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Venom review - An entertaining but forgettable origin

by Andrew Siddall. Published Thu 04 Oct 2018 15:30, last updated: 04/10/18
"We are Venom!"

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe reaching new heights, Sony Pictures has fallen behind on their superhero output, but now, with returning producers Avi Arad and Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures brings us the long awaited Spider-Man spin-off Venom.

Set to the backdrop of San Francisco, TV news reporter Eddie Brock is investigating the shady Life Foundation, led by Carlton Drake, but inadvertently becomes the unwilling host to an alien parasite called Venom. From there, they form an uneasy alliance to stop Drake and save the world.

Tom Hardy (Dunkirk) takes the reigns as Eddie Brock and provides the vocals for his toothy friend. While the American accent is questionable at times, he does a fairly good job in the role, finding a strange balance between the serious and the OTT physical stuff.

Riz Ahmed (Rogue One) monologues his way through his scenes as the bad guy, Carlton Drake. In terms of acting, Riz does a great job with what he’s been given, but deserves much more. The character is pretty bland and only serves as a threat to Venom when he finally suits up as obscure antagonist Riot.

Unfortunately, the same can be said about Golden Globe winner Michelle Williams as Brock’s love interest Anne Weying. She has a couple of good moments, but like Carlton Drake, isn’t very fleshed out and it feels like a waste of great potential having such a talented actress on board.

It’s no surprise to say that Venom himself is the real standout in this movie, having most of the best scenes and dialogue. Unlike the teaser suggested, Venom does get a good amount of screen time. There’s a definite improvement over Topher Grace’s Venom in Spider-Man 3, and his relationship with Eddie is more snappy (if you pardon the pun).

With Spider-Man still swinging around the MCU battling Mysterio, Venom is left to tell a similar but different origin story to his comic book counterpart. Plummeting to Earth aboard a spaceship, three symbiotic specimens are taken to the Life Foundation to be experimented on, but when Eddie breaks in, he becomes infected with one calling itself “Venom”.

The majority of the story surrounds the relationship between Eddie and Venom, which is easily the best part of the film. But it descends into a very generic superhero origin movie that tries to build towards a dramatic climax, which it doesn’t achieve.

But, in terms of action, this is where the film finds its feet. There is only a couple of proper set pieces (one of which brings to mind Spider-Man: The Animated Series), and the action regularly happen in short bursts. It’s much more brutal than expected with Venom using soldiers as baseball bats and even going so far as to bite heads off! It’s edited a little too quickly at times, but it’s still fun to watch.

The movie struggles to find a tone, bouncing from edgy horror to comedy to action to buddy flick. With a character like Venom, it would make sense to steer towards horror and action, but it doesn’t want to take itself too seriously, sometimes without meaning to.

Being directed by Zombieland’s Ruben Fleisher, there is the odd speckle of comedy dotted throughout the story, with most of it being at Eddie’s expense. There are some genuinely funny moments, but a lot of the laughs either feel forced or unintentional.

The musical score was created by Ludwig Goransson, who crafts a solid, but fairly generic soundtrack, which feels like a step down from his epic work on Marvel Studios' Black Panther. Like the film itself, there’s some good moments, but nothing that really stands out.

In Spider-Man 3, Venom was brought to life using a mixture of prosthetics and CGI, in this movie, both Venom and Riot are completely CGI creations. For the most part, they look great on screen and interact well with the live action characters, but sometimes the effects can become too messy and it becomes difficult to tell what’s happening, especially during the finale.

It seems strange that a large portion of the appeal to Venom was the age rating, which was originally set to be a hard R, until it was recently revealed to be a PG-13. At times, it does push a few boundaries, but it still feels watered down. It certainly doesn’t help that Tom Hardy has revealed that almost 40 minutes of footage was cut.

That isn’t to say that it isn’t possible to make a Venom movie that can appeal to 12 year olds, like Spider-Man 3 (2007) did, but it just seems odd that that was a focal point of the production. The film lends itself to a horror movie, with echoes of Alien and The Thing, but it only lightly touches on those elements, which might be explored further down the road.

Venom isn’t set in its own universe, in fact this film is set to be the beginning of a new shared universe from Sony Pictures, featuring exclusively Spider-Man side characters and villains, with Morbius the Living Vampire, Kraven the Hunter and solo movies focusing on Black Cat and Silver Sable all on the cards.

While Venom has shown it is possible to make a Spider-Man-less movie, his absence does take away the majority of the characters motivation and complexity, and that absence will become more jarring with each film, as the web-slinger is such an integral part of each character’s development.

Overall, this is an average and slightly forgettable movie with some good moments sprinkled throughout. There’s a good performance from Hardy, but the rest of the cast need more to do. Spider-fans may get some enjoyment out of this, but casual viewers may not.

Purple Revolver rating: 3/5. “It’s not completely awful.”


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