VENOM— 2 STARS
Lately, the culture of “toxic fandom” has greatly earned the distasteful and scolding shame it had coming. The over-possessive inflexibility to new ideas or change coming from pouty and repugnant armchair film producers with Twitter accounts is not something cool and edgy anymore. It’s something to avoid. That audience sect does not need to win any validation. The problem is Sony Pictures’ fall tentpole of Venom is going to be like pouring gasoline on a raging fire. This movie is a rare instance where the toxic fandom crowd is right, and they’re never going to let Sony or anyone else forget it. How is that possible? It’s simple and you’ll hear this writer say it with the same tone as those trolls:
LESSON #1: YOU CAN’T HAVE VENOM WITHOUT SPIDER-MAN — Allow a storytelling hat befitting The Comic Guy from The Simpsons to shed light on canonical history for a hot second. The inky, amorphous alien symbiote which bonds with its host began as power-boosting black costume suit for a veteran Spider-Man before Peter Parker removed its leeching evil grip. The suit would come to find one of Parker’s rival journalists, a former jock named Eddie Brock, and transform into a monstrous and malicious mirror image of the Web Slinger with matching, yet heightened powers. Fueled by Brock’s own unhinged resentment, the hulking character of Venom was born and he has not-so-quietly become one of Spider-Man’s greatest comic book villains since his debut in 1988.
Ruben Fleischer’s Venom is billed to be an origin story and a springboard to a pocket Spider-Man universe at Sony that maybe Tom Holland can join someday (if he can put himself back together from dust). If you’re going to make a Venom movie to introduce the Eddie Brock villain that looks and moves like the beastial Spider-Man opposition he should be, you have to start with Spider-Man as well, period. Venom doesn’t and that’s the gasoline. Thanks to blind studio and creative hubris, an incredible character is being pushed down audience throats too soon and with zero connection. If you need a smarter and less whiny response that explains it further, go to Lesson #2.
LESSON #2: THE DEFINITION OF “SYMBIOTIC” — The dictionary says it all with the second of its two definition variants. The term means “characterized by or being a close, cooperative, or interdependent relationship.” As butthurt blunt as this sounds to match the notion of over-possessive inflexibility, the relationship that creates this comic character requires Spider-Man. Down the line in the character’s thirty years, Venom evolved and shifted to become an anti-hero. That route can work, but the roots begin in Lesson #1 and his entirety of being comes from this Lesson #2.
All three of those defined relationships traits are not present or possible in this film. Venom wastes top-line perfect casting with the sturdy and vigorous Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock only to make some kind of lovable loser instead of a magnificent menace of darkness. That adds up to a disservice to a minor icon, a missed corrective opportunity to surpass Spider-Man 3 from eleven years ago, and a damn shame for the present and future of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise potential.
The attempted spin of this movie surrounds four volatile alien parasite samples being brought back from a comet expedition financed by San Francisco billionaire visionary Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) of the Life Foundation. He maniacally seeks to increase man’s power by experimenting on these symbiotes with homeless human hosts no one will miss. Drake hides behind his company’s philanthropic and medical research fronts. Brock, the star of his own burgeoning investigative report segments for a television network, is one man that sees through Drake’s decadent public image into the evil of his work. When Eddie exploits his fiance Anne’s (Oscar nominee Michelle Williams) access to confidential Life Foundation information as one of their attorneys, his snooping gets both of them fired and severs their engagement.
LESSON #3: YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR YOUR OWN MISTAKES — Months later, Eddie harps on about how external factors and surroundings have lead to him being jaded from his former confidence, blacklisted from journalistic validation and employment, and heartbroken without his romantic flame. Just as Anne retorts his clingy begging, Eddie is a smart guy who is a dumbass. His gut may score scoops, but it also is to blame for his poor choices. His screw-ups are all on him.
One of Drake’s scientists, Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), tabs Brock to help her blow the whistle on her boss. She helps him infiltrate the lab only for Brock to become the next unwitting host to one of the voracious symbiotes. Feeding the belly and the psyche of this newfound power, Brock and the sticky-icky alien ooze inside of him start to mesh in the name of “we” in shared opposition against Drake with a worried Anne in tow.
LESSON #4: TATER TOTS ARE UNDERRATED COMFORT FOOD — In one of the oddest and bluntest displays of product placement in recent memory, little uniform cylinders of crispy potatoes become the go-to nourishment of our razor-toothed and tongue-slithering semi-baddie. That’s a far step down from the impressive intimidation that would come if the creature was allowed to bite off as many human heads as he keeps chattering about. Come on. Let him feast.
It is from that disorganized and uninspired start that has Venom veering all over the place. On one end, Tom Hardy looks and fits the bill physically and has the screwloose methodology and twitchy discomfort within his acting capacity to handle the wild internal and external dichotomy of this borderline lunatic character. Unfortunately, on the other end, the violent nature to really let Hardy cut this monster loose is leashed by the film’s profit-maximizing PG-13 limitations. Not only is Hardy’s bulky talent wasted but the overqualified Michelle Williams looks aimless and actually has a line in the film that reads “I’m sorry about Venom.” Honey, you can say that again.
Likely scribbled on script margins or cocktail napkins by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle screenwriters Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg with an assist from Fifty Shades of Grey’s Kelly Marcel, the plotlines, transitions, motives, and action sequences are blurred nonsense. Matching his Zombieland background, Venom has more exponentially more jokes than thrills. Most of those gaga are unintentional which lead us to laugh at it instead of with it. That dorky tone saps any power from A Star is Born cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s shooting creativity and Black Panther composer Ludwig Göransson’s pulsating power.
For the purpose to sell tickets, this proper villain is touted to be an response to the world having enough superheroes. The resulting film debunks its marketing by reducing Venom into a do-gooder and carnival attraction opposite of that claim. Never once does your heart pump a little quicker from tension. Never once do any hairs stand up in fright in the presence of what should be a complete badass. Those deficiencies shouldn’t happen with Venom.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#732)