In Review: ‘Venom’

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | nov. 2018

Sony hasn't exactly had the most illustrious decade or so when it comes to some of the “tent-pole” franchise films. Having managed to fumble the ball with Spiderman, resulting in having to reboot twice since the Sam Raimi days and the Ghostbusters franchise failing hard and resulting in a PR disaster, it's with some trepidation that I go anywhere near a Sony movie, particularly one that may bump up against the solidly built Marvel cinematic universe (MCU). Venom, starring Tom Hardy, is something of a mix of risk and political maneuvers for Sony and the beleaguered Amy Pascal – one that, on the whole, seems to have paid off.

The story follows journalist Eddie Brock in his impetuous, though righteous, quest to break a story on scientific industrialist Carlton Drake. Drake, a man with a shady background who's brought some alien life forms back to earth, plans to try and harness the power of the “symbiotes” and is stopping at nothing to get what he wants, including using them on human guinea pigs to study how they work. When Brock gets too close to the truth he winds up bonded to the symbiote called Venom and the pair have to work as a team to stop Drake both killing Brock and retrieving Venom for his evil purposes.

Venom is a long way from perfect. Standing outside of the MCU and the previous Sony “Marvel” efforts, its tone and style are somewhat different. First off there's the rating: PG13 in the States and 15 in the UK (the equivalent of R). This is a pretty violent film and it feels harder than Deadpool because of the darker humor. Thankfully, at least for me, it pulls it off for the most part with a few good laughs along the way and plenty of the rough stuff that this character needs to be true to its origins. The story is reasonable, simple enough to allow for the introduction of the characters and set up the world and it's one of those times we needed an origin story. It's all very concise and though the first half does drag its feet a bit, it's not entirely wasted time. This is also one of those times that the CG works and the fact that CG at this scale almost never feels quite right actually works in favor of the look of the film with Venom looking as “comic like” as it does. The film also does the dark themes well, having some fairly horrific scenes that go to places like human experimentation with less gloss than the Captain America film had, they're genuinely disturbing on occasions which, if you're doing 'dark,' is the right move.

There is a fairly major criticism I have, though: the editing. I know, it's a rather odd thing to complain about in a review like this, but there are so many mismatched shots and far too many cuts going on and some of it is pretty slack considering the tier this film sits on. While, yes, the film did have a lot of material cut out, it's not that to blame. The film runs fine as it is in story terms, it's basic editing that seems to suffer from even the basic tempo of shots being distracting to a point I rarely see outside of the lowest budget Euro-horror movies I often review. It got to the point of breaking my immersion on several occasions. One other thing that detracts from the film is the handling of the villain, which although he's well played, is rather shallow and reduced to being a moustache-twirling level of evil. Not enough was made of his past and he simply comes over as being a poorly handled, vague metaphor for whatever multimillionaire industrialist you care to choose. For some reason I kept thinking of Elon Musk, though I'm not at all sure why.

With “Venom,” it seems Sony have taken a leaf out of the DC book and have included a dose of “Deadpool.” It's pretty dark and often violent but keeps a firm tongue in cheek. That's a pretty tough balancing act and director Ruben Fleischer has clearly worked hard to make sure neither intrudes upon the other and most of the time it works, only occasionally does it clash, so good job there. It is possible to strike that balance of humor and “dark and gritty” and this film rather shows up most of DC's efforts in that regard. It's worth noting as this gives the Sony “Marvel” films an identity of their own and that's significant concerning where this all goes from here. The legacy of the rights to the Marvel characters has always threatened to keep the MCU incomplete and although Spiderman, one of the most obvious holes in the MCU, has been included in the last couple of films, realize that this new instance of “co-operation” is one with a limited lifespan. Soon the deal will be done and the future of Spiderman will revert back to Sony, who hold the rights and this is where Venom comes into play. Venom has done pretty well, it's not perfect but it is a reasonably solid film that has found its audience and this will give Sony a much-needed boost in leverage when it comes to negotiations. Their trump card is Spiderman, their weight is the success of this movie, this means Marvel will have a much tougher and more expensive deal to break in the future for this important character when Sony may well just say, “We can do this alone now guys.”

So it's good news and bad news. The Venom movie is at least decent but the cost of that may be that the MCU losing the webbed one going forward. We could even see two Marvel character franchises going up against each other with non-overlapping worlds. That would be weird and not a little confusing for the more casual viewer who just sees Marvel when they look at a character on screen. I think that “Venom,” even if it's not a masterpiece, has just made the game more interesting. It's been a long time since we've been able to say this, but well done, Amy Pascal; you pulled this one off.

He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

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