Venom

"Life hurts, Eddie. It just does."

SPOILER WARNING: I will keep this review spoiler free for the first half, then discuss the spoilers afterward.

By nature I love brevity: Venom is a film that is uneven on many levels. Its tone is dark and grim, briefly shooting for light humor every once in awhile. The movie is one part superhero action, one part horror/thriller, and one part buddy comedy. If one of these things sounds different from the others, that's because it is. The result is a film with two natures that could mingle beautifully, but instead opts to shoehorn in an out-of-place one that derails it every time.

Venom is a movie whose production has been as rough and uncertain as Gambit or The Flash/Flashpoint. Plans for a Venom movie started as far back as 1997, with a script by David Goyer, but the film was delayed indefinitely when the rights to Spider-Man and his related characters were granted to Sony and the Spider-Man trilogy was produced. After the character was shoehorned into Spider-Man 3 (2007), the plan for the film was modified to potentially connect to the Spider-Man trilogy. But when Spider-Man 3 disappointed fans creatively and Sam Raimi left the production of the fourth film, Venom was again shelved. As Sony began their reboot of Spider-Man with 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, and the sequel evolved into a kickoff for a whole Spidey Cinematic Universe, a Venom movie was once more on the table. But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 went the way of Spider-Man 3, and the whole plan for the Cinematic Universe got pulled back. Finally, when Sony and Marvel made their Spider-Man deal that allowed the character to appear in the MCU, the Spidey CU was revived for a second time. These films, which include the planned Silver and Black, will exist in the same universe as Tom Holland's Spider-Man and his films, but will not connect to the MCU.

All this to say that Venom has been 21 years in coming, has gone through at least four script rehauls and connected to three different cinematic universes. This version of the film, which finally got made and released, exists in a sort of technicality in between Sony's films and the MCU. Spider-Man lies in this gap too, though he's in between Venom and the MCU.

So does the film work well enough to justify that 21-year time span? The first thing I want to say is that any film that disappears into the corporate black hole that has engulfed Gambit and The Flash/Flashpoint and winds up getting released is a success. Many Hollywood films get swallowed up in development hell, and this is a notable one that's made it out. This is a victory in and of itself.

That being said, Venom left me wondering what the point of the movie was. When I ask myself the question 'Why was this movie made, rather than any other one of the many scripts floating around the Hollywood market?', I can't come up with an answer. In all those 21 years, I don't really think there was a huge fan clamor for a Venom movie. It really has very little to help along a shared movie universe. And the movie doesn't seem to be attempting to make a point. It seems arbitrary to me that this film should exist. But it does, and it falls to me to discuss it.

As I said before, Venom feels like three separate films vying for control. Two of them could get along and gel very well together, but the other is entirely out of place. Venom has roots firmly planted in the horror or thriller genre, what with the nighttime monster sequences and the brilliantly effective atmosphere and score. At the same time, the well-made exciting action sequences make this seem like a gritty action film. The car chase, the fight scenes, and the corporate villain all give the movie that feel. And lastly, Eddie Brock's interactions with Venom and the drama regarding his girlfriend feel like they're straight out of a fun buddy comedy. Venom himself, apart from Eddie, constantly uses slang and jokes that seem like they would sound better out of the mouth of Kevin Hart than the computer-modified voice of Tom Hardy.

Part of this can be explained by the fact that the symbiote has bonded with Eddie by now. But without seeing Venom's personality before he and Eddie merged, I have no way of knowing if this is an intentional decision or if the writers simply wrote Venom's dialogue poorly. Whatever the case, however logically it could be explained, it doesn't fit with the tone of the film, and should have been abandoned.

The performances are solid. Once I figured out what Tom Hardy was doing as Eddie Brock, I thought he did a great job; I had gathered from the trailers and posters that he was going to be the 'epic macho action hero' sort of character Hardy always plays, and it took me a bit to get over that. Riz Ahmed does what he can with the material he has as villain Carlton Drake. Michelle Williams gels with the buddy comedy aspects that surround her character, but fails to really feel right in the rest of the film. Scott Haze (Treece), Jenny Slate (Dr. Skirth), and Reid Scott (Dan) each bring their all to thankless supporting roles. Very little of the acting felt off in any way.

If this movie was the seamless blending of horror and action it could have been, it would have been awesome. The effective melding of the two genres would fit with the idea of symbiosis, too. But instead the film included its comedic bits, and ended up bringing the other two elements into question as well. I recommend seeing this one, because it's fascinating and a lot of fun to watch. Just don't expect it to be a good movie. That's all I have to say without going into detail, so without further ado, let's talk spoilers.

2 out of 6 poorly-blended genres

-SPOILER TAG-

I can't believe Topher Grace showed up as J. Jonah Jameson!!! Just kidding, that was for anyone who hasn't seen the movie and is still reading, to pull a page out of HISHE's book.

Let's talk in detail about the villain(s). Ultimately, I think there were two separate villains in the film: Carlton Drake and Riot. Carlton Drake is the action movie villain, the scientist/corporation owner with an agenda and lots of resources and manpower. He fills that role quite well, even if he is pretty much a stock action villain. What bugs me is Riot. If the film had stuck to the blend of action and horror, Riot should have been a horror movie villain. He should have just been a force of nature, that barely talks and just keeps coming. And until he bonds with Drake, he is exactly that. But as soon as he bonds with Drake, the film not only gives him a comprehensive backstory and motive, it also turns him into a character. That was the wrong move, because Riot failed in his role as the physical threat action villain. The best horror villains/monsters are not characters, they're forces of nature. That's what Riot should have been, and wasn't.

The other beef I have with Riot is about the final battle action sequence. Riot is primarily a white symbiote, with bits of red and black mixed in. Though white is a great choice for his color, that becomes useless in that final sequence. The lighting is such that Riot can only barely be distinguished from Venom. The action was cool, with the symbiotes moving through each other, but because you couldn't tell the difference between them, it was like a Transformers movie except with goop instead of machines. If Riot had looked bright white, that sequence would have looked awesome. Instead it was confusing and bland.

The action was quite well done, for the most part. I liked all the fight scenes. I also watched this movie with a friend of mine who's an avid follower of martial arts, and he loved the fights. There's one sequence I want to highlight, though, because I had a problem with it. That's the car chase scene with the drones. It felt like the filmmakers had two different ideas for action sequences - one with the cars and one with the drones, and they just combined them rather than pick one. As a result, the scene dragged on longer than it had to; the drones should have been cut. Why the drones? Because they were exploding drones. Firstly, that seems like a huge waste of expensive technology, and secondly, why would they send exploding drones at the guy they want to keep alive? Actually, none of what they do to capture the guy they want to keep alive makes any sense.

Venom was initially going for an R-rating, but Sony had director Ruben Fleischer tone down the violence to a PG-13 level because they felt an R-rating would make crossovers with the family-friendly Spider-Man difficult. However, you can definitely tell this was originally written to be an R-rated film. A lot of very disgusting things happen in the film, most notably She-Venom kissing Eddie Brock and simultaneously transferring the symbiote to him. A lot of the time, too, it felt like they were swearing just to swear. I don't usually mind swearing in a film if it's just the logical reaction of a character to the situation, but here most of the instances felt like the writers added the word just because they wanted somebody to swear.

A few themes are floating around in the film, but the script ultimately fails to pursue any of them fully. The first involves the different characters' reactions to Eddie's misfortunes. He's repeatedly told to 'Have a nice life' by the people who cut him off, but this is dropped after the first act. The woman in the convenience store tells him that life just hurts. The second theme is parasite vs. symbiote, and that one was interesting. I wish it had been developed more. Venom doesn't like being called a parasite, and prefers to be a symbiote. The differences between the two types of creature are not really covered, but the audience does get a sense of it. The other instance of the theme is that Carlton Drake believes that humans are a parasite to the Earth, using up its resources.

Again, I do recommend watching Venom. Enjoy it as a fun outing or as an interesting piece of art, but don't go for intelligent storytelling or a well-made film.

Whatever a spider can:

Venom's powers are pretty true to the comics. He doesn't do anything too Spidey-ish, of course, since he hasn't yet bonded with or even met Spider-Man.

Friendly Neighborhood?

Just because this film was toned down to be PG-13 doesn't mean it's appropriate for the younger ones. Be advised that it contains frequent and moderate swearing, and is very intense. A lot of elements of the film will also be disturbing and gross to many people. The parent's guide on IMDb will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Wealth and Fame:

Venom was the #1 film in the world in its first two weeks (so far). Its opening weekend grossed $80 million. It has a 70% approval rating on IMDb, a 30% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 35 metascore from Metacritic.

Pensees:

-The astronaut who initially carried the Riot symbiote was referred to as 'Jameson'. IMDb lists him as J.J. Jameson III. I'm not clear on whether or not he survived the movie.

-I don't really know what Eddie was trying to accomplish by bringing up dead test subjects in an interview with Drake. Anyone could've foreseen that he wouldn't get an answer and would then be fired.

-Tom Hardy clearly had a lot of fun doing this movie. Apparently getting in the lobster tank was his decision, and the production team stayed up all night filling it with water and fake lobsters so he could do that the next day. Also, I love his little-girl scream when he sees his Venom face in the mirror.

-Apparently Life Corp doesn't think it necessary to have cameras or even security for their top-secret alien life experiment that is dangerous and would have disastrous consequences if someone found it.

-Wilhelm alert!

-The Eminem song over the end credits was well-rapped, I guess, but I hated it. Maybe it's not my kind of music. I can never get over end credit songs by well-known artists that are about the movie.

-Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady/Carnage creeped me out to no end.

-There's a post-credits sequence that serves as a teaser for Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. Actually, that alone is worth going to see this movie for; that was awesome.

Quotes:

Eddie: "I'm quite a catch. It's what my Mom told me."

Eddie (about sneaking up on people): "I was pretty good, but you, whoever you are, you suck."

Eddie: "Hey, can you turn your music down please? Because I'm having a really hard time."
Neighbor: "Whatever."
Eddie: *Venoms*
Neighbor: "Yeah sure man, I'll just turn it right down."

Eddie (to the leader of the tactical team he just completely destroyed): "I'm so sorry about your friends."

Venom: "On my planet, I am kind of a loser, like you."

Venom: "Look at her. She has no idea we're going to get her back."

Venom: "We are going to eat both of your arms, and then both of your legs, and then we will eat your face right off of your head. You will be this legless, armless, faceless thing, won't you, going down the street like a turd in the wind."
This quote has sparked a great internet revival of malaphors. Here's the beginning.

We do not understand why you do not get our phrases. It isn't Rocket Surgery.
2 out of 6 turds in the wind.

---
CoramDeo can't make an omelette without throwing a few stones.

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

CoramDeo, I'm relatively certain I will never watch this movie (horror movies freak me out), but I thought your review was a terrific, interesting read. Thank you. :)

Billie Doux said...

And I loved your rating.

Nick said...

According to this, https://www.polygon.com/2018/9/30/17918008/venom-r-rated-cut-violence, the director always intended it to be non-R rated.

So much for the theory about it being filmed for R rating and then cut. (If he is to be believed, that is)

J.D. Balthazar said...

Nice review CoremDeo, I totally agree that this was a movie of tow halves, and one side didn't work. I would argue though, it was the action movie/horror elements that didn't work for me. Instead, it was Eddie and his interactions with Venom that made it both fun and interesting. Venom worked, but nothing else did. The villain was both stale and stolid, the romance stilted, and the action occasionally silly. Yet whenever Venom/Eddie is involved it is at least entertaining.

To be clear, this was a bad movie, but somehow fun. As for the horror elements, they are never actually scary, maybe effectively creepy. The movie never gives over to the horror elements like it does action. The humor, while in my opinion the best part, doesn't land half the time. It was a mess of clear corporate interference and a lack of direction. But it could've been a lot worse.

CoramDeo said...

Nick, that's very interesting. The quotes of Fleischer I saw all reveled in the gore that is Venom's comic tradition.

CoramDeo said...

JD, I would agree that the horror/action bits weren't used to their full potential, but I feel like, because of the nature of the film, those were the elements that should have been central. The comedy was more entertaining, yes, but it felt out of place for the film. I think it would have been more focused and better driven if the filmmaker had stuck to the action/horror. If the comedy had been cut, it might have given them more time to spend making the action/horror better. The big comedy thing that bugged me was Venom's slang. That stuck out like a sore thumb every time I heard it. When I could understand what Venom was saying, that is.

Anonymous said...

I feel like a modern Venom movie would have been better if it were the Flash Thompson “Agent Venom” incarnation better. Would be a lot easier to setup your main guy as a hero who is used by his government and an alien that’s driven insane by the same government through experimentation finding a common bond and becoming better. Then you’d even have your hero character that you could spin the rest of the Spider-Man villains Sony has access to around Venom as the protagonist now.

It just very much feels like someone’s stuck in the 90s incarnation of a character and forced a dated story to be told without updating it.