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Friday, October 05, 2018

Venom

Venom is an R-rated action thriller trapped in the confines of a PG-13 rating that was mandated by the studio.  It's also incredibly goofy beyond belief.  It's about a guy who loses everything, and then slowly starts to get it back when a slimy black alien substance called a Symbiote decides to make him its host body.  The alien is aggressive and violent, and basically wants to use the guy's body to cause as much mayhem as possible.  But, it grows to like the guy after a while, and it starts trying to help him out, and even give him relationship advice.  The Symbiote also has a taste for biting the heads off of humans, but it will settle for microwave Tater Tots in a pinch.

Did I mention the movie is incredibly goofy beyond belief?  Director Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad) and his writers seem to be working without a net, and often veer between different tones from scene to scene.  Sometimes the movie is an action Sci-Fi thriller with a high body count (though tremendously watered down with obvious editing in order to achieve the "golden" PG-13), sometimes it's a body horror film where innocent people are subjected to horrific experiments, and sometimes it's a comical Jekyll and Hyde story about an ordinary guy who has to live with a flesh-eating alien inside of him, and only he can hear its voice as it speaks directly into his head.  Unfortunately, the alien just won't shut up sometimes, and the poor guy has to argue with or shout the thing down, and everyone around him thinks he's crazy.  The movie is a mess of ideas and pieces that just don't fit, and yet, it's never boring.  This is the kind of movie that fascinates you in its bizarreness, and constantly leaves you wondering what's going to happen next.  Not because you're invested in it, but because you're genuinely curious about what the filmmakers will throw in next.

If the movie does work in any way, it's through the efforts of its star, Tom Hardy, who throws himself head-first into this goofiness, and comes out okay because he embraces everything this movie is.  He plays Eddie Brock, a TV investigative journalist who finds his entire life shot to pieces after he tries and fails to expose a powerful scientist and mogul named Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who claims he wants to help the planet, but is secretly conducting weird and dangerous experiments in an underground lab that goes unnoticed by the media.  It is Carlton's scientific experiments that brings the Symbiote named Venom down to Earth.  After Eddie fails to expose Carlton's dirty dealings, he loses his job, as well as his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams).  Eddie becomes a hopeless drunk and layabout after that, until he is approached by a whistle blower working for Drake (Jenny Slate), who wants to expose her boss after he begins experimenting on human test subjects with the alien lifeform.  This leads to Eddie coming in contact with the Symbiote, and Venom slowly begins taking over his body, and trying to improve his life.  The alien can see that Eddie is a "loser", but he likes the guy and wants to help him out.

Venom is the first effort by Sony's film division to make a Film Universe built around supporting characters in the Spider-Man comics.  Even having seen this movie, I'm not sure how this plan is going to work.  The character of Venom is a central villain and sometimes antihero in the world of the famous Web-Slinger, and it's kind of interesting how this movie gets around the legal issue of not actually being able to use the character of Spider-Man.  After all, the superhero is directly tied into the origins of Venom and how Eddie Brock came in contact with the Symbiote in the comic books, so this movie has to jump through a few hoops in order to make it work in a movie that can't directly be tied into the Spidey franchise.  It's odd for sure, and I don't know if the idea can span a series of films, let alone an entire Universe.  But, Sony gets points for optimism. 

You may have heard some of my fellow critics call this movie awful, with some even comparing it to the infamous Catwoman film starring Halle Berry.  I have to disagree.  It's goofy, disjointed and messy, but it is not ambitious enough to be a total failure.  There are even some moments I enjoyed, most of them centered around Tom Hardy's performance.  You have to admire the guy for doing some of the things the screenplay asks him to do.  In one scene, he storms into a fancy restaurant while under control of the alien Symbiote, and acting out of ravenous hunger, he sits down in the live lobster tank and starts eating the heads off of the things, while his ex-girlfriend looks on horrified.  Silly?  Yes.  Dumb?  Possibly.  But like I said before, it's never boring.  Silly, dumb and boring would be a reason to completely write this movie off.  This movie had me under a kind of crazy spell at times, and even though I knew the movie wasn't working, I kind of admired it for going so far off the rails as it occasionally does.

In fact, the only times my eyes did glaze over a little from boredom were during some the action sequences, which are of the variety where the film just cranks up the volume, and throws a lot of screams, roars and gunfire on the soundtrack.  I also couldn't exactly get into the plot of the film.  I found Carlton Drake to be a bore as far as villains in these kind of movies go.  He too falls under the control of a different Symbiote (this one called Riot), but the movie never really has as much fun with this idea as it should, and it basically exists to lead up to an uninspired climax where two CG black alien creatures duke it out with one another in a spectacle battle that neither dazzles or excites.  This really shouldn't be an action film to begin with.  I mean, you build your plot around a guy who has a brain-eating alien living inside of him, and you don't make it a Buddy Comedy? 

So yeah, Venom will get torn apart by critics and possibly by the die-hard fans, and maybe they have a point.  But, it's just too silly and out there for me to completely hate.  I can't recommend it, but I also can't say I'm sorry I watched it.  It's not something I'll go out of my way to see again, but if I ever do think back on it, I might smile a little.

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