Film Review: Venom

WARNING. THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Welcome to my new blog, and welcome to my first review! Let’s get straight in to it.

I think it is fair to say that expectations were low amongst audiences when Venom was announced. It’s hard to envision a Venom movie that has no connection whatsoever to his web-crawling nemesis, Spider-Man. It’s even harder to envision a Venom movie with no connection to Spider-Man being done well, especially when it is being delivered by a studio like Sony, who don’t have the best reputation in the world when it comes to comic book movies… It wasn’t so long ago that they butchered The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, which saw the fan favourite finally become a part of the MCU. (A blessing in disguise, perhaps?)

Despite all of this, I was still quite excited for this film, mainly due to the fact that Tom Hardy was playing the title role, I felt it was best to try and go in with an open mind, sure, I could get hung up on the fact that there is no Spidey and that the film isn’t Rated-R, but what’s the point? (Spoiler alert – I get hung up on it) I wanted to give myself the best chance of enjoying this film, so I went in with no prejudices.

So, was it good, and did I like it? Interestingly, the answers are “No” and “Yes”, respectively. Let’s start with the cons:

A poor villain in a Marvel film, surely not?

Venom begins by establishing how and why the Symbiotes are on Earth, sadly, by doing this, it also begins by establishing its biggest weakness; the “villain”. Riz Ahmed plays scientist Carlton Drake/Riot, who is quite comfortably one of the worst Marvel villains ever seen on screen.

This is not an attack on Riz Ahmed, he’s a fantastic actor. To be honest, I don’t think any actor could have played this part well. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the filmmakers decided that they were going to make Carlton Drake your cliché villain, with some vague motivations that involve changing the planet which will inevitably lead to its downfall, sound familiar? I thought so.

After discussing with some friends, it became clear that upon reflection, a lot of them didn’t actually know what his motivations were and why he was doing it, which isn’t very good when you consider this is what is supposed to drive the plot forward.

Marvel has had problems with villains before, and what I’m describing above could be copied and pasted when discussing a multitude of MCU villains. However, as Marvel fans, we have been spoilt in recent times with villains that we can relate to, the strongest villains are the ones we understand, we know what they are doing is wrong, but to a degree, we get why they are doing it. Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Killmonger in Black Panther, Thanos in Infinity War… All excellent villains. This means that, even if they’re not linked to the MCU, poor villains stick out like a sore thumb at the moment.

Carlton Drake wasn’t threatening, he wasn’t menacing, he wasn’t relatable. The audience just didn’t care about him, even when he inevitably becomes Riot, (after a dragged out sub-plot which made no sense anyway) he’s not around long enough for the audience to invest in his character. Pretty much all of his scenes were in the trailer, which is frustrating in itself. There was a lot of wasted potential here, had they fleshed out Carlton a lot earlier in the film, and perhaps bonded him with his Symbiote around the halfway mark, it might have been a much stronger film. This leads me in to my next point…

Shocking Pacing

Venom‘s pacing sucked, massively. I appreciate a film that takes its time to build up characters, it’s a vital component of storytelling, and to its credit, the film does a good job of introducing us to its main characters and taking us on a journey with them during the first half. Especially with Eddie Brock, we see him at his highest and we see him at his lowest, by the time (and it takes a while) we reach the pivotal moment when he finally bonds with Venom, it doesn’t feel forced, it doesn’t feel like a coincidence. This slow build up works well, especially when we see Venom in full form for the first time, it is a genuine epic moment and it was hard not to grin, the pay off felt worth it.

However, this is all well and good if you have a 2 hour + film and you’ve got sufficient time after these epic moments to maintain a strong and compelling story. (The 2002 Spider-Man springs to mind, for me, an excellent example of pacing.) But, for whatever reason, Venom isn’t given this luxury, which leads to a horrifically rushed second half that in hindsight, diminishes the work that was put in to the first act. I’m not exaggerating this when I say, that after we meet Venom, we are given about two or three set pieces crammed into about half an hour, and then the film is over. To me, it almost came across like the filmmakers got lazy:

“Right, we’ve done all the characterisation, all that build up stuff, now lets have a few explosions and send them home happy.”

Once we finally got to see Venom in action, I wanted to see more of Venom in action, instead, it felt like I was watching the film equivalent of an Aldi checkout, having everything thrown at my face at 90 miles an hour in a desperate attempt to get me out of the door as quickly as possible.

For me, this was the biggest disappointment. To see all of this potential early on, just for it to be wasted in a clusterfuck of CGI set pieces, was a real shame.

Tone? What tone?

Venom didn’t really seem to know what kind of film it was trying to be. One moment it gives off some serious drama/horror vibes, the next moment it’s a full blown comedy. To its credit, the film doesn’t necessarily butcher either of these genres, and it delivers them quite successfully at times, the problem is that these two tones do not compliment each other, which consequently makes the film feel disjointed, there are rumours that Tom Hardy and director Ruben Fleischer butted heads over what tone the movie should have, these are of course, just rumours, but after watching the film they are certainly believable, because the contrast between the two tones isn’t subtle at all.

They really needed to stick to one tone and commit to it throughout, because there were times I just wasn’t sure if certain moments were meant to be serious, or if they were being played for laughs. For me, personally, Venom was at its best when focusing on the comedy. The PG-13 restrictions meant that any attempt at genuine horror just left the audience feeling like they were short-changed. Every time Venom bites off a head or there was a more explicit moment of violence, there was always a convenient cutaway which just immediately took me out of the moment.

I’m not saying that every film needs blood, gore and bad words to be a hit, but it’s no secret that this sort of content would have complimented Venom in the same way that Rated-R compliments Deadpool.

I am not surprised that this film was PG-13, and I can understand the reasonings behind it, as no doubt they are working towards the end goal of bringing in Spider-Man in some form. However, I think once it was agreed that the film wouldn’t be R-rated, the focus then should have been on the fun, more comedic side. It felt like the filmmakers were trying way too hard at times to be edgy, to try and blur the lines, when in reality they were always going to be limited in what they could do and what they could achieve.

A lot of people won’t like this, understandably so, but Venom is at its best when it focuses on the Eddie Brock/Venom relationship and the humour and entertainment that it brings. I personally would have preferred the film to focus on this side more often, instead of delivering the disjointed mess that I saw.

A tip for all movie makers out there, if you’re making a PG-13 movie, don’t tease us with implied Rated-R content and then take us away from it, it’s only going to make us think about what could have been, which is only going to make us bitter. (I know I said earlier I wasn’t going to get hung up on it, but come on, when you keep teasing me like that, eventually I’ll crack!)

These were my three biggest gripes with the movie, but lets focus now on the main positive for me:

Eddie + Venom = Fun. 

After reading the above, you would be forgiven if you thought that I hated this movie. But there was one factor which salvaged this film for me, and if you didn’t guess already, it’s our main protagonists.

I didn’t care for any of the other characters, they were all bland, generic, with no substance. Every time we had a scene without Eddie Brock and/or Venom present, I couldn’t wait to get back to Eddie and Venom.

There is no doubt about it, they are just brilliant fun. Eddie on his own is likeable enough, it’s hard to resist Tom Hardy’s charm in virtually any movie, so props to whoever cased him, great choice. But the film really comes in to its own when we get to the point that Venom (also played and voiced by Hardy) has engrained himself in to Eddie’s head, the banter that ensues is at times, hilarious. Watching Eddie trying to maintain a normal conversation with someone, whilst Venom is taunting or mocking Eddie in his own head, was always great fun. Going back to the earlier point about tone, they could have easily gone down the route of Venom torturing Eddie to the point of insanity, because usually, that’s what a voice in your head does. I’m glad that they chose to instead focus on the comedic side of this relationship, because it’s what kept me hooked. I was living for the next quip, the next laugh, I wanted to see what the pair would do next. Once Eddie/Venom were out in full force, I almost forgot that I was watching a terribly made movie, I just sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride! At the end of the day, I was having fun every time Eddie and Venom were on the screen, and I came in to this film wanting to have a good time, so at this point the only thing I really could complain about, was that I wasn’t getting enough of them.

Conclusion

Don’t let me fool you at all, I will say it right now, and I will make it clear: Venom is a bad movie.

A bad plot, with bad characters, a tonal mis-match with horrific pacing issues. It does the best it can to try and make a standalone story work, but it’s impossible to deny that the absence of Spider-Man is felt, it’s just not very good.

Yet, I still enjoyed it.

Tom Hardy as Eddie/Venom was just infectious fun, and any moment with them on the screen was a joy to watch. Had the filmmakers sorted the above issues, we probably would have seen a lot more of this relationship and the film could have thrived as a result.

Alas, it wasn’t to be this time. But despite all of its flaws, I am still on board with the proposed sequels. Venom’s most frustrating aspect for me, was that you could see the massive potential, you could see what this film could have been if it wasn’t rushed through, if it wasn’t confined to a ridiculously short runtime.

As of this writing, Venom is doing well at the box office, so a sequel is inevitable at this point. The post-credit scene gave us a glimpse of what is to come, if done well, we will be in for a treat. I just pray that Sony learn from their mistakes, capitalise on the wasted potential from the first film, and give us a film we deserve.

Will we get a Rated-R cut? We will get a Rated-R sequel? Who knows. Again, I know I said I wouldn’t get hung up on it, but there’s no point shying away from the obvious, PG-13 does not suit a character like Venom. Sure, it’s still fun to watch and the action is fine, but  when you keep starving the audience at the last moment, eventually you begin to build fantasies in your head of what could have been, and, let’s be honest, it would have been better. It worked with Deadpool, it worked with Logan, it would have worked with Venom, history also tells us that audiences would have watched it. But what can you do?

A final point from me – just because it’s not in the MCU, doesn’t mean it can’t be MCU quality. Learn from this Sony, before it’s too late and you butcher another franchise.

I give Venom a 5/10.

Thank you for reading my first review, it’s been a long time since I’ve done something of this size, so I know it’s not going to be perfect. Let me get back in to the groove of things, and everything will start to improve!

Until the next time.

 

5 thoughts on “Film Review: Venom

  1. Excellent review mate, very good read and very honest as usual for you.

    I’ll still be going to see Venom, from the trailers it certainly looks like the Eddie/Venom relationship is the best part of the film, and what makes it worth watching. Hopefully it doesn’t stink as much as Jusice league!

    Liked by 1 person

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