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Venom (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Venom

VENOM (2018)

Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Ron Cephas Jones, Michelle Lee, Melora Walters, Marcella Bragio, William W. Barbour, Mac Brandt, Sope Aluko, Sam Medina, Donald K. Overstreet, Christian Convery, Michelle Fang, Woody Harrelson and Stan Lee.

Screenplay by Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 112 minutes. Rated PG-13.

So, this is what Deadpool has wrought. Yet another ultra-violent anti-hero tale in which the comic element – which admittedly is sometimes very funny – overshadows everything else. Venom has no real interest in plot, in characterization, in suspense, in likability, in believability. Even the action scenes often feel like an afterthought, and the CGI is frequently laughably bad.

I’m not sure who exactly this film is for. From early reports, fan-boys of the character seem to be throwing lots of shade on previews of this new film adaptation origin story (a different origin story than the character had in the comics, by the way). They are angry that the dark aspects of Venom have been scrubbed clean to make it into a PG-13 laugh fest. Critics are being scathing. I can’t even imagine someone who doesn’t know the character coming in and becoming a convert.

Plus, there is the very real question – why make a movie about a character who is mostly known as a Spider-Man villain if you are not going to have Spider-Man in it? (Well, okay, the character does make a cameo late in the film, but it feels awkward and slapped on – and frankly more like a preview of the upcoming animated film Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse than part of the story we have been watching.) It would be like doing a movie in which the lead was The Green Goblin, Elektro or Doc Octopus. It may be interesting, but why? And if the bad guy is the hero, then would a hero be the villain? Or does it even matter?

Now, the basic lack of Spidey-ness seems to be a business matter, not a creative matter. Spider-Man is now a part of the Marvel Comic Universe of films – even though his films are still made by Columbia Pictures rather than Disney’s Marvel arm – and even though early on in the process it seemed like Venom would be added to that universe, he seems to have been shut out. Venom is now supposed to be in a stand-alone universe, not a part of the Marvel world at large.

So what of this world? The film takes place mostly in modern San Francisco – with a few opening scenes in Malaysia (and one in outer space).

The story in a nutshell: an evil corporation creates its own rocket to go to space and collect an black gooey alien life form – called “symbiotes” – which survive by submerging into a host body and taking over the living being that it inhabits, usually eventually killing it.

A local San Francisco investigative reporter named Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) – who is shown early on to be completely untrustworthy when he steals a confidential file from his lawyer fiancée (Michelle Williams) in order to get a scoop – has been investigative the corporation and its megalomaniacal CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmad).

Even when he is blacklisted from TV, Eddie can’t help but look into Drake, particularly when a doctor at the lab finds a conscience and confirms that Drake is using and killing human guinea pigs. She sneaks him into the lab in off hours, where of course his body is taken over by a symbiote turning him periodically into a giant ooze monster with giant teeth and a taste for brains.

Even when he is human, he hears the voice of the symbiote (who conveniently appears to speak English). It’s probably not a good thing that Venom’s interior conversations antagonizing Eddie sound distinctively like Pennywise the Clown taunting another character named Eddie in IT as a demented leper.

The mega-talented Tom Hardy – who played Bain in The Dark Knight Rises, an imperfect but much better comic book film – is stuck doing an odd, mush-mouthed imitation of Sylvester Stallone to play Eddie. He’s supposed to be a super-smart, mega-talented investigative reporter, but we never buy that for a second. Eddie mostly seems punch-drunk here, a good-natured-but-foolish galoot who has taken one or two too many knocks on the head. The broad characterization and the often-clunky dialogue take the actor down, making him seem much less capable than he really is.

Of course, he isn’t the only quality actor who is let down by the material. Four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams sleepwalks through the role of Eddie’s ex in a bad wig and with a near complete lack of emotion. The bad guy, played by the normally-talented Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, The Night of…), goes in the exact opposite direction, with Ahmed chewing scenery with undisguised (and undeserved) gusto.

Even though Columbia is hoping for this to be the starting point for a film series, Venom has way too many tonal and technical problems to recommend. And any movie that tries to get chills from putting a cute bunny rabbit and sweet little yippy dog in mortal danger deserves a shaming in the public square.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 5, 2018.

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