I was scrolling through Twitter after the Venom press screening, skimming through some of the early reactions to the film, to find that there are some who claim that it’s as big a crime as the 2004 Catwoman starring Halle Berry. Really, guys? Catwoman is a poorly acted, horribly written, insufferable piece of trash. The kind that makes you throw your remote at the TV every time it pops up while you’re channel surfing. A film that makes me wonder if its director, Pitof (who has not made a film since) suffered some sort of trauma as a teenager — maybe he was a star quarterback whose face was shoved in a toilet bowl by a group of nerds reading graphic novels — that made him get on his knees, look up to the heavens and scream “One day! One day, I will make a comic book film so bad, it would forever doom the comic book industry!” How else do you explain the curious case of Catwoman? Venom on the other hand… well, it has its moments.
If I told you that the film is about a hotshot investigative journalist named Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who in an ego-driven move does something (arguably noble, bold but completely dickish) which simultaneously puts a full stop to his career and relationship, you would say that it sounds like an enticing set up. And I would say, I’m not done yet. Swimming in a pool of alcohol and self-pity, one day, Eddie gets pulled back into the world of investigative journalism, only to get infected by a cosmic parasite/greatest villain in the Spider-verse. He must then learn to deal with and hopefully tame the evil that’s consuming him from the inside out. You would then say it sounds like a bloody brilliant story and I would nod in agreement (if we were texting, I would say, “IKR! *smiley face* *smiley face*”). But a film, unfortunately for the folks at Sony, is more than an elevator pitch. It requires a fully fleshed out screenplay. And as a whole, these great ideas aren’t translated into a great movie, nor a very good one.
When Rachel slaps Bruce Wayne in the first act of Batman Begins, it is a powerful moment — we feel his shame and guilt. It is the moment that sets him on his journey that eventually leads to the birth of the caped crusader. When an armoured truck transporting Tony Stark gets taken down by a group of terrorists and he realises that it’s by the very weapons he created, we feel the full weight of Tony’s world — everything he ever believed in — come crashing down on him, as blood seeps out of his suit. Here, when Anne (Michelle Williams, who has good chemistry with Hardy) takes off her ring and breaks up with Eddie, it’s emotionally barren.
Ruben Fleischer (who once upon a time announced himself to the world with the brilliantly helmed Zombieland) doesn’t pause to explore human relationships. He doesn’t linger on the small moments. He doesn’t linger at all. If you’re not given enough time to buy into the love, why would you care if the ring comes off? Recently, Tom Hardy mentioned that there is at least 30 minutes worth of footage left on the cutting room floor. I wonder if there’s a scene where Eddie and Anne sit down in a dusky bar with music blaring from an old jukebox, as they chat about how they first met — each of them would have a slightly different recollection, of course. Would there also be sequences that highlight Eddie’s passion and love for his job? As it stands, Venom severely lacks these human moments. It is a generic action film and even then, it doesn’t quite work. The film should’ve committed to the blood, guts and gore. But because Sony opted for a PG-13 rating, even that is absent.
The conflict between Eddie and Venom is exciting — think something along the lines of a comedic version of Smeagol vs Gollum — and Tom Hardy is excellent as the voice of Venom. But once again, this fresh concept for a superhero (it’s not the “anti-hero” film you’d like it to be) film is wasted away. When Venom first infuses itself into Eddie, the symbiote is the embodiment of evil. It takes control of Eddie and even tries to eat away his organs. In a later scene, Venom out of nowhere decides to be Eddie’s comrade. The Eddie-Venom relationship doesn’t evolve gradually. It just flips on its head suddenly. In between friend and foe, there is no escalating conflict, no turning point, only mind-numbing, incomprehensible (I watched it in glorious IMAX 2D mind you) action sequences.
I wish the writers (Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinker, Kelly Marcel and Will Beall) delved into the psychological repercussions of having a symbiote in you. Here they only tackle the physical consequences. We see Eddie jump in an aquarium in a restaurant to cool down. We see him eat meat out of a trash can and puke it all out. But we don’t feel the mental struggle of having someone inside your head, trying to take control of your mind.
The villain, Carlton Drake/Riot (Riz Ahmed), is as one dimensional as they come — your typical evil genius (though, admittedly the scene where Carlton spews biblical themes at a junkie he’s about to experiment on is thoroughly captivating). Venom also severely lacks meaningful stakes. Unlike its trailer, the film isn’t remotely intense. There are a couple of throwaway lines about going back outer space to bring back an army of symbiotes. Will I be seen as a less proper journalist if I just say “lol” (the way it’s used these days, as if to say “haha, I’m speechless”)? Why should we root for or against any of these characters?
Venom is not a terrible film, not by a stretch. There is some fun to be had here, especially when it comes to the Eddie-Venom dynamic (despite its lack of exploration). It’s also the kind of film that makes me wish Sony would just tap out and give Marvel Studios back its properties. Enough is enough.
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