Venom - A Novelty Film At Best
If there was an opportunity for Sony to regain control of their properties and establish some faith with fans, it was with their newly released film, Venom; a movie that is supposed to kick off a shared universe with a plethora of other Spider-Man characters. Unfortunately, the only thing you’ll be hearing a lot of in regards to this is movie is the phrase, “Tom Hardy was great, but…”, and it’s because although Hardy brought a very convincing and likable Eddie Brock to the table (which is really a problem in and of itself), the story, editing, action sequences, and dialogue fell very flat, which an incredibly sub-par Venom movie this makes.
Let’s start with the story: Eddie Brock is a journalist who moved to San Francisco after disgracing himself in New York. While in San Fran, everything seems to be going well until he is told to report on the Life Foundation, a scientific research company that was founded and currently run by Carlton Drake (scientist, billionaire, philanthropist). Brock deceitfully comes across information from his fiance Ann Weying (Michelle Williams), a lawyer for the Life Foundation (technically), that their research is killing many people. When Brock confronts Drake with the accusations, Eddie loses his job, fiance, and the rest of his life crumbles along with him. Meanwhile, the Life Foundation has brought symbiotes to Earth and are trying to bond them with humans (unsuccessfully except for two people). Brock becomes the host to one of the symbiotes, and forms Venom, who aims to protect others from the other symbiote known as Riot, whose goal is to overtake the Earth with symbiotes.
“Tom Hardy was great, but…,” among the many things that made this movie an overall dud, the pacing of the first half was one that stood out; not because it was too slow or too fast, but because it wasn’t either. Let me explain. During the first half of the movie, we’re introduced to about 5 characters: Eddie Brock, Ann Weying, Carlton Drake, Dr. Skirth, and Lobby Guard Richard, and that is too many (for this movie). The character count caused major issues with the pacing because the film was relentlessly trying to bounce from one person to the next, which never gave the audience a chance to become fully invested in any of the characters. Where this may not seem like a huge issue, due to the pacing and the little time with each character, the losses that each of them incur (except for Lobby Guard Richard whom no harm lands upon) seems lifeless and leaves the movie feeling devoid of any real impactful moments. So although the pace is fast, there is little actual development and makes the majority of the movie seem like a poorly written/executed, slow way to explain why Venom ended up with Eddie Brock first, as opposed to the classic storyline where the alien bonds with Spider-Man before Eddie.
You may be thinking, “Well, if the dialogue is good, you can still have very established characters even if the time spent with them is very little.” To you I would say, “Yes. Too bad they didn’t do that.” “Tom Hardy was great, but…,” most of the dialogue served as an express lane to the core of each character but ultimately left you feeling like you were using a self-checkout that only sometimes partially worked. Essentially, less can be more, but, with this movie that mantra did no favors. All in all, each character had one solid character-building scene, and the rest of the movie played off of the few lines of establishment that was given, which was not enough, and it was very much noticeable. This was very unfortunate due to the caliber of actors and actresses present in the film whose talents were sorely underutilized, a huge discredit to the writing because not even these performers at the top of their game could save the film and the supremely interesting and compelling characters that come along with the story.
Speaking of characters, “Tom Hardy was great, but…,” one spot that was sorely lacking in character development, was the main character, Venom/Eddie Brock. The relationship between the symbiote and host was never truly flushed out and it felt like the writing never quite established the motives of either entity clearly. Classically, the symbiote doesn’t let Brock take control or even remotely have a say in the actions that the two of them engage in. This becomes a major struggle for Eddie in the comics, but it seems as though the complete opposite happened in the film, as he (Brock) was calling most of the shots and the symbiote obeyed. This detracted greatly from the much needed dynamic of the character, and takes away from the overall tragedy or hardships of the tumultuous symbiotic relationship that is Venom. In addition to this, the character of Eddie Brock himself was changed, and most likely to make him a more likeable character (mistake). As opposed to the “meathead” jock he is portrayed as in the comics, we see a calm, cool, and collected Brock in the film and has seemingly no problem with his other half (Venom) eating people (albeit only bad ones), but it still doesn’t bother him as much as you would think a religious person like Eddie would take something so murderous and gruesome. Speaking of religious, that is an entire aspect that they chose to leave out of the equation for the character, and instead replaced it with meditation. Sure, this can work for the character, but meditation doesn’t present a moral dilemma for Eddie, whereas being religious would present an issue when it comes to killing people, even if they are bad. With all these issues, it was a little hard to fully get into this new Venom that was being presented.
Another character issue lies with the villain, Riot, who we don’t see until the end of the movie. In a span of 15 minutes we get our introduction to the villainous symbiote who bonds with Carlton Drake, a brief understanding of what it wants to do, a fight between it and Venom, and then we see Riot/Drake’s ultimate demise. That is not much time to feel the severity of the situation that Riot is presenting, which equates to a shrug-worthy end to the film’s villain. Aside from the issues with these two characters, the on-screen chemistry between Weying (Williams) and Brock (Hardy) was a highlight, and despite poorly written lines, they managed to shine through the muck just slightly to make this movie bearable.
By now, you’re probably hoping that at least if anything the action sequences were good - they weren’t. Much like Batman Begins, the action sequences are too close up and a little confusing to follow. However, there was a little gem inside this movie in the form of a car chase sequence that proved to be the highlight of the action, and a very fresh breath of air to kick off the second half of the movie. In it, we see Brock starting to realize what the symbiote can do while the Life Foundation chases Eddie through the streets of San Francisco. The symbiote was very cleverly used to give the upper-hand to Brock on his motorcycle, much like the Batmobile at times, as it would use tendrils to pull the bike sharply from one direction to the next or avoid collisions with cars. The flow from one shot to the next was smooth, as was the climb to the apex of the chase. Much like the car chase scene from Black Panther, this was extremely well done, and it is unfortunate that this precision did not translate to the rest of the action in the movie. This is especially true when it came to the fight between Riot and Venom. It was extremely hard to differentiate between the two symbiotes, and the fight was very short-lived. Not to be crude, but it was essentially two piles of ji@# duking it out for a few minutes.
The problem with this film is not the actors, the characters (well maybe a little), the CGI, or really even the action sequences, it’s the way this character (Venom) was presented. In canon, the symbiote is presented as a main antagonist for Spider-Man long before it is even considered to be a hero/anti-hero. What makes Venom such an interesting character is his mental ebbs and flows from evil to good, and good to evil. With this Venom, we never get to experience the villainous chaotic side before we see the calm, in-control Venom that is supposed to come along much later after the symbioses between Brock and the alien. The movie was not true to the character of Venom nor its host, and it certainly did no favors for its surrounding characters. This, coupled with the sub-par action sequences and half-cocked storyline makes this movie a novelty at best. Ok f
or a one, maybe two time viewing (and ok, maybe another viewing on a hangover Saturday), but certainly nothing you’d want to see over and over. Fans wanted to see Venom on the big screen, and they got it. But this may be the last time we see the character on screen for a long time. Thanks, Sony.