When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego "Venom" to save his life. (from IMDB)
Although Marvel Studios finally has the rights to Spider-Man, it hasn't stopped Sony from trying to figure out how to capitalize on the rights they own to the character and its universe. With the release of the Andrew Garfield-helmed Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony had planned on a Sinister Six film that was to unite the villains in a Suicide Squad type fashion. But after the poor performance of Amazing Spider-Man 2, and the subsequent rights grab from Marvel Studios, those plans were scrapped. It's probably for the best, too, because while I enjoyed aspects of both Amazing Spider-Man films, the tone and scale of the franchise was heading for disaster (we still remember Spider-Man 3 all too well). Fast forward to 2018 and Marvel has made great use of Spidey in the in-between years with actor Tom Holland in the tights, introducing him in Captian America: Civil War, giving him his own film in Spider-Man: Homecoming, including him in Avengers: Infinity War, and now currently filming a Homecoming sequel, titled Spider-Man: Far From Home. Meanwhile, Sony has been hard at work work on what they're calling "The Spider-Verse," starting off with Venom's own film, and continuing with December's first animated Spider-Man film: the abysmal-looking, does-anyone-even-want-it, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. A feature Venom film is an interesting concept, however, made far more interesting by having acclaimed actor Tom Hardy star as the title character (and also taking on a co-producer role).
If you're reading this, the film has been out almost a week already and anyone who's expressed interest in the film most likely already knows it's been met with pretty terrible critical reviews. The audience reactions seem to be a bit mixed, but the idea of an actor like Hardy embodying Eddie Brock/Venom was a seat-filler for me. One of the major complaints about Venom, however, seemed to be an inconsistent tone throughout. The film often teeters between an imbalance of horror and comedy, but it was a mix that I didn't find as problematic as others apparently have. Granted, one of my favorite horror comedies is 1999's The Mummy, and it is criminally a mix of the two genres. But, in time, I've found that imbalance to be part of its charm (and it's actually a lot more goofy and a lot more horrifying than Venom). So, in this case, I think the uneven tone is merely an acquired taste. But, on the other side of the coin, I can understand fans who wanted--and expected--a more straight forward and serious outing for Venom. In fact, I think it's safe to assume many wanted a brutal, violent, and gruesome film. However, this viewer is thankful that it isn't quite all of that.
Don't get me wrong, the film is dark. But the humor that Hardy brings to Eddie and Venom keeps the film far more light than it is expected to be. But, ultimately, it's Hardy that makes the film a fun one. Sure it's a silly film with some plot elements that make no sense, but if you're expecting a decent popcorn film, Venom does the trick. If you want to drill down to find a meaning or purpose to the film, it'd be tough to find, but overall, the idea of good versus evil -- or at least, lesser evil versus evil -- is pretty much what rises to the top. By the end of the film, Brock is hoping his distorted union with Venom can be used to only harm "bad people" and not "good people." (But of course, in the Christian worldview, it isn't quite as simple as that. Speaking of spiritual themes, there isn't much to be found here--as one might expect--but in one scene, the villain uses the story of Isaac and Abraham and twists it to say it was all about Isaac being the one making the big sacrifice, not Abraham--and he uses this to manipulate a person named Isaac to pretty much give their life for a scientific test, against their will.)
Really, this is Hardy's show. He's fantastic as Brock, bringing a real intensity to the character and a schizophrenic approach to the Eddie/Venom relationship, and he's just a lot of fun to watch. As Eddie deals with the symbiote "parasite," he begins doing some truly strange things--like trashing his own place in an effort to find "living" food, pouring a full box of frozen tater tots in his mouth, and eating half-eaten chicken scraps (on the bone, mind you) from the trash. But if it weren't for Hardy going all-in with his performance, it wouldn't quite work. Some of the humor stems from the bizarre behavior, coupled with the fact it's coming from Hardy, while some of the script can also be funny. At the same time, Michelle Williams plays Eddie's love interest in what ends up being an uneven performance that gradually makes less and less sense as the movie progresses. She's great at first, but does more than a few things that seem out of character before the film's end. Riz Ahmed, who I loved as the quirky Bodhi in Star Wars: Rogue One, makes a good villain, but by the time he and Brock have an epic throwdown during the climax, the film has given in to Hulk-sized comic book movie craziness (yup, that 2003 film). Yet, once the two symbiote creatures start fighting, if the audience has been strapped in for the movie so far, they're already pretty committed to the crazy ride they're on.
One of the biggest and most obvious plotholes to the film, however, is when we first see a symbiote take over a person's body, we see them walk slowly off into the distance. The film then jumps 6 months and we find this person still wandering around. They then violently kill a bunch of people and take over an old woman's body, and then walk off again. The film then occasionally revisits this storyline, where we see the old woman in an airport and then later passing it to a child. This subplot is easily one of the silliest aspects of the film, and it's hard to swallow that a possessed zombie-like person just kind of hung around unnoticed for 6 months before finally finding the film's central villain. (Although, seriously, I think someone needs to make a comedy sketch that imagines what that symbiote-controlled person was doing during those six months.)
The content for Venom is pretty rough, even by today's PG-13 standards. There's one, casual "F" word from Brock while he's talking to Venom, as well as over 20 uses of the "S" word (including one we see Eddie write on a note to his boss), and a handful of other cuss words and blasphemy. The sexual content is mild; we see Eddie and Anne kissing heavily as they claw at each other's clothes as they move to the bedroom, but the scene ends there (and we see them in bed asleep in the middle of the night). There's also a brief scene where we see a female Venom and we see her shapely figure, but nothing explicit. The main red flag for the film is the violence. The body count is pretty high, and some of the grosser moments include a woman who died in a car crash getting taken over by a symbiote and we see her get up and walk, with the camera focusing on a compound fracture of her shin that is suddenly healed by the symbiote as she walks (We see a bone sticking out with blood and then it heals up). The same thing later happens to Eddie who gets wrecked after a motorcycle accident, but Venom fixes his leg and some bloody wounds. There are also a few World War Z-ish scenes where people infected with the symbiote reject the parasite as their body twists and writhes in a disturbing fashion. We also see some victims after they've died with the dried symbiote lying nearby that almost resembles a pile of entrails (and, at first, it kind of looks like that). Lastly, there are two scenes where Venom bites a person's head clean off. We see one quickly, but it isn't very graphic, and the second lingers a little more on the headless body before it's tossed aside, but both happen in the dark, so it's not particularly graphic.
I saw the film in IMAX 3D, and while the large IMAX format was great, I wasn't impressed at all with the 3D. I would recommend skipping the 3D for this one if you're on the fence about it. However, the IMAX format is recommended.
Venom is definitely a mixed bag. In an attempt to make an anti-hero superhero film, we're presented with a quirky, violent, albeit often amusing popcorn film. It's fun enough to make me curious how a sequel could turn out; I'd love to see maybe a different director or set of writers tackle a sequel, but Hardy is so good as the character, I'd be interested in seeing him return to it. Still, it's a pretty rough film, so I recommend exercising caution before deciding to check it out. (Note: There is a mid-credits bonus scene that teases a sequel, while the post-credits sequence is just a long scene from the upcoming animated movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse... and it looks terrible. It's not worth staying through the credits for.)- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/10/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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