Genre: Superhero Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Release Date: October 5th, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Ruben Fleischer Actors: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Melora Walters, Reid Scott, Scott Haze
hen investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is assigned an interview with technology giant Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), he picks a fight he can’t hope to win. Instead of inquiring about Drake’s Life Foundation space exploration, he hounds the science prodigy about unethical pharmaceutical maneuvers, which quickly results in Brock losing his job and his relationship with fiancee Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Months later, distressed scientist Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) approaches Brock, offering evidence of Drake’s heinous practices, resuscitating the washed-up journalist’s sleuthing savvy to help expose the subversion. What he uncovers is far more shocking than anything he could have imagined: the Life Foundation’s otherworldly excursions have brought back alien parasites, with which Drake has been conducting human trials. Before Brock can abscond with proof of Drake’s atrocities, he’s attacked and infected by one of the lifeforms, giving birth to the half-man, half-alien mutation known as Venom.
The first act of “Venom” plays out like a zombie movie, rife with horror elements that set a specific tone. It’s definitely a different take on superheroes, considering that intentional scare tactics are a rare combination for Marvel’s universe. Of course, this entry isn’t a traditional Marvel entity, as Sony/Columbia still retains production and distribution control. Curiously, the horror moments soon dissipate, replaced by the duality of a buddy-cop (or good cop/bad cop) routine, wherein heroism and mischief are continually at odds. Additionally, the comic relief ramps up, with slapstick-oriented mishaps occurring during host acclimation, along with the humor of adapting to Venom’s ravenous appetite, the tension with love-interest Anne, and the symbiont’s gravelly voice (which might divide fans) steering his newfound pawn. At certain points, the laughs goes so far that the filmmakers probably should have taken their subjects more seriously.
As with “Suicide Squad,” the antihero of this latest venture must also be redeemable; few audiences would embrace an unwaveringly evil character as their only guide into the drama and adventure. Unfortunately, it takes awhile before Venom shows up in the form that allows for Brock to bicker with himself, or to unleash havoc on armed goons who strive to retrieve the valuable space alien. A good 20 minutes or so are devoted to introductions, which couldn’t be more generic. From the organism sample being valued above human life, to the interview of a crooked billionaire, to a date night, to a montage of “The Eddie Brock Report” television program, to small talk with a front desk guard, to a tour of the Life Foundation facility, the dialogue manages not to present any originality. It isn’t until the phrase “fake news” is spoken that viewers will note a hint of something out of the ordinary, though it’s a largely incompatible utterance that will likely distract from the fantasy of the sci-fi happenings; a sizable suspension of disbelief is already necessary, and those words certainly don’t help.
Brock isn’t sympathetic at the start, which makes it even more challenging to welcome him as the protagonist. His egotism and thoughtlessness, disguised as a mission of uncovering corruption, are exacerbated by a rock-bottom downward spiral that finds him unwilling to hold onto the morals he initially claimed to have. As these films go, it takes very little for him to do an about-face, perhaps because he’s the only character designed to fall into that role; Skirth contacts him to ease her mind about disreputable human testing, yet he’s in no real position to utilize her information.
After the horror and comedy disperse, the film transitions into an action picture, full of flurries of CG tendrils and sludge. Venom’s design is fascinating when the commotion slows down enough to take in the complexity of his shape-shifting capabilities. And those same frenetic qualities stifle the effectiveness of the action choreography as well. Whether it’s close-quarters combat or car chases, the frenzied editing only detracts from the stunts (a motorcycle chase through San Francisco boasts some impressive destruction, if nothing else). This contributes to the mediocrity of the climax, which suffers from the same problems seen in “Wonder Woman”: when the action-packed showdown is a computer-animated muddle, it only appears as chaos – and not the carefully orchestrated duel that it could have been. Still, the film is a notable effort in giving Venom his own theatrical episode, proving – to debatable degrees – that he doesn’t have to be relegated to a supporting part or as an antagonist for another superhero.
– The Massie Twins