Venom Review: Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters Finds a Rocky Foundation

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Venom 2018

It’s safe to say that we are currently living in a world saturated with dynamic comic book hero movies. We won’t name names, but we’ve seen the great, the good, the bad and the ugly all represented on screen. Every corner of the superhero genre has been explored and explored again, making it hard to carve out a place that feels fresh, new and not overdone. Venom, almost accidentally, manages to find his own place in this world. But if Sony is hoping Venom is this year’s Iron Man, it’s building on a rocky foundation.

Then again, comparison won’t work with this year’s Venom, because Venom is standing alone in the field of comic book movies. Mainly because he is no hero. He’s not even a proper anti-hero like Deadpool. A case might be made for putting it into the same playing field as Suicide Squad, but even that doesn’t work for Venom. He is a symbiote apart from the landscape of comic book characters turned big budget movie stars.

Proceed with caution…there will be spoilers!

Eddie Brock, when we first meet him, is on top of the world. Living his best life. He’s got a great girl. A great job. One could almost describe him as a hero. But instead of a cape and tights, he uses his pen to bring about justice. He’s constantly on the hunt for a story of corruption that he can shed light on. And no one is above his microscope. Not even Carlton Drake, founder of the Life Foundation. When Eddie Brock is sent to tow the party line and appease a share holder…he can’t…he won’t…he straight up doesn’t. He puts the screws to Drake, leading him down a path he could never have foreseen.

If you are a die-hard fan of the Venom character in the comic books, you might not like this movie. Venom’s origin story is being completely rewritten in this film. Partly because he has been a character that the mainstream audience doesn’t know a lot about, leaving him open to a little interpretation. And, with the differences of vision between Marvel Studios and Sony, Spider-man is not a player in this game. Since Spidey is such a vital piece of Venom’s history in the comic books, it’s hard to tell a story that doesn’t involve him. At times in the film, you can feel like they really struggled to find their way. It’s apparent that struggle stems from wanting to have Spider-man be a part of the greater story of Venom.

The sad part is, that even if Marvel Studios made a deal with Sony to have Spider-man show up in their SUMC, Tom Holland’s portrayal of a younger, brighter, Stark protege in Peter Parker, really doesn’t seem to fit well with the universe Sony is building around the villains they have the rights to. Venom’s tone would have to alter quite a bit to make room for Holland’s Spidey. As much as we, the comic book-loving audience, would want to see that happen, don’t hold your breath.

What Works

Tom Hardy

When the story turns to the relationship between Eddie Brock and the symbiote Venom, it is fully realizing it’s potential. Tom Hardy is a phenomenal actor and you can see that in the scenes where Eddie Brock is visibly fighting his inner “demon.”

One scene, in particular, that takes full advantage of Hardy’s acting is the restaurant scene, where he comes to talk to his ex-girlfriend Anne (played by Michelle Williams) about his “parasite.” His urgency and manic energy translate through the screen and you almost feel it in your bones. Hardy is throwing everything he has into the scene here and it really works.

The Cast

The rest of the cast is a good choice for the film as well. Michelle Williams plays love interest Anne, who is a strong female character who doesn’t take Eddie’s crap. When Eddie uses her to try and take down Carlton Drake, she doesn’t stand for it. She isn’t left on the sidelines, even though the men in her life keep trying to protect her. She is capable and smart and the only problem with her is that there isn’t enough of her character in this film. One hopes that she will get more screen time and character development as the SUMC advances.

Riz Ahmed is good at being bad in the role of Carlton Drake. He’s ruthless. He’s cunning. He wants to see a change in the world and will stop at nothing to see his vision realized. Even if it means killing a few poor people or even his own coworker.

Jenny Slate plays Doctor Dora Skirth. She is the right hand of the father and up to this point has played along with every one of Carlton Drake’s experiments. But when he starts murdering poor people, she reaches the end of her tether and reaches out to Eddie Brock to expose Carlton for the man he truly is.

What Doesn’t

The Big Bad

Riot, another symbiote, is a character that feels out of place here. We see him meld with person after person, on a mission to get to the heart of the action, though it’s unclear why he’s heading to the Life Foundation. Once melded with Carlton Drake, Riot decides it wants to bring back more symbiote’s, from whence they come, in order to wipe out humanity and destroy Earth. It’s unclear why that is Riot’s mission since it isn’t Carlton Drake’s mission. And if that’s how Riot feels about humanity, what makes Venom want to stop him. The motivations of the symbiotes are so different, it seems like they wanted the human element to play a more significant part here, but that doesn’t match the characters of Eddie or Carlton either. What’s left in the aftermath is a lot of confusion.

CGI

The scenes where Riot and Venom are interacting are hard to watch, not only because of the darkness on screen but also because of the sloppiness of the CGI in scenes that demand crisp, clean lines. When they are fighting, it’s even worse.

There are some scenes where Venom looks really believable. One that stands out is the scene where Eddie is on the run on a motorcycle and Venom is saving his skin periodically. But there are plenty of other scenes where the valley between cartoon and CGI are blurred. As far as we’ve come in this field, this movie shows us we can still advance further.

End Credit Scenes

Since the SUMC is invoking the name of Marvel in their acronym, one has to wonder if that isn’t why they added an end credit scene here. The MCU is by no means the owner of the end credit scene, but they could be called an innovator in the field. Not only does Venom take the chance to put one mid-credit scene in to advance the greater narrative of their SUMC, they also take the opportunity to show an extended trailer of their upcoming movie Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse.

If you’re a fan of Carnage, perhaps your Spidey sense tingled at the sight of Cletus Kasady in prison. Though, as gifted an actor as Woody Harrelson is, he feels like the wrong choice for Carnage. And literally saying the words “When I get out of here, there’s going to be carnage” seems like it’s hitting the audience over the head a little hard with the incorporation of Carnage in their future.

And the extended trailer of Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse makes sense only as a way to promo a movie you have coming out that sort of is, maybe, a little bit connected if you’re thinking in a less linear, more multiverse kind of way. But overall, just feels like a waste of staying through the credits.

Venom: Sony's Rocky Foundation

Overall, if you keep your bar kind of low and keep an open mind, you might actually enjoy yourself. Venom is no man’s here, but he’s also not the worst of what’s out there. (The Catwoman comparisons are harsh, guys. Way too harsh!)

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