Thursday, October 11, 2018

Movie Review: Venom

Venom ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer.
Written by: Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner and Kelly Marcel and Will Beall based on the Marvel comics by Todd McFarlane & David Michelinie.
Starring: Tom Hardy (Eddie Brock / Venom), Michelle Williams (Anne Weying), Riz Ahmed (Dr. Carlton Drake/Riot), Scott Haze (Roland Treece), Reid Scott (Dr. Dan Lewis), Jenny Slate (Dr. Dora Skirth), Melora Walters (Homeless Woman Maria), Peggy Lu (Mrs. Chen), Ron Cephas Jones (Jack).
Venom is not a good movie. Watching it, it is easy to see the many, many flaws it has running throughout, flaws that should have been easy to fix. The first hour of the film is dull – and full of boring exposition, and some pretty terrible performances by very talented actors like Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed – who are so bad here you’re tempted to just write it off as the screenplay and direction being so awful they didn’t have a chance. The second hour at least has more life to it, but the action sequences are not very good, even by the low standards of having one giant CGI monster fight another giant CGI monster. But the movie has a saving grace – something that doesn’t make it worth seeing per se, but does make me curious about it if they do in fact make a sequel. And that is Tom Hardy, who stars as Eddie Brock/Venom – and unlike most superhero movies, this time it really is a dual role. Hardy throws himself into this dual role, and once Venom comes out to play, he delivers a glorious crazy performance here – something I didn’t expect from Hardy, because it’s almost more in the vein of something you’d see from Nicolas Cage. If the whole movie were Hardy arguing with himself, I would have loved it.
But before we get there, we have to spend an hour of boring exposition that the team of four screenwriters, and director Ruben Fleischer seems to think we need for some reason. Basically, egomaniacal, crazed billionaire Carlton Drake (Ahmed) has been funding rocket missions into space – and this time, he has brought back some “samples” from deep space. These samples are basically black goo, that can merge with host bodies – that is, unless like an organ transplant, this goo rejects the host, killing them. The flight with these samples crashes in Malaysia – and one of the samples escapes. The rest come back to San Francisco, where Drake is located – as is enterprising reporter Eddie Brock. Brock is assigned a puff piece – interview Drake about his rockets – but, of course, he has too much integrity for that. So what he does instead is break into his girlfriend’s – Anne (Michelle Williams) email, because she is a lawyer at the firm that represents Drake, and steal confidential information about wrongful death lawsuits. This, of course, ends with both Brock and Anne fired, and the end of their relationship. There is more – a lot more – about experiments on homeless people, people inside Drake’s company who get pangs of conscience and several other subplots that go nowhere. All of this is to setup what we know walking into the movie – that the black goo is going to merge with Brock, turning him into Venom – an anti-hero, who is big, mean and violent – prone to biting people’s heads off when he turns into a giant black beast.
Venom repeats the problem a lot of superhero origin stories make – that the filmmakers think the audience cares about the insane ways these people get their powers. We do not. And we certainly do not need an hour of boring exposition before we finally get we showed up to see. It doesn’t help much that until Venom shows up, Hardy’s Brock is just an asshole – and only a somewhat charming asshole – and that no one else leaves an impression at all. Williams is such a good actress – she really is one of our very best, and she has turned nothing roles into something before, most recently whatever she was doing in I Feel Pretty, which was hilarious. But she’s undone in a role like this, which really requires her to do nothing except look at Brock doe-eyed and in love at first, and then with disappointment later on. Love interests in these movies often don’t last long – it’s why we haven’t seen Natalie Portman in Thor for a while, but Williams in particular gets the short shrift. Ahmed, an immensely talented actor, doesn’t have much to do as the villain either – trying, I think, to be an understated version of Elon Musk – but what the hell is the point of that?
As the movie moved along, I enjoyed it more and more though. It is a lot of fun to see Hardy argue with the voice inside his own – a wickedly profane voice at that – and it’s nice that Brock doesn’t seem to have many moral qualms about using his powers to, you know, eat people – as long as they are bad. Hardy is great in those latter scenes, as he gets increasingly unhinged. The action sequences don’t help him much – Fleischer doesn’t seem to know what to do with them, and essentially we end up looking at little more than CGI soup. There is a post-credits scene (of course there is) which sets up a sequel, and it isn’t very good, but perhaps the actual sequel could be.
The key for that to happen would be to bring a director better adept at directing action, and letting Hardy loose for the entire runtime. Venom is a movie that buried the lede – the thing that makes you want to see the movie in the first place. Had they replaced it with something entertaining or interesting, great. But here, they make you wade through an hour of boring dreck to get there.

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