“Ruben Fleischer’s ‘Venom’ crafts a mediocre film without Spider-Man.”
For Marvel comic fans, the idea of ‘Venom’ starring in a stand-alone movie is a dream come true. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 may have relegated the character to a third wheel villain, but it nevertheless gave hope for the possibility of having its own spin-off. It is Ruben Fleischer, best known for his work in Zombieland, who confidently steps up in an attempt to bring the anti-hero to life. It has the strong potential to be one of the most MARVELous movies yet made in the superhero genre.
But Venom disappoints immediately with a dull first half. A spaceship crashes on earth, leaving an amorphous, liquid-like form symbiote (‘Venom’) that requires a host to bond for survival. Then it follows the introduction of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) who lives in San Francisco with his fiancée Annie Weying (Michelle Williams) whose work is connected to Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the founder of Life Foundation that specializes on symbiotes. Enter its lengthy setup where Eddie loses his reporting gig and his fiancée – his life going off the rails when he decides to confront Drake on his malicious practice of experimenting human test subjects. To cut the long story short, Venom ends up merging with Eddie and together they try to figure out how to work in a shared body, while being hunted by Drake’s henchmen.
Coming into the screening with the preconceived notion that Venom will be bad, I decided that it’s best to enjoy this film as a casual viewer than a critic. But with so many flaws, it’s hard not to be critical. Whatever success that Fleischer pulled in Zombieland, he didn’t quite find the correct, same angle for Venom. The bromance relationship, comedic banters, and personality clashes between Eddie and Venom are really fun to watch but it doesn’t fit on the serious tone that the movie demands. The action is thrilling – seeing Venom brutally taking off heads of an entire SWAT team gives a little verve, albeit the camera angles sometimes mess up. Most of the time, the movie sets up the action in night where the Venom’s features are begging to be highlighted. It’s quite hard to keep track of what the audience are supposed to see, save for an amazing final battle where Venom and another symbiote, Riot, have both discernible forms. Overall, the plot is decent enough – it’s easy to understand yet not too boring. I can pick several moments in the film genuinely enjoyed.
Hardy suits the character very well and it’s safe to say that he did a better job than Topher Grace, but the lack of chemistry between him and Williams make the performances unengaging. There’s no strong establishment of their relationship in the beginning, considering that Eddie’s personal goal here is to reconcile with her.
Venom squanders its potential to do more. The decision to cut 40 minutes of Hardy’s favorite scenes and to switch the rating from R to PG-13 ultimately lowered the film’s capacity to fully embrace its anti-hero side. Somewhere in Fleischer’s file is a R-rated director’s cut that is much worthy of viewing. But as far as I’m concerned, this theatrical version bites the dust. That is not to say that this film will flunk in the box office – films with negative reviews can still find commercial success, and Marvel still has the option to connect this to their cinematic universe.
P.S. There are two end credits scenes. One will give more hype and an unimaginable follow up, while the other will take you to ‘another universe.’
2.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, ‘Venom‘ stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, and Reid Scott. Run time: 140 minutes