IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 112 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF critic
A space probe belonging to bioengineering corporation Life Foundation discovers a comet covered in symbiotic lifeforms and brings four samples back to Earth. One escapes and causes the ship to crash in Malaysia, but the Life Foundation recovers the other three and transports them to their research facility in San Francisco, where CEO Carlton Drake learns that the symbiotes cannot survive without oxygen-breathing hosts and starts to use human guinea pigs. One of his scientists, Dora Skirth, disagrees with his methods and tells sacked journalist Eddie Brock what’s going on, but when Brock breaks into the research facility, he’s taken over by a symbiote….
I didn’t intend to do a review of Venom, largely because I increasingly leave the task of reviewing the latest lycra and CGI fest to other writers who are still excited about them. But nobody else has yet had the time to go and see it, so being as it’s over a week after its release date I felt obliged to throw a review in. Of course by now you’ve probably seen Venom too, in fact a hell of a lot of people have seen Venom, which is the latest example of that paradox which sometimes makes critics feel rather pointless and insignificant – a film that is largely slated but which the paying public not only flock to see but who seem to really like judging by the IMDB reader comments/reviews which I feel give a good indication as to how folks feel about a film [though of course it’s sometimes flawed too – while I did like A Star Is Born, I’m convinced that IMDB was swamped by Lady Gaga fans for a while who were going to love and sing the praises of anything she does]. I’ll admit that I came out of the cinema showing Venom feeling rather disheartened by the fact that at the moment the fascination with and dominance of comic book movies makes it seems that any old rubbish featuring a superhero [okay, supervillain in this instance, but you know what I mean] will do well. Boy am I tiring of this shit.
And yet, when I reflected a little, I eventually came to the opinion that Venom, which a very brief amount of research indicates that the three screenwriters have combined the Lethal Protector Venom with Ultimate Venom in terms of origins, wasn’t that bad. Its premise has a lot of potential that’s largely wasted, but I can see how appealing it might be and I’m sure that the original comics do much more with the idea and work much better. Tom Hardy is an absolute hoot – whether it’s a good performance or not is almost immaterial. And the film’s first third or even half, though criticised by many, really is okay. It’s not great and still makes some major mistakes, but it does lead one to believe that things will get really good thereafter. Unfortunately things immediately go downhill once Brock gets his parasite. The mixture of mild body horror, the classic Steven Martin comedy All Of Me, and every bleeding comic book movie cliche the film’s three writers can cram in, never jells, and even if you’re not aware of Hardy’s mentioning of all his favourite bits having been cut out, it’s painfully obvious that chunks have been removed, almost giving the impression that somebody tore random pages out of the script just before filming. And then there’s the title character. Venom lacks much in the way of character or motivation. He doesn’t seem to have much conflict or drive aside from eating people, and his decision that he likes Brock and Earth and is going to stay there as well as try keep his alien brethren from taking it over just seems absurdly sudden. And – well – this definitely should have been made as a ‘R’ rated film. It feels so compromised.
So we have these lifeforms found in space and one escapes to possess a woman in Malaysia in a scene that does suggest that there will be a decent horror content in this movie. The other three end up in the hands of the nasty Carlton Drake, and I have to say I really like Riz Ahmed’s bad guy unlike it seems many. The fact that you’d never point him out as a murderous villain on the streets, and Ahmed’s restraint [good idea Riz, no point in trying to compete with Tom], makes him more frightening in a way – well, at least for me, though of course it may just be me being surprised that there were a few [though not that many] good things in this movie! Sadly the aliens themselves are the same kinds of boring strand-filled blobs we’ve seen in everything from Green Lantern to Lucy to Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, and are a good example of the way this film tries to be different but in the end can’t help being generic instead. We spend the majority of the time with journalist Brock, who loses his job when confronting Drake about certain dodgy activities. He also loses his fiancée Anne Weying, an attorney involved in preparing a lawsuit defense for Life Foundation. Anne’s actually not the most likable of characters, suddenly dumping Brock when the going gets tough and frankly I couldn’t really understand what Brock sees in her, but that’s love for you I guess. Six months later and Brock is really down on his luck, but his life is about to change dramatically. While Drake is getting closer to achieving successful symbiosis, the film here giving us one genuinenly horrific scene when one of his human guinea pigs contorts horribly before dying, Brock is approached by Dora Skirth who wants to help Brock expose her boss Drake. She helps Brock break into the research facility to search for evidence, and then does something so stupid you wonder how it got put on paper let alone filmed.
Brock finds that an acquaintance of his, a homeless woman named Maria, has become one of Drake’s test subjects. Brock attempts to rescue her, but she attacks him and the symbiote possessing her transfers from her body to his, leaving her dead and Brock possessed. The symbiote names itself and speaks for itself independently, permitting Hardy to engage in conversations with himself as he tries to talk his darker side out of eating the brains of unsuspecting innocents, yet also finds himself doing crazy things like jumping into a fish tank in a restaurant. This stuff is initially quite funny, with Hardy displaying a real comic talent somewhere between Jim Carrey and Nicolas Cage, but is totally at odds with what’s come before, and the more interesting ramifications of the setup are ignored. And then the tried and tested plot ingredients, along with Brock dispatching various bad guys with his new found powers, are thrown at you with increasingly dizzying speed while any connective tissue seems to have been torn away, finishing with an especially boring showdown that almost comes at you out of thin air and which features two black and almost identical digital creatures battling in dark surroundings. Much of the CGI here is terrible, though it’s generally okay before, if hardly top quality.
Though I can’t be sure about this, it seems that much of the cut stuff could be of the Venom/Brock relationship, because as depicted in the film it seems to skip past certain beats and has little sense of development, the emphasis being mostly on trying to provide laughs. And the film frustratingly flirts with being genuinely horrific but almost always pulling back. The ‘PG-13’ rating was a big mistake and a pointless decision anyway considering how countless young kids get to watch the likes of Deadpool anyway whether or not their parents want them to do so. This film constantly seems to be aching to show us graphic bloodshed, but instead is hilariously dumb the way gruesome carnage seems to occur in front of us but we don’t actually see the money shots. It’s baffling how things seem to have become more restrictive in terms of censorship these days, at least in the US. The MPAA don’t seem to allow much in the way of blood in even a ‘PG-13’, yet there are those who still remember what you used to be able to get away with in just a ‘PG’ in the 1980’s. In the UK, the BBFC have given the film a ’15’ which is ridiculous considering how dark some ’12A’s have been. I would have thought, for example, Suicide Squad to be far more unsuitable for young children.
I do wonder if the Sony execs just saw an uncompleted, rough draft of a script and said “shoot it NOW”, while director Ruben Fleiescher [Zombieland, Gangster Squad] doesn’t seem to know what to do with the material and instead settles for half-heartedness [at least in the version we have now] in a film that could possibly have been refreshingly bonkers in other hands. His approach seems to have effected others. Matthew Libatique, a regular Darren Aronofsky collaborator, is the director of photography but it doesn’t show in the visual dullness, while music composer Ludwig Göransson, who did a pretty good job on Black Panther, rarely seems to try to elevate or even substantially back the proceedings musically. Of course an actual tune is absent. Thank god then for Hardy, who’s all over the place and is clearly having a whale of a time acting in a rather different film, probably the film that it seems everyone else wanted Venom to be at the beginning but lost their bottle. He’s the main reason to watch this irritating, stupid but not totally uninteresting film.