Pushing the PG-13 element a little bit. It's odd to think that Captain America: The First Avenger and Venom are both PG-13 movies. The symbiote uses some rough language. It bites a few heads off, admittedly mostly off camera. The violence is pretty intense and the symbiotes themselves get pretty gross, especially if a host rejects the symbiote. There's some action. Honestly, this movie more Hot Topic than actually edgy, so I can accept a PG-13. It's just odd to think how much PG-13 actually spans.
DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer
I knew that this movie was going to suck at the exact level is sucked at. From the first announcement that Sony was going to be making a Venom movie, I knew that it was going to be a B- film. I just knew it. When I saw the first trailer, I knew the exact kind of movie it was going to be. Everyone kept asking me, "Did you see the new Venom trailer?", expecting me to swoon over it. I looked at that trailer and just cringed. This movie is a hard dose of mediocrity and I don't see how many of my students are losing their minds over it.
You know what? It doesn't surprise me. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. If you like something, continue liking me. Ignore my pages and pages of ranting into the void of space (pun intended) about how movies suck. This movie presented something that a lot of people wanted that I didn't really want. This movie is extreme. It is the film equivalent of an Ed Hardy shirt. It is the Stussy logo drawn in the margins of a notebook. There is no other soundtrack except for electric guitar. (Oh, if only that were true. The Venom soundtrack often missed the mark. Horns? Horns as part of the main theme? Nope.) My students love extreme action and this movie delivers a lot of it. Well, that's not even all that true because the first third of the movie is actually kind of boring and not in a way that I would appreciate. (Oh, I'd love to go into see Venom, a movie about an alien space suit that eats people's heads and get a third of My Dinner with Andre.) But this movie really plays with the idea that Venom is going to do something cool when he is all suited up. And, I'll give it to Ruben Fleischer. When Venom is full-on Venom, I'm actually kind of on board. The problem is that a lot of the movie is whiny Eddie Brock teasing Venom powers. I'm going to dial it back a bit and discuss a lot of the problems of this movie and why I found myself criminally bored at a movie about an alien supersuit that eats people's heads. I just realized I may not actually like Tom Hardy. I thought I did. I always put him on the list of actors to get excited for. Then I started thinking if I liked any movies where Tom Hardy was in it. The Dark Knight Rises, while enjoyable for me, is the weakest of the franchise and, while I love Bane and that voice, it is all a bit silly. The Revenant is the only movie by that director that I didn't actually like. Mad Max: Fury Road is actually about Furiosa, not Max. Star Trek: Nemesis is an abomination to cinema and I can't find almost any reason to actually find joy in that movie. Tom Hardy is kind of an actor who keeps kind of failing upward. Venom might be his worst movie. There's something weird with his voice. That's not even fair. He's playing a New York exile in San Francisco. He's a Brit, so there's going to be a bit of a learning curve. But I've seen Tom Hardy perform before. I know that he's been in movies that I haven't cared for, but he's been solid before. This seems like the direction was, like the rest of the movie, "Go big or go home." There's nothing subtle about Eddie Brock. There's an attitude that a lot of comic book directors have. Comic books, to many storytellers, means "lacking nuance." I think I'm eventually going to evolve this argument about why Eddie Brock doesn't work for me both as an adaption of a mediocre comic book character and as a film's protagonist. But there is the foundation for something working there, but Tom Hardy creates an Eddie Brock that is grating. The symbiote calls Eddie "a loser." That's accurate, but there is such thing as a lovable loser. Heck, one of the few things that Spider-Man 3 did right was understand that Eddie Brock was a loser as a mirror to how Peter Parker is a loser. Peter Parker is an extremely lovable loser. Eddie is just whiny and obnoxious, yet he is the driving force to this movie. This almost sets up a cool dynamic. It works better in cartoons, but the idea of the loser being taken on this adventure against their will. Tom Hardy plays it comically, unfortunately. I understand. It's tempting. But there's nothing charming about it.
The thing is, Venom is a character that really works in small doses. Until just now, (and I haven't even read it), Venom doesn't really work as a comic book. He's a villain. He's the Borg. When Venom shows up for Spider-Man, you know things are going to turn bad for the hero. He's there as a powerhouse. He sucks the comedy out of a room. (At least the light stuff. Venom is good at the extremely macabre.) But when Venom gets a comic book, it screams '90s comics. This is what the Life Foundation is all about. When I heard that the movie was going to be Eddie Brock versus the Life Foundation, I just saw all the pouches and lasers and stupid things that made Venom comics almost unreadable. While this is possibly a way better version of Venom: Lethal Protector, it still falls prey to a lot of the pitfalls that made the comic book an inaccessible mess. The Life Foundation isn't based on anything remotely relatable. I don't know if they're going for the Elon Musk joke with Riz Ahmed's Carlton Drake, but he's so megalomaniacal that it almost seems like a comic book. He's practically evil for evil's sake. The odd thing is that the movie gives him a reason to do evil things that could almost be considered sympathetic. But the handling of that character. He's these broad strokes. He seems to have no compunction for mass murder or genocide and that just seems so X-Treme. It's Darth Maul on Mountain Dew. Honestly, this movie might be the most miscast movie I've ever seen. Again, I love Riz Ahmed in this, but I'm never really threatened by him. I've seen him scary in The Night Of. Tom Hardy, I established, is annoying in this role. Jenny Slate will probably be making jokes about her involvement in this movie. (They ADR'ed "sym-BYE-ote"!) Also, I never realized what movies that Michelle Williams signed up for. Their relationship in this movie was just as confusing as could be. Her entire character is "love interest." She is extremely poorly developed as a female lead and it is implied that they are going to get back together. That's gross. I don't like that one bit. Eddie is still a loser throughout.
But again, this is the juggling act that this movie presents. Eddie is a loser, but he's a noble loser in this one. There's a line for the die-hard fans about Eddie's time at the Daily Globe. It's a tie to Eddie Brock's actual mythology, which I think is far more interesting. Eddie's narrative tries to make him an anti-hero in this movie, probably trying to get the Sony equivalent of Deadpool. It could explain the extremely snarky symbiote. But Eddie isn't good in the books. Venom is the tale of revenge. It's a tag-team story to take down the hero who has risen too high from his hubris. (At least from Venom's perspective.) The symbiote is the jilted lover, spurned by Spider-Man once the hero discovered that his suit was alive and bonded to him. Eddie hates Peter Parker, whose journalistic integrity reveals that Eddie faked information about the Sin Eater. If I have a Venom story, I want him to be a full on villain first. If he grows into an anti-hero, so be it. But there is something cool about Venom as a villain and it isn't interesting to have him instantly want to save the world. Why does he want to save the world? Venom has his excuse that he can feed by himself here and that the other symbiotes won't pick on him. But then Eddie asks for the truth and the symbiote claims that Eddie changed his mind. That doesn't make a lick of sense based on the Eddie we see in this movie. Also, why does the movie spiral into a "save the world" film? It isn't a save-the-world film for nine-tenths of the movie. The last act is just an improbable compilation of stupid tropes tacked together to end the story in a traditional superheroic way.
But there are some cool things in the movie. I didn't hate it, remember? Bee-minus. Solid Bee-minus. That means some things actually kind of work. When Venom is Venom, he's actually really scary. I actually don't know how Spider-Man would actually beat this version of Venom. I remember reading an issue of Spider-Man during the Todd MacFarlane era, where Eddie and Peter were stuck on an island. He actually thinks that he kills Peter in that one and I remember how scary Eddie seemed in that one. I always thought that Peter Parker was completely outmatched by Eddie Brock and I like that Venom is just a tank in this movie. Also, I don't hate the snarkiness of the villain. Yeah, the humor is a bit base. I have to believe that Sony is again copying other studios' marketing formula and trying to get their own Deadpool, but Deadpool is funny and he never actually reaches that level of permeability. It just takes the edge off a very edgy movie. But that's really about it. Venom looks awesome. He's pretty scary. Some of the jokes work. That's about the nicest thing I can say about the movie. These aren't the movies that Sony should be focusing in their Spider-Man series. But I also know that they don't want to hear that they should just fold because I'm sure no one at the company wants that. I just am really tired of Sony just making these garbage pictures because they can't get a clue. Venom isn't the direction you should be taking your series. I'm reading stuff about a Morbius, the Living Vampire movie and a Kraven the Hunter movie. Just work with Marvel. They make good stuff. You make some good Tom Holland stuff, eventually Eddie Brock can get a black suit. But let it breathe. I don't need to see this extreme garbage. Let him be a scary villain. You got the look and the movement right. Just chill out on the rest.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.