3 v. 3: Venom
By now, you’ve probably seen the reviews for Sony’s latest project in association with Marvel. It's probably an understatement to say they’ve been less than favourable and I totally understand why. This movie suffers from a number of serious problems from a filmmaking point-of-view; and there is no denying that these can be jarring and harm the overall experience. But, I’m happy to report that Venom does have some redeeming elements, which overall make for a damn fun film. Messy, but fun. This is another instance in the vein of Justice League, where the critics and fans are going to be polarising in their opinions, as they perhaps are looking for slightly different things. So, the only way too justifiably break this movie down; is with a classic 3 good vs 3 bad. Fortunately for you, dear readers, you decide whether the good or bad win out.
Good: Tom Hardy
The most important step in adapting a beloved property into a feature-length film, is nailing the casting for the starring role. Mercifully, here Tom Hardy clearly has a lot of love and respect for the source material; and he is visibly having a blast throughout. While he occasionally feels out of place in his role as a cutting-edge reporter, when things start to go off the rails he fits the bill perfectly. What was most impressive, was how he conveyed the genuine fear and confusion of being infected with an alien parasite. His reaction never felt underwhelmed and his eventual change of heart about his alien friend came across as genuine – if not a little rushed.
Bad: Weak Characters
The main drawback of Hardy’s stellar performance is how it further highlights the weakness of the supporting characters. While none of them are offensively bad per se, its simply that they are all extremely forgettable. Ann Weying (Eddie’s love interest and She-Venom from the comics) is arguably the better of the remaining cast, but her chemistry with Eddie is virtually non-existent and you never quite get the vibe that there is a real relationship to be explored.
Perhaps more disappointing is Riz Ahmed’s showing as Carlton Drake. While his performance is solid enough, he never graduates from a generic mad scientist with a ludicrous plan. His feud with Brock feels incredibly forced, which ultimately makes the final conflict between the two lose all weight it could have held.
The most criminal is how the movie completely wastes Riot. After been hyped as an immeasurably powerful symbiote, whom Venom describes as nearly undefeatable; he is dispatched after a couple of minutes and a heavy-handed fight-scene. His stay is woefully brief and the symbiote’s role within society on their home planet is never quite fully delved into, which feels like a big miss considering there’s so much interesting content there to be explored.
Good: Eddie and Venom
The standout moments actually came in the quieter scenes, rather than when things were blowing up. The dynamic between Brock and Venom provided some of the wittiest lines in the entire film, as the two come to grips with their paths being welded together.
The symbiotes voice-over gives us greater insight of what it is like to live with this interstellar being day-to-day; and gives more context to the outrageous stunts Eddie is pulling in response to the voice in his head. By the end of the runtime, the two are actually conversing and joking with each other, which spawns a great final scene.
This relationship still has acres of room to explore, and it's one of the few things about Venom that made me incredibly thankful that it is likely to be part of a trilogy. I want to see how this crazy marriage works going forward, I want to see the power struggle as both fight for their ideals to take centre stage and I want to hear the two bicker like a grumpy old couple who’ve spent too much time together. On this level, at least, Venom works and I couldn’t be happier.
Bad: Identity problem
One of the most immediately striking things when you start watching, is how the movie seems to struggle with knowing what it wants to be. The opening few minutes take a more nuanced horror, even Alien-esque tone, which would fit the character perfectly. But pretty soon everything lightens up as it starts to feel more like a standard superhero flick, with quips-a-plenty. But then once the gloop has bonded with Eddie, he has an uncontrollable hunger which could have led to some gritty and nasty scenes where he tries to satisfy his hitchhiker – instead it is played for comedic effect.
This constant shift of tone really hit home during a night-time fight scene where Venom systematically takes out multiple enemies, evoking incredible fear and showing just how formidable he can be. It’s like something plucked straight from a classic sci-fi horror, and it made me mourn for the dark and creepy movie that could have been, rather than the bombastic blockbuster.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure whether to put this in the good or the bad. The mid-credit scene where we get a glimpse of Cletus Kasady is by no means a great scene. Harrelson has a lot to do in order to convince fans he is right for this incredible villain, and that final line, my lord, is one of the clingiest I’ve ever heard in a cinema.
But on the other hand – Carnage! This is obviously coming from a fans perspective and throws any of my critical knowhow out of the window, but I’ve been wanting/craving/needing a big-screen Carnage since I was a child.
There’s no denying that Maximum Carnage is probably one of Venoms most celebrated stories and (if handled correctly) could make for a hell of a fun movie. The sheer insanity of Kasady and his alien alias offers an intriguing balance to Venom’s new found humanity. Although, in the comics it usually takes the help of a certain hero to tame the deranged creature; so it’ll be interesting to see how they navigate that particular obstacle. Speaking of which...
Bad: No Spider-Man
By now you’ve probably realised that I have a lot of love for the Venom character. So, I know that is going to sound like a salty fanboy who’s upset that he didn’t get exactly what he wanted – but stay with me.
Venom needs Spider-Man. Sure, he has some great storylines in his own right, but it ultimately always comes back to the hatred he feels for Peter Parker. You can really feel the wall-crawlers absence throughout, especially since this is an origin film and Venom’s beginning is so intertwined with the famous black-suit-story. In many ways, they try to force Carlton Drake into that role, albeit much less literally. Carlton takes everything from Eddie Brock; ruining his career and his relationship. Venom on the other-hand has no real reason to have a burning vendetta against Drake specifically, only his plan. Robbing the two of the shared loathing of Spider-Man neglects the very thing that they bond over, with the films only rectification being that they bond because “they’re both losers”.
I want to make it clear, I think the movie does a fine job considering this noticeable absence. But this wasn’t a creative decision, it was a matter of the characters rights being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While I sympathise with this, I can’t help but ponder; why you make a Venom franchise if you’re clearly lacking the components to give us the best possible rendition? Unfortunately, you won’t find any real justification in this movie.
So there’s just one take on Sony’s Venom from the perspective of a fan turned critic. This one is going to be sparking debate for weeks to come amongst the die-hards and I can’t wait to hear what the rest of you think of the movie. Let us know your opinions in the comments - and please don’t hate me for liking it!