles away from his performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy also provided the baritone voice for Venom – another highlight of the film – giving the symbiote a defining voice that rivals that of James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader. I enjoyed these moments where Eddie and the Symbiote fought for control of the same body, and I’d have preferred a greater focus on this instead of the whole Life Foundation storyline. Hopefully, a sequel will dive deeper into the psychological ramifications of being Venom and sharing a mind with an alien symbiote. Also impressive was Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake – a character who actually got less threatening once he gained his symbiotic partner. I would have preferred it if Drake had remained a human nemesis, saving the symbiote vs. symbiote action for the inevitable “Venom vs. Carnage” sequel.

Tonally, the film flirts between horror and comedy giving it a distinctive voice from the other superhero movies coming from Marvel and DC. In some ways it actually reminded me of The Little Shop of Horrors, with both Venom and the carnivorous Audrey II corrupting a weak-willed human to perform horrific actions. The film just needed more of those moments to break free from its origin story structure and highlight the ‘odd couple’ situation of Eddie and the symbiote. It felt like the film was too focused on establishing the franchise and the concept of symbiotes to the audience than actually developing the character of Venom. I understand that the movie had a lot of groundwork to cover, but it ultimately felt top-heavy. The majority of the film was used to set up events, which then resulted in a hasty and somewhat unsatisfactory ending. In fact, I was shocked at how anti-climactic the final battle was, especially given the time taken to set up the threat. It was this same top-heavy structure that made Venom’s sudden change of heart and desire to save humanity seem forced, since the character showed no gradual warming towards humans up until that critical point.

Much like its blurring of genres, Venom suffers from a blurring of quality with strong elements such as the CGI and acting skills mingling with weaker aspects such as scripting and pacing. Ultimately, I left the film wanting to see more from the character in sequels and even a potential crossover with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man one day, yet it felt like this movie was a stepping stone in getting to the good bits – a necessary box-ticking exercise in storytelling. The film was wise to save Cletus Kasady/Carnage for the sequel, but in doing so, it doomed its debut to mediocrity. With its Schrodinger’s Cat-esque connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Venom has the potential to become a much-stronger franchise with its forthcoming installments, but only if Sony Pictures manages to learn from the successes of Marvel Studios to create films that focus on character over plot. We’ve waited over ten years for a solo Venom movie, we just need to wait a bit longer for a great solo Venom movie.

Score – ★

Venom is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Amazon UK

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