Movie Review: "Venom" (2018)
I could sum this up in one sentence, but you know I’ve always got a hell of a lot more to say. Still, if I were asked to, I’d say simply this: no one will ever remember that Topher Grace ever played the character a scant 11 years ago.
It’s 2018 now, and Venom finally has his own movie all to himself, played by an actor who is so utterly physical and one of a kind that you can’t help but get excited. It’s not technically a part of the MCU, but rather it’s “In Association With Marvel”. That does make a difference. Whether it makes a difference for good or for ill depends, to some degree, on how big of a comic nerd you are. I’m admittedly pretty light on that side. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for Venom. There may not be a “big” comic character (be it villain or anti-hero) who appeals as much to horror fans...he’s just so goddamn sick. Hence, I went into this one determined to view it with an extra critical eye, lest someone accuse me of just loving it for that reason.
I failed miserably, and I blame Tom Hardy.
Venom is the story of reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy; The Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max: Fury Road), an investigative journalist who’s virulently dedicated to his job. He’s given an assignment to do a simple interview with Elon Musk wannabe Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). He goes instead with his instincts and tries to skewer the space exploring scientific pioneer, resulting in a loss of employment for both he and his fiancee, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams; My Week With Marilyn). It also costs him Anne. Six months later, he’s contacted by Drake’s assistant, Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate; The Secret Life of Pets), about ethics violations in secret human testing trials on the homeless. He’s trying to combine human and alien “symbiote” as a means of evolutionary development. Drake has multiple symbiotes that returned on his last rocket…and one of them is Venom. Brock screws up the job, exposing himself to Venom as the perfect host. Now he’s on the run from Drake’s mercenaries while trying to come to grips with the creature that’s rapidly becoming a part of him for good.
Venom is a by the numbers superhero movie that doesn’t do anything outside the box in terms of story beats, pacing, or ingenuity. That’s a little disappointing in light of the recent success of the R-rated blockbuster and superhero movies, and this was originally an R before being edited to PG-13. Furthermore, the places where the edits were made are glaring and kind of made me want to cry. How sweet the violence could have been. I WANT TO SEE THOSE HEADS BITTEN OFF IN SPRAYS OF GORE!
But I digress.
The reason you won’t (or at least shouldn’t) be more bothered by it is simple: Tom Hardy fucking destroys this role! Sure, the movie is a hodgepodge of stale ideas, but it honestly doesn’t matter. There are very few people working today who have the ability to inhabit a role as fully as Hardy does. He’s batshit in a Nicolas Cage butt-fucking Jared Leto’s Joker kind of way. The man is just so raw and physical that it’s hard to imagine a better choice, but he also slides very naturally into either funny, awkward, or charming as well. It’s a bizarre blend to watch that just leaves a dumb-ass grin on your face. The back-and-forth between Venom and Brock that runs in his head throughout is comedy gold. I didn’t anticipate laughing that much.
The CGI works without knocking your socks off, but I honestly think that a character like Venom (i.e. a fluid, swirling mass of nasty that swirls around frequently) is more suited to ink and paper. They did the best they could with it. I didn’t nitpick it too much, and you shouldn’t either.
It doesn’t take long to get out of villain and straight into anti-hero territory, though. It would have been nice to see the arc of the character run a little longer, but it’s not an unwise marketing decision. We all know he gets that place in the comics eventually. Like the PG-13 downgrade, it’s a money decision. At the end of the day, you can go with it and enjoy the movie for what it is or you can stand on your soapbox and scream.
I don’t know about you, but I go to the movies to be transported and entertained. I’ve not been entertained by a movie this much on many occasions. It’s disturbing fun with one of the best characters, both visually and thematically, in all of comics. I think we all sort of knew it was going to be a bit of a train wreck after viewing the first trailer, but that’s okay. Train wrecks can be fun too when they’re run by a conductor screaming “Watch this motherfucker crash, folks!”
In a nutshell? Get down off the soapbox of nerdy vitriol (if you are so inclined) and get down and dirty with Venom for a couple of hours. It’s not ashamed of what it is, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of enjoying it.
Don’t worry, Stan Lee makes his customary appearance…and it is fan-fucking-tastic.