Film Review – Venom
Ven… um. So, it was a movie. Time passed, images were projected on a screen, stuff happened, CGI was used, teeth were bared, there were fights, a movie happened.
Unfortunately, that’s about how what you walk away with having seen the newest comic book movie Venom. You would think in this age of fun stuff like Deadpool and the winning formula of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies that we would be beyond the truly lackluster superhero stories that were common over a decade ago. But this movie, while not actively bad or embarrassing, is lackluster. It reminds me of watching the Suicide Squad movie in that you have a feeling some bits of the movie were left on the cutting room floor. There’s no tension in Venom. The movie itself has ADD. It’s put together with a 10 year old boy’s attention span in mind. Things happen quickly with no buildup and little character work behind any of it.
The film only has the loosest of relationships with it’s comic book origin. Both versions start as a black goo from outer space that comes to Earth. In the comics, this symbiotic ooze had attached itself to Peter Parker/Spider-Man and ended up adopting his traits before joining with another host to become a super-villain. This time around, due to Sony still trying to retain some rights to their IP, the pool of goo has nothing to do with Spidey. It crash lands here, is trapped in a lab run by billionaire Carlton Drake as played by Riz Ahmed. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative reporter with a self-sabotaging streak. He investigates Drake’s facility, breaks into the lab, accidentally bonds with Venom, and is then on the run from the bad guys who keep wanting to recapture him. Along the way he gets help from a lab assistant played by Jenny Slate and has problems with his fiancée played by Michelle Williams.
This case is immensely overqualified for this film. Tom Hardy is going to win an Oscar someday. He is that talented an actor. But here he is mainly stuck in the middle of heavily CGI fight scenes with little actual character with which to work. He’s having a bit of fun, and Eddie tries to be lighthearted with occasional quips. But most of the role is just a toothy computer graphic flitting around the screen throwing bad guys against various walls.
Both Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed have been in much better movies as well. They are both terrific actors. It’s a shame, because we know that director Ruben Fleischer is capable of delivering genre fun. Zombieland was a joy. But this feels like work for hire. A lot of the action scenes are the CGI Venom fighting either CGI assisted stuntmen or late in the movie, a CGI transformed version of the villain. Thus, you get this same kind of glossed over feeling when watching a Transformers movie where two computer graphics smack each other around with no physical or emotional weight. In fact, this reminds me of a Michael Bay movie in another way where you get a talented cast posing their way through an overblown action movie that should be beneath them.
The main issue here is, this is a movie that’s all action with no foreplay. Think of some of the best action movies you’ve seen. If it’s a Steven Spielberg adventure movie like Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park, there’s actual buildup involved. Or look at some of the best superhero films: The Dark Knight pauses on occasion to let you get to know the characters or to anticipate that the Joker is about to do something horrible. Spider-Man 2 with Tobey Maguire is the best Spider-Man movie because it lets us spend time with Peter and his Aunt as well as giving the action scenes some genuine gravitas. That fight with Dock Ock that ends on the elevated train is CGI action with a heart to it. There are stakes and poignancy at work.
I know there are a lot of people suffering from comic book movie fatigue. I am not one of them. I am still enjoying the MCU movies immensely. I dug both Deadpools. The X-Men franchise has more hits than misses. So, ragging on Venom is not a case of dismissing the genre. This just feels more like the superhero movies that haunted us 15+ years ago, back when we would get a Daredevil or Catwoman or Elektra movie that would throw away most of what makes it’s source material worthwhile.
There are a couple of stingers during the end credits. While I won’t ruin one of them, the second one is a 5-minute teaser for the new Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse animated movie that comes out in a couple of months. That short chunk of film had more heart and thrills than in the entire 90+ minutes that preceded it. In fact, all it made me do was wish I was watching that instead. And if the best part of a movie is them showing an entirely different movie, that’s not a good sign. Disappointing.