With the emergence of the cross-brand pollination of the Spider-Man franchise betwixt Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures, the announcement of the impending roll-out of Sony Pictures-led Spider-Man franchise films took on new life. Maybe it was the implication of Marvel playing a more pivotal supporting role in the crafting of the Marvel Universe at Sony, bring a little bit of order to Sony Pictures hit-and-miss attempts; for every Andrew Garfield there was a dancing Tobey Macguire.
In any case, it looked like Sony found its nexus film, the film that would set the pace for the ever-expanding Spidey-verse, in the one and only Venom. Taking on the characters anti-hero roots, Sony promised a film that would explore the dichotomy of the violent, leech-like symbiote and the poor sap of a host that is already conflicted with the moral concepts of good and evil, especially when it comes to giving bad people the violent karma they deserve.
So with Venom, fans, for the most part, should be expecting a cinematic feat. This isn’t a throwaway like Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man And The Wasp (did we review that film [nope. Just slipped us we guess]
couldn’t be asked). This was being set up as a nexus film, a film that would set the pace for the expansion of the Sony-led Marvelverse and every Spider-Man related filmic franchise film to spur and grow from it. The Butterfly Effect. Plus, consider why Venom was downgraded from R to being rated PG-13; of course, there is the whole maximum returns, but deeper than that, it could be a sign of leaving the door open for possible Marvel/Sony film collaborations down the line. Deadpool gets it. But we suspect if this was the play, it would all come down to Venom’s success. And now here we are.
#TAPReviews takes on Venom and answers the age-old question – ‘How long does parasite have to live on a host body before the roles are reversed?’ Or something like that.
We begin, like all earthbound alien-themed films, in the reaches of space. And the first scenes often dictate your feelings of the film, and the blogger in me cringed upon seeing a space vessel enter the atmosphere as the electronic distortion of telecommunications gave wind of an outbreak on the ship, leading to a crash-landing. Why the (slight) cringe, you ask?) Was it the design of the vessel? Don’t think so. The unbelievable voice acting? Nah, it was okay. It was the name of the spacecraft – Life. Now don’t get me wrong, I love ‘life’ like any self-respecting recluse who has nothing better to do with his life than draw and write movie reviews.
The ‘Life’ however that we are talking about is a Sony Pictures’ film that came out last year starring Deadpool‘s Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and a few others. In the lead up to that Sony film, Reddit and a bunch of others who look for connection in every goddamn thing (pitfalls of a Marvel films generation), let a fan theory out that then went viral. The theory: Life was possibly a prelude to Venom; the alien lifeform in Life had very parasitic-like properties similar to the symbiote, sure. But for the most part, the theory came about because a cutaway, B-roll shot of pedestrians looking up in the Life trailer also was a shot that appeared in Sony’s Spider-Man film.
If it was a Sony Pictures’ tongue-in-cheek reference to a film that is in no way connected to the Marvel-verse but to an ill-conceived fan theory and a means of satisfying some viral-boosting analytics, then Venom has begun over-reaching in the first 10 seconds of the film. But on the other note the Life Foundation is Marvel comic-book canon, and maybe I’m the one over-reaching because it’s how my brain works. And just maybe I am experiencing a delayed-response to something I have yet to fully acknowledge. That does not sit well with me at all.
Moving swiftly on, the crash soon leads to the transfer of symbiote from a ‘miraculous’ astronaut survivor to a medical first responder. It all gets a bit blasé, tick-set-up-scene-boxes-here. You know, hella-predictable for an opener. Then the Venom title comes on screen. Okay, let’s start this.
We then get introduced to Eddie Brock, by all appearances is a good on-road correspondent. If you find it believable in that cheesy montage of news segments. An agitator of establishment who somehow finds himself in love-near-marriage to a woman that is a corporate tool that works for a PR-esque company that works for Carlton Drake – Rizwan Ahmed’s character who channeled his inner Elon Musk as the douche in charge of a space program that has just suffered a major critical incident with the crash-landing of his spaceship. So, the opportunity of a lifetime essentially lands on Brock’s lap to interview the illustrious Drake in what was meant to be a controlled PR stunt. But after Brock did the typical boyfriend duty of sneaking around on his girlfriend’s work emails to discover that Drake’s company was involved in the deaths of a few people during pharmaceutical trials, Brock values journalistic integrity over PR click-bait and grills Drake. This leads to Brock being jobless, girl-less and in debt. Then there is a 6-months later. Another bad sign. I’m usually okay with time jumps. But there has to be something vastly impactful that would prompt that level of interest months later. Like some extinction level event Akira shit. But I understand that this may just be a personal preference.
In any case, his girlfriend Anne Weying has moved on after losing her job to Brock’s invasion of her privacy which leaves Brock all but bummy. An opportunity, however, surfaces when a Life employee says she can confirm Brock’s hunches of Drake being responsible for death of scores of people beyond pharmaceutical guinea pig experiments. Faced with an exposé of a lifetime, with the opportunity to take down the conglomerate that destroyed his life in the process is too sweet a proposal. In breaking into Life Foundation’s HQ where the symbiotes (plural) are housed. it isn’t long before Brock gets exposed to some alien ink. Venom. A parasite that exponentially increases Brock’s speed, agility and strength. As well as the urge to bite off peoples heads and pile up the bodies in the corner of the room like a organised psychopathic killer. Now Brock has to invite the parasite in to protect the world from an infestation of more symbiote planning to piggyback off of Drake’s space mission, even at the risk of total organ failure, listening to high frequencies and getting elongated tongue down your throat from your ex-girlfriend in full symbiote form. Do I get turned on or turned off? Was that technically a three-way or a marital aide? Who knows.
Rizwan Ahmed as a villain is a laughable thing
I can see the direction they were going. You can just imagine the description of Carlton Drake’s character on script:
“As alarms whirr in the situation, CARLTON DRAKE, the Elon Musk of his generation, stands amidst the chaos trying to blah blah.”
This is going to come across as hate, but Rizwan as a villain, not nearly as believable. Sorry. Some musicians turned actor are more primed to play certain parts, which is understandable. We’d quicker appreciate a Anthony Hopkins in a villain role than a hero’s one. It’s something that just exists within them that allows them to pull it off. Ahmed was not nearly as believable.
Carlton Drake iss presented in Venom as an Elon Musk character wanting to spur the evolution of humans to the next level – merging with the symbiote to create a higher lifeform. He even has his SpaceX-like program. On one hand, we get the inkling of an Ozymandias character worried about the state of the world and thus, his willingness to kill it to save it. On the other hand, there is maliciousness intent in his execution. Ozymandias in Watchmen believed he was doing the right thing, and though his act of decimating a population were diabolical, his intent was not a malicious one. Ozymandias was troubled in his own way by the genocide he had to commit. The countless lives that were laid to waste did way on him. This kind of character I feel Ahmed could have better pulled off. A troubled humanitarian who tried to do his best by killing people. Not a malicious tycoon who replaces himself with God in an Abrahamic story and proceeds to smile deviously rather than in awe at the sight of the symbiote merging/destroying its first host.
Sadly, this is just the results of characters not fleshed out as well as they could have been.
Venom as a funny action film bereft of horror does more harm than good
And this is the problem and why I felt many people were hoping for an R-rating. The idea of Venom is technically no different than Alien or The Exorcist. A foreign entity takes over the actions and desires of the host, all to the point where one can’t tell the intentions of the host from the parasite, the human from the demon. You could still achieve this with a PG-rating I feel. The right balance would be hard achieved, surely. But possible. What I will say that this Venom is the best on-screen Venom we’ve had. On the other hand, anything would have been a step up from the last Venom.
I, however, feel the idea of identity, losing self-control… it should come across as the worse, most terrible thing to come over someone. But it seems Brock is more just along for the ride. Then he gets separated, then no hesitation getting the symbiote reattached. Even if it was via making out with your ex. That conflict to a final mutual resolution (like who Venom/the symbiote can kill) would have been more captivating as a narrative.
Venom looks good. Even when we can’t see him
This is the problem with a few CGI films. Things moving way too fast with unrealistic, spastic camera movements. The retina barely registering who hits who and who’s winning. Lots of that hectic camera movement. Venom scaling the building I could forgive. But Venom taking on the symbiote that merged with Drake was a near-nauseating pixel whirlwind. And the thing is, Venom looks great. Like a big black, veiny… well, you know, alien. And the formation was an awesome thing to see when he rose to his feet without bending his knee. The symbiote face overlayed on top of Brock during his epileptic, spastic episodes, however, seemed way too cheesy and unnecessary. Is this something only he sees? Are the people around him able to see it? Regardless, it was not needed. We know something’s wrong with him and inside him. A drastic temperament change would have done better than split second half-transformations.
“We are Venom.”
That scene that appears in the trailer where Venom reveals half of Eddie Brock’s face was pretty awesome. My one tweak? Tom Hardy’s eyeline. I would have him conscious, but not focused on anything in particular, looking almost to the floor. In the full Venom state, I would imagine the Symbiote is in more control, and Brock is more in cruise mode. That idea evoked some Attack On Titan feeling that I felt could really work well for Venom. And I thought Sony being heavy in Japan would have picked up on little nuances like that, but hey.
Is Venom a great film? According to the October box office, indeed. But as a comic film? We would have to say no. Not close. It isn’t terrible, don’t get it too twisted. But if you start thinking of it as a film that is supposed to usher in a new era in Sony Pictures, then it’s not the shiniest turd rolling down the road in the wind. Worse when this film is coming off the backend of Sony having gotten a taste of the decade-long recipe of comic book hero films that Marvel Studios has been churning out successfully (for the most part), one would expect more. More than a Woody Harrelson in a red mop wig for Carnage. And we love Woody. But two actors from Star Wars spinoffs doesnot do anyone any favours. And it wasn’t that much of a cliffhanger.
The silver lining here is Venom doesn’t necessarily have to be the end-all for Sony’s Spider-Man franchise. Hell, Marvel Studios had Iron Man. It all comes down to a matter of story and direction for the future. I felt in this instance they had a story, but the PG-13 deliberation threw some spanners in the work that eventually tainted the flow of the film. With that being said, I will put my money on Into The Spider-Verse proving to be a better nexus film for Sony than Venom.