Friday, 12 October 2018

Venom (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) suspects that something is going on at Life Foundation, run by the ostensibly altruistic Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). However, after an attempt to sneak into the Foundation goes awry, Eddie makes his way home... only to find that something has come with him. Now bonded to an alien organism that calls itself Venom, he sets out to get to the bottom of Drake's plans before the entire city, and the entire world, are put in jeopardy.

Hardy is an improvement over the last guy who was cast to play the titular badass… but then again, said guy was Topher Grace, so it’s not as if that’s saying much. Hell, even considering Hardy’s legitimacy as an action lead thanks to work like Mad Max: Fury Road, it is frankly shocking that he feels this out of place in his own movie. Lacking any real agency or even sentience at times, he is Eddie Brock in the loosest sense: A human vessel for the guy everyone paid to see on the big screen. And even then, his voice work as Venom is so over-modulated that it could’ve been anyone and the effect would’ve been the same. Opposite him, Ahmed likewise feels like he’s in the wrong place, despite being a pretty solid pick as the main antagonist. The man can do intimidating, which makes his utter wet blanket of a performance here so baffling. He’s meant to be charismatic and able to influence others into doing his bidding, along with all the delusions of grandeur around his supposed ‘mission’, but whatever positive effect that has is all in the writing, not the delivery. And the rest of the cast, including Michelle Williams and Jenny Slate, are so nondescript that they aren’t even worth mentioning.

Existing in a weird copyright-bound parallel to the mainstream Marvel Cinematic Universe, this serves as the latest attempt by Sony to try and create its own collective of films connected to Spider-Man. This admittedly only has a single possible hint to that tie, but ultimately, this is supposed to stand out on its own. The way that the filmmakers go about this is about as ass-backwards as it is possible for a comic book film to get this side of the millennium. For all its pretenses of being something darker and more ‘mature’ than what the MCU is currently providing, all that really translates into is being able to swear on-camera. That’s literally it; they’re allowed to say “shit”, which they do with almost childlike regularity, and a token "fuck" as that's all the rating will allow. Anything else that could have given this a more subversive edge, like Venom’s cannibalistic nature, is utterly wasted, to the point where anytime Venom bites someone’s head off, we never really see it happen for ourselves. Beyond that, it’s basically the same fare as the MCU as far as pacing, the stakes of the plot and the overall bombastic yet fun tone, only nowhere near as competently presented. As good as Venom and the other Symbiotes look in this, I hardly think that they are where all of this film’s $100 million+ budget went; everything else looks really drab and uninteresting.

Then again, with a script this tonally haphazard, not even Matthew Libatique could make this look good. Said script is drawn up by Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg, who were also part of the writing team for Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. It also has a rewrite from Kelly “She disowned Fifty Shades Of Grey, so I’m not going to mock her for it” Marcel, but let’s focus on the main two. Now, given this film’s attempt to latch onto the darker, cheaper and highly lucrative path carved out by Deadpool and Logan, the attempts at comedy here could have worked… but not when it’s this particular brand of comedy. Throughout the film, the jokes made by the characters feel way too light-hearted for a film that is basically Upgrade stuck in neutral. I mean, aside from not being all that funny in their own right (save for one decent joke about Venom wanting to jump out of a broken window), it keeps clashing with the story it’s being delivered in. Welcome To The Jungle was quite funny, but add in implied body horror and even more implied eating of human organs, and that sense of humour doesn’t fit.

For example, there’s an aborted subplot regarding Eddie’s next door neighbour that’s meant to show Eddie gaining some strength in wake of his new powers. However, not only does it play out suspiciously like a scene from Halle Berry’s Catwoman, it might actually be a worse example of that story trope. This is the level of unintentionally warped we’re dealing with here. As a result, whenever the film actually tries to be serious about its own plot, it never rings true and just feels like it’s trying way too hard.

This is honestly the worst part because this very problem, not being able to take comic book characters seriously on film, is something I honestly thought we had gotten past over the last decade. More than anything else (except maybe Upgrade, which it is uncannily similar to), this reminds me of the age of comic book movies before Iron Man. Back when filmmakers were still struggling with how to translate the more ostensibly adult aspects of the printed page into a different medium, and thus had a hard time managing to stay true to how goofy a lot of these stories are but also present it as something worth taking seriously. And quite frankly, the answer as to why hurts to even admit: People took the wrong lesson from why Deadpool and Logan were so successful. Rather than looking at their genuine competence at the craft or how well they represented their characters or even the latter’s level of emotional depth, it looks like they just saw ‘darker = better’ and ran with it.

This is the same problem that led to the anatomical nightmare that is the Dark Age of comic books back in the 90's, where overblown musculature and overwhelming self-seriousness took hold of the industry. Ironically, this same era gave birth to not only Deadpool, but also followed in the wake of Venom’s printed debut. However, what made those characters so worth-making-a-movie-about wasn’t down to the clich├ęs of the time. It wasn't Deadpool the generic pouch-touting mercenary that audiences liked; it was Deadpool the undying psychotic who knew he was a comic book character and played to an audience only he could see. Under the right writers, they got past their introductions and became entities that could survive beyond the days when Rob Liefeld was an artistic legend (for some fucking reason). And much like looking back on all those issues of Youngblood and other such nonsense, this film also feels like a relic that most of the world has thankfully moved beyond. And just to hammer that point home, the end credits feature a song by Eminem, another relic that the world seems to be passing by and likely for the better. Seriously, that song sucks.

All in all… I hope this newfangled cinematic universe Sony is cooking up with this goes well. Not because I think this is in any way good, but because last time I said that with Universal’s The Mummy last year, that franchise got canned at Ludicrous Speed. I can only hope the same happens here because I seriously doubt that this is the springboard for anything other than apathy fodder. The cast are all simultaneously perfectly cast and utterly miscast at the same time, and their performances ring hollow as a result, the film looks cheap despite its sizeable budget, the action is lame and more implied than it has any right to be, the jokes are an ill fit for this story, and the story itself is MCU run-off of the weakest variety. If Justice League is the Bizarro version of The Avengers, then this film is the Bizarro Iron Man, in that it starts an entire universe off on an amazingly bad foot and barely even justifies its own existence, let alone that of any other film to follow. Also, for those who were annoyed with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which Jeff Pinkner also helped write), prepare for more of what you hated from that here.

It ranks lower than Pitch Perfect 3, as the feeling of disappointment here is astronomically higher. Venom is near-Fant4stic levels of having the right people in the right place, and yet with everything going wrong in spite of that. Actually, I just realised: For all the comparisons I’ve made to other movies, nowhere in there does this film actually create an identity for itself. However, it still isn’t as rage-inducing or even as much of a time sink as The Flip Side. Venom may becoming worse and worse in my mind’s eye the more I think about it, but The Flip Side has less reason to exist than even this film could manage.

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