While I was a huge comic book collector / nerd as a kid, Spider-Man wasn’t one of those heroes I glommed onto. I don’t know why…Spidey n I just never connected. Sure, I had a few issues, particularly the McFarlane run in the early 90’s, but I never went out of my way to seek them out. While I may have missed out on some killer web-slinger story-lines, I’m also not burdened by the not-so-unconscious instinct other geeks out there have to automatically acquaint the ‘Venom‘ character with Spider-Man. I knew of ‘Eddie Brock’ / ‘Venom‘ from when they were first introduced during Todd McFarlane’s stab at Spidey and thought he was a cool character with a bad-ass look. The idea of an mercurial alien parasite infesting a human host and bequeathing a bevy of gnarly and horrific abilities was rife with possibilities, and it only made sense for Hollywood to eventually get this dark anti-hero onto The Big Screen, especially in this day of rampant comic book adaptations. Now, this is not the first time that the ‘Venom‘ character has been brought to cinematic life. There was the whole ‘Spider-Man 3‘ debacle, which was definitely a low point for everyone involved, especially director Sam Raimi (‘Darkman’). Even with my limited knowledge of the original character and story, I knew that the version that the horribly miscast Topher Grace attempted was NOT what the fans wanted. And I was right. That incarnation of the character was just about laughed off the screen and helped kill off that particular Spidey franchise. Right around that time, Marvel stepped on the gas with their cinematic universe and other studios took notice, soon going after potential movie franchises through whatever comic book properties they may have the rights to. Which eventually brought us full circle, and Sony / Marvel felt that it was safe to give the ‘Venom’ character another kick at the can. Only this time…there wouldn’t be a spider in sight!
‘Venom’ opens with the disastrous re-entry of a returning space craft to Earth, with the ship disintegrating in flames, a la the Columbia Shuttle disaster. The remains crash down in Eastern Malaysia and soon authorities, including staff from the crashed ship’s parent corporation, lead by the charming but unscrupulous ‘Dr. Carlton Drake’ (Riz Ahmed). From the wreckage, 3 mysterious samples are recovered, but it’s stated that one is also missing. We then meet edgy investigative reporter ‘Eddie Brock‘ (Tom Hardy) and his lawyer fiance ‘Annie‘ (Michelle Williams). ‘Eddie‘ accidentally comes across a memo on ‘Annie‘s computer that reveals clinical trials that resulted in the deaths of at least 3 people. It’s during an interview with ‘Drake‘ that ‘Eddie‘ plays this risky Ace up his sleeve and finds himself in the cross-hairs. This costs him his job, his relationship and his reputation. A whistle-blower scientist from ‘Drake’s company contacts him out of concern for the unethical practices that are occurring involving homeless people and an entity known as a Symbiote. During a break-in to the labs, ‘Eddie‘ is attacked by something and barely escapes. As he works to out-maneuver ‘Drake‘s goons, he discovers that he’s not alone, as the alien parasite infecting him begin to speak…and act. And the chase is on!
‘Venom’ was a perfectly acceptable time-waster. It wasn’t great…but it certainly wasn’t awful. One of the initial attractions for me was the presence of Mad Max himself, Tom Hardy. I love that guy! From his style to his demeanor to his formidable acting prowess. Hell, just check out the true story of Hardy literally foot-chasing a scooter thief down in the street somewhere in London (I think). That’s some badass macho shit right there! So there was that. I wanted to see what he would bring to ‘Eddie‘ that Topher Grace hadn’t been able to. Then there was also just ‘Venom‘ himself. As I said earlier, I was never a Spidey guy, but I did think ‘Venom’ made a slick villain and, if handled right, could be awesome on film. So ‘Spider-Man 3‘ went and nicely fucked that one up, the first time around. But the potential was still there. It also helped that when this one was announced, I recall there being some scuttlebutt about an ‘R’ rating, with something of a Cronenbergian body horror vibe going on. That all sounded groovy to me! So there were things that put ‘Venom’ on my radar, even though it wasn’t a Must See, where I was concerned. But on a drizzly holiday Monday, a morning showing at the local movie house was just the ticket for lil ole me, being that my Better Half is half-way across Canada right now and I’m left to my own devices (be scared!).
The first thing that comes to mind is the ‘relationship’ that develops between ‘Eddie‘ and ‘Venom‘. It was amusing, entertaining and ALMOST touching (in moments), and I always welcomed the scenes where the two characters are chatting. There are some energetic action scenes, especially one featured heavily in the trailers where ‘Eddie‘ encounters a crew of goons at his apartment that transitions into a genuinely exciting car chase through the hilly, night-time streets of San Francisco. There’s also a healthy scattering of chuckles, with much being derived from the awkward ‘back-and-forth’s ‘Eddie‘ and ‘Venom‘ get into. The flick also looked good, with nice use of color and light, and a not-half-bad 3D presentation. Flat in some areas, immersive in others. The Production Design had some cool ideas that were presented well and added to the aesthetic. On a ‘shut your brain off‘ popcorn level, all these elements did what they needed to do.
There are problems here, it’s definitely not a perfect flick. Right off the bat, I think ‘Venom’ suffered in the editing room. The first Act is very choppy and episodic, and the pacing feels ‘off’. Connective tissue between scenes is noticeably absent and does get jumpy at times. It felt like it needed a bit more time to breath, in the neighborhood of 15-20 minutes more on the current 1 hour 52 minute run-time. Some of this could be used to address another gripe I have, which is the lack of chemistry between the ‘Eddie‘ and ‘Annie‘ characters. I think Hardy and Williams did what they could, but there just wasn’t enough there for me to ‘feel’ it. Like most Marvel films (even though this one is only In Association with Marvel), the villain is again weak. I thought that Riz Ahmed (‘Rogue One‘) brought an easy charm to the ‘Drake‘ character but he was mostly just an empty vessel that could become an evil prick at the drop of a hat, with no reasoning that would seem true to the character. I also found Michelle Williams look distracting, as the pale complexion and fake-looking blonde hair kept reminding me of ‘Kira‘, the female Gelfling from ‘The Dark Crystal‘. Then there’s the mid and post-credit scenes. I think they shit the bed here. First one is ‘Eddie‘ visiting a mysterious character in a facility and specifically the stupid wig sported by the surprise celebrity cameo (I’ll give you a hint: this director also directed ‘Zombieland‘.). It looked hilarious…but for all the wrong reasons! Which brings us to the post-credit ‘scene’, to which I say “Fuck you, Sony!” I’m just going to go ahead and ruin it right here: It has NOTHING to do with ‘Venom’. It is just an extended cut-scene from the upcoming animated ‘Spider-Man’ movie. I was genuinely pissed off, after waiting through all the fucking credits (including literally a full minute’s worth of just Digital Artist credits!) to be subjected to essentially just a trailer for another Sony property. Go to hell with that shit! While I think they got a fair bit of mileage out of the PG-13 rating, I would’ve liked to have seen what a balls-out bat-shit crazy hard ‘R’ could’ve done for this story. MAYBE on Blu ray?
All in all, ‘Venom’ was…fine. It went well with my popcorn. Tom Hardy does good job with ‘Eddie‘ (despite his native British accent popping up from time to time) and seemed to be having fun with the dual roles. ‘Venom‘, the character, was well-realized and actually had some personality. Much of the CG was good, especially the Symbiotes in their raw form and they worked nicely in The 3rd Dimension. The pacing does leave something to be desired and the story could’ve used a bit more meaningful ‘padding’ (and that ‘R’ rating!) to help further solidify some relationships and to ‘up’ the stakes a bit more. While most of the action scenes work, there was a climactic fist fight in the 3rd Act that became a jumbled, quick-cut mess that I found distracting…just like the fucking rap tunes peppered in here and there, especially that piece-of-shit from Eminem that kicks off the end credits! Just terrible. But as a whole, ‘Venom’ is NOT terrible. It just doesn’t have tons of substance. If you’re a fan of comic book movies / science fiction / action flicks, and can get over the fact that ‘Spider-Man‘ is nowhere to be seen here, you’ll probably have a good time with ‘Venom’. It’s not one that demands a Big Screen viewing, but would be perfect on a rainy Sunday afternoon on Netflix.
* I can’t help but to think that Tom Hardy had it written into his contract that he didn’t have to do ANYTHING to alter his appearance for this role, as he seems to have done in most of his movies recently. If you see Hardy in any interviews in the last few years, he IS this ‘Eddie Brock‘. His personal style; the tats, the bracelets, the leather necklaces, the fashionably messy hair are all present and accounted for in ‘Eddie‘. It’s like he just arrived on set and jumped in front of the cameras without hitting Wardrobe first. Admittedly, it did feel a LITTLE lazy…but I dig the man’s look, so I let it go.