31 Days of Horror: Venom is a Flawed, but Fun Time at the Movies

Venom is the latest film to come to theatres that is based on a comic property, although it is trying to differentiate itself from other films within the genre with the tagline “The world has enough superheroes”. The character may be familiar to some, as it appeared in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 back in 2007, when Topher Grace played the character of Eddie Brock/Venom. I should make it clear that Tom Hardy’s take on the character has nothing to do with that film. This is a standalone film (although Sony Pictures has plans to make its own cinematic universe based on the Marvel characters it has the rights for) and like most superhero movies, this is an origin story. Going into Venom, I was excited to see the take on the character because Tom Hardy almost always picks interesting films to work on, Michelle Williams has also put together quite the filmography and is one of the best actresses working today, and Riz Ahmed is getting more and more deserved recognition in North America thanks to his work in The Night Of and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. So the question is, how did the film turn out? Before I get to that, here is a brief plot synopsis.

A spaceship returns to Earth but upon it’s re-entry it malfunctions and crashes in Malaysia. We learn that the spaceship is owned by the Life Foundation, whose CEO, Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed), sent the ship into space to look for inhabitable new worlds. When the ship crashes, we learn that there were four symbiotes on board, but only three have been recovered. The remaining three are returned to the Life Foundation in San Francisco, while the fourth symbiote is not found by the first responders. We are introduced to Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who is an internet sensation because of his no-nonsense stories. He is currently dating Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), a lawyer who is affiliated with the Life Foundation.  Brock has always suspected that the Life Foundation and its CEO are covering up some shady dealings, but never has enough proof to act on it.  One night, when Weying is sleeping, Brock checks her e-mail and finds a story that he confronts Drake about during an interview. Drake exits the interview and both Brock and Williams are fired from their jobs, which also ends their relationship. Brock is now down on his luck until a Life Foundation employee contacts him and sneaks him into the labs of the company. While in the lab, Brock has an accident and one of the recovered symbiotes attaches itself to Brock. He narrowly escapes the security guards and gets out of the lab returns to his apartment. When he arrives at home, he is sick and constantly hungry. He soon learns that the symbiote that has attached itself to him is known as Venom. Brock and Venom soon realize that they will have to learn to co-exist if they want to take down Drake and the Life Foundation. I’m sure you can figure out the outcome, but as in all good stories, the question is how entertaining is the journey? Here are my thoughts on Venom.

The Good                                                                                                   

Venom’s voice is excellent. It is distinctive, sinister and at times darkly-comedic. Tom Hardy does the voice of the character (although it is heavily modulated, so it doesn’t sound much like Hardy at all). The voice alone provides a lot of fun moments in the film, such as when Brock is having conversations with Venom trying to figure out what it is doing in and to Brock’s body and who’s really running things between the two of them. As the voice of Venom can only be heard by Brock, there are some good exchanges (especially when Michelle Williams is involved) where Venom is saying one thing and Brock is saying another in order to not look crazy. This Jekyll and Hyde battle they have provides some laughs at the beginning, but when the two are in agreement on what to do, they become quite the team.

Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams have great chemistry on the screen together. Sometimes, the dialogue is a little cringe-worthy between them, but when the two share the screen, the sequences becomes more entertaining. This is best shown in the restaurant scene and in the sequence where they are driving to the hospital together. Part of me wishes they had more screen time together (a bigger part of me wishes they gave Williams more to do in the story), but if this film turns out to be a success, then I hope they realize that this is a strong point of the film and have more of the two actors together in future films.

The motorcycle chase in the streets of San Francisco is the high point action sequence in the film. I loved that it was well shot and easy to follow along as a viewer. The sequence utilized the powers that Venom has to full effect by causing drones to crash into cars, Brock’s motorcycle to go airborne and sharp turns to be made in an instant. The sequence has a good flow and is not edited at a rapid pace (I will bring this point up later) and it was for me the showcase sequence of the film.

The Bad

The look of the symbiotes and Venom did not look great in IMAX. I hate to say this because I know that a lot of time and money were spent to create the visual effects, but they did not come across the best on the screen. When the symbiotes are shown in the lab up against the glass, they look like a giant CGI blob from back in the 90’s. This hurts my viewing experience because I would be taken out of the film every time I saw them as my mind couldn’t get past the fact of how bad they looked. The face of Venom looked great, but the rest of the body I wasn’t sold on. In this case, I didn’t think the body looked cheap, I just didn’t think the design was quite right. I’ll fully admit that I’m knit-picking on this point, but I’d be interested in what other people think on the look of Venom.

When the writers of the film came up with their villain, the influence that came into my mind was Elon Musk. It must have been fun coming up with the idea of the villain, but unfortunately for the writers, the end result is not good.  I don’t blame Riz Ahmed at all for this. The character is written as a temperamental visionary. When things don’t go his way, or if he needs something to be done, he is never the one to take care of business himself.  Instead he yells at his staff or orders his security team to take care of what needs to be done. Part of me thinks that this is how most rich people deal with things, but in film, villains need to get a little dirty. They need to be a little more hands-on and be able to pull the trigger or press the button that blows up things and not just order around their underlings. Drake never gets that moment in my opinion, so the character becomes forgettable.

The first act is not very good. It is a lot of setup and it is just not entertaining. I would even say that I was bored for the first part of the film.  I just felt that a little more action was needed to help move things along. Instead of a montage of Eddie Brock’s work, I would have liked to see him in action on a specific story or conduct an interview that takes down his subject (he does this a little when he interviews Drake, but since Drake walks out of the interview, he never gets the satisfaction of solving the story). I’m not necessarily saying that an action sequence is needed either, but if a little tension can be included, I think it would have made Act I move along a little better.

The script gets lazy at times and there is no better sequence that illustrates this than when Brock is being driven to the hospital by Weying.  I praised this sequence earlier because it has fantastic chemistry between Brock/Venom and Weying but out of nowhere, Venom tells Brock his weaknesses that can kill him, which Brock relays to Weying. Unless you are talking about allergies, I don’t think anyone would ever have a conversation where they would knowingly say what two things can injure/kill them. I was incredulous when the dialogue was being spoken and I knew that the reveal of the weaknesses would be incorporated into the third act of the film. Brock should have been the one to realize and figure what hurts Venom, not Venom himself. I just thought it was lazy writing.

The final action sequence comes out of nowhere, doesn’t last very long and is edited like a Michael Bay film where the edits of the fights sequence are very short. If the shots are not edited rapidly, then it is because the camera is moving at a fast pace, making it hard to focus on anything in particular when the fight takes place on screen. As a viewer, when something is hard to follow on the screen, you tend to be taken out of the film and lose interest and that is exactly what happened to me when I was watching it.

Venom was originally going to be an R rated film, but Sony decided to make it PG-13 so it could have a broader appeal and maybe even one day feature an appearance with Spider-Man in it. Why this is a weakness is because there are times when Venom bites people’s heads off or he kills a lot of bad guys and there is never any blood shown. Trust me, I’m not advocating for more blood and gore, but when the character is known to be a violent creature with a penchant for decapitations, it seems wrong to solve the problem by just getting rid of the blood or making a quick edit so you don’t see the full decapitation. The body count is fairly high in the film and I would argue that it shouldn’t have received the PG-13 rating as it currently is, but there is nothing I can do about that.

Overall

Venom suffers from a slow start, but once the film gets rolling in the second act, it becomes a fun and entertaining addition to the superhero genre.  Not to get all Freudian, but it was great to see the battle of the id vs. the ego in this film, with a lot of credit going to Tom Hardy for making the back and forth between the two characters of Eddie Brock and Venom enjoyable. The film is also funnier than I thought it would be and is anchored by the great chemistry between Hardy and Michelle Williams. As noted above, there are quite a few flaws in the film, but overall, I left the movie feeling entertained and looking forward to the inevitable sequel. I give Venom 2.5 out of 4 stars.

Fun Fact

There is a mid-credit sequence worth staying around for.

 

 

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