Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Marcella Bragio
Running time: 1 hour and 52 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language
by Dan Scully (a regular contributor at Cinema Seventy-Six)
As Disney works to take ownership of every intellectual property imaginable, fans of nerdy things are given as many reasons to rejoice as to worry. On the one hand, Star Wars has never been in better shape (literally - The Last Jedi is the best of the whole series, fight me), but on the other, the MCU is growing increasingly homogenous in style. As more entries in the ever-expanding franchise come to fruition, it becomes easier and easier to see the mechanics of our great entertainment machine at work. And as Disney takes great pains to create the most broadly appealing products possible, rather than taking creative risks that they can most certainly afford, it pleases me greatly to see Sony trying to undercut their brand in whatever ways possible.
Surely, Sony’s latest outing, Venom, branded as “in association with Marvel” has lofty aims of creating a franchise/universe of its own, consisting of characters yet to be absorbed by Mickey, but it’s refreshing to see that in doing so, they’ve built a very, very (see: very) weird film. Yeah, it’s pretty dumb, but it’s good dumb. And it’s not stupid.
NO IT IS INDEED NOT STUPID, DAN. PLEASE TELL THE READERS HOW HUNGRY I AM...
Whoa, there. Enough, buddy.
I AM NOT YOUR BUDDY. WEEEE ARE ONE. ONE CREATURE. ONE ENTITY IN PERFECT MOVIEGOING SYMBIOSIS...
Ah ha, yeah. Okay. Anywho, Venom combines decades of comic book lore to tell the story of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, cranked up to eleven), an independent reporter whose on the street reporting is known for speaking renegade truth to power. Think Vice.
OHHH I LIKE VICES. YESSSSS YESSSSS SIN FOR ME, DANIEL...
Maybe later, okay? Give it a rest.
BUT I AM SO HUNGRYYYYYY...
We’ll eat in a bit! Let me finish this damned review!
Ahem. So, after running afoul of Elon Musk-esque “philanthrovillain” Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Brock is in a bit of a bind. His commitment to breakneck reporting has cost him his job, his relationship, and to some degree, his sanity. But one day, when Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), a scientist from Drake’s team, brings some damning information about her employer to Brock’s attention, he breaks into the mysterious lab to dig deeper. This results, as you surely must know, in Brock being introduced to an alien symbiote, turning him into the notorious comic book creature, Venom.
MWAAAHAHHA MY FAAAAAVORITE PART OF THE MOVIE!!!
Of course it is. What follows could be described as a buddy cop comedy, but instead of two cops with different ideologies, we get an oddball reporter, and a violent, carnivorous monster, cheekily arguing while within the same body. If you’ve seen Locke or Legend, you know that Hardy can spit dynamic dialogue to himself in ways that no one else can. If you’ve seen any of his movies, you know that he’s got a repertoire of wild voices with which to do so. At times, it’s hard to tell what he’s going for with his Eddie Brock voice. There’s a scuzziness to it which suits the character at first — he is clearly out of his league when it comes to his scorned significant other, Anne (Michelle Williams)
YESSS, LET’S TALK MORE ABOUT ANNE! I REALLY LIKE HERRRR!!!
Wait a second, bud. I want to finish talking about Hardy.
JUST DON’T MENTION HER TERRIBLE WIG. HMMM SO NOTICEABLE, YESSSSS....
Haha okay I won’t. Anyway, watching Hardy descend from reformed dirtbag to actual dirtbag to man harboring a monstrous parasite —
MONSTROUS?? PARASITE?!?!? I AM A SYMBIOTE!!
Yes, symbiote. Watching Brock lose his mind as he tries to parse out just what is happening to him is a fine display of Hardy’s talents as an entertainment machine, but it may be hard for some to keep up. His base level is pretty manic, so by the time he gets to full insanity, eating live lobsters out of the tank at a cushy restaurant, his performance is positively bonkers. It’s at this point that most audiences will either be all in or all out. Hardy is so committed to the batshit situations he finds himself in that part of the film’s fun is just watching the other actors around him try to be in the same movie. Seriously, he is on such a high level that no one, except for maybe Ahmed, can find their footing. If that sounds like your cup of tea, it probably is.
Ahmed’s work is lost between two characters, each of which, if given more screen time, he would have dominated. At times he’s the intense, intensely likable savant, who proudly sports the face of his dubiously engaged company. At other times he’s villainy distilled. And if not for his early reduction into CGI madness, he could have made a cinematic icon out of Drake. Nevertheless, he is outstanding, as always, elevating material from the page in ways few could.
BUT THE CGI IS SO PRETTY, DANIEL. PLEASE TELL THE READERS ABOUT HOW SLICK MY FELLOW SYMBIOTES LOOK...
I’m going to have to meet you halfway on that. Moment to moment, the digital creations are the perfect level of realistic and cartoonish, as is to be expected with a film based on one of Marvel’s more patently ridiculous creations.
RRRRRRIDICULOUS?!? I CANNOT STAND BY WHILE YOU SPEAK ILL OF MY STUNNING LOOKS!
No no, you look fine, friend. But when Venom turns into the CGI slapfight it spent the better part of two hours trying not to be, it looks like the same gray gravy as just about every recent comic book climax. With creatures as amorphous as symbiotes engaging in fisticuffs, the visual get pretty muddy. However, the filmmakers saw fit to slow the action down at points, allowing for the some of the best cinematic recreations of splash pages this side of Whedon’s original Avengers film. There is just so much you can do with a hero whose superpower is the ability to do just about anything, and Venom runs the gamut.
ANNNNND NOWWWW WE WILL SPOIL THE FILM FOR YOUR READERS SINCE THAT WOULD BE VERY FUN FOR ME...
No, we will NOT be spoiling anything, except maybe your appetite, good sir, if you keep looking at my pet rabbit that way. I promise we will get something to eat later. No spoilers! Jeez.
FINE. YOUR DELICIOUS RABBIT CAN LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY...
Out of his prior films, director Ruben Fleischer is much more in tune with Zombieland than, say, Gangster Squad, as Venom is very interested in making the audience laugh. It’s dark humor for sure, but there’s something exciting (and funny) about hearing an F-bomb in the middle of a modern superhero (super anti-hero?) flick. Knowing that there’s no chance Iron Man will roll through somehow feels valuable, and by the time Venom is fully unleashed, eating dogs, licking villains, and biting the heads off of anyone who stands in his way, the film reaches a level of dark intensity that, despite being very in tune with the flavor of early 2000s comic book cinema, feels new. So as dumb as the film can be, it’s a welcome change of pace.
Even the mid-movie motorcycle chase, despite being enhanced by some of the film’s wonkier effects, is shot with clarity and a sense of geography absent from more recent Marvel output.
YESSSSSSS, TOGETHER WE WILL DESTROY THOSE WHO WISH TO REMOVE THE COLOR FROM OUR FAVORITE THINGS...
No, we will not be destroying any film execs. Please get it under control. I very much enjoy the MCU.
BUT YOU — WEEEE HAVE BEEN TALKING SO MUCH SHIT ABOUT THEM. DELICIOUS, SCANDALOUS, VITRIOLIC SHIT...
No, you’ve been reading me wrong. I love the MCU.
Ahem, WE love the MCU. We just don’t want it to stagnate or, worse yet, crumble under the weight of its ambition. There’s plenty of room under the sun for the entire catalog of Marvel characters, and there’s value in having them embrace different filmic styles. There’s value in shooting for the stars but colliding with the moon, a lesson fully embraced by those behind Venom (Hardy especially). A lesson which, if Disney grew some balls, could extend the legs of the MCU for untold amounts of time. Sure, there will be misfires, but a glorious misfire is better than a bland success any day of the week. For that, I must give Venom my approval.
JUST DON’T TELL THEM ABOUT UPGRADE, THE SIMILARLY-PLOTTED BODY HORROR SCI FI MOVIE STARRING A MAN WHO LOOKS A LOT LIKE TOM HARDY THAT CAME OUT EARLIER THIS YEAR...
Oh, but I really should tell them about it. It nails the body horror element in ways that Venom only comes close to doing, and features an equally exciting central performance.
BUUUUUUT IF YOU TELL THEM ABOUT UPGRADE, WHICH IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR HOME VIEWING, THEY MIGHT NOT GO SEE MY MOVIEEEEEEEEE...
You may be right, but I —
—but WE believe that both movies have their merits, and would make for a tremendous genre double feature.
YOU’RE RIGHT, DANIEL.... WE’RE RIGHT. WE’RE ALLLLWAYS RIGHT. IN MINGLING WITH YOUR THOUGHTS, I SEE YOU HAVE LEFT SOMETHING UNSAID.
Ah yes, both Michelle Williams and Jenny Slate are given more to do in this movie than the female characters in a lot of comic book media. Not much more, but more nonetheless. It’s imperfect progress, but it’s something.
AND DON’T MENTION THE WIG. PEOPLE WILL NOT LIKE THE WIG...
I won’t mention the wig.
CAN WE EAT NOW?? I AM HUNGRY FOR TATER TOTSSSSSS... AND SOMETHING LIVING! LIKE YOUR BUNNY, JUNIPER...
You are not —
WE are not eating Juniper!