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VENOM is an example of what happens when you want to have your pancreas and eat it, too.  In this age of superhero movie oversaturation, there is a film for every viewer; foremost for families, where iconic characters like Spider-Man, or The Avengers are spotlighted in situations that are action-packed, but not necessarily deep thinking or too scary.  There’s also the more outside-the-box format of clever comedic interpretations, like Guardians of the Galaxy, or Thor: Ragnarok.  Then you have the mad and joyfully violent, unrepentantly R-rated explorations; test case number one -- Deadpool. 

The box office success of the latter of these should have made movie companies take note, by now, and be less afraid of dipping into more mature subject matter.  It should certainly have been in the mindframe of Sony Pictures when they decided to take on one of the darkest, most iconic characters in the modern Marvel comic pantheon.  Yet, with VENOM, Sony tried to have it both ways; introducing the black figure of nihilism to his long-awaited movie audience, while trying to make it so little kiddies weren’t scared off, and would buy Venom bedsheets and Halloween costumes.  This was a mistake.

When people are so blindingly wealthy that they can establish their own space programme without oversight or check by government agencies, there’s something meant to go wrong.  A spacecraft privately owned and sent into the stratosphere by the multibillionaire, Carlton Drake, comes hurtling back to earth.  The expiration of the crew is nothing compared to the loss of the prize they sought.  Four specimens of extraterrestrial life were meant to come back, but only three are accounted for.  That missing biological marvel quickly learns to adapt itself to its new world by helping itself to human hosts.

The activities of the mega-wealthy Drake have not gone unaccounted for by local investigative reporter, Eddie Brock.  However, Drake’s power is such that when Eddie unwisely challenges the tycoon during an interview, the journalist’s quest for the truth finds them losing absolutely everything; his fiancée, his job, and even his cat.  Drake has Eddie blackballed throughout the media community, and the reporter spirals into daily drunkenness and depression.  A tip about Drake making use of his new space pets on unwitting homeless people, reluctantly draws Eddie’s muckraking instincts to the fore.  A stealthy creep around Drake’s laboratories not only reveals the depths of the rich man’s depravity, but introduces Eddie to his new closest companion.

The changes come quickly; a feeling of severe general wellness, increasing erratic behavior -- including voices that only he can hear -- and an extreme change of appetite, let those around Eddie know something is terribly wrong.  A contentious MRI reveals a parasite in Eddie that it’s going to take a lot more than a week of antibiotics to cure.

Claiming ownership of Eddie right from the start, the creature under his skin announces that “we” are Venom, and makes it very clear to the reporter that he quite likes this host and intends to stay.  Initially strongly opposed to having his body commandeered by a space alien, Eddie eventually sees some of the benefits of having a symbiote as one’s new best friend. 

Once it is discovered that Eddie may have possession of the alien (or vice versa), Drake sends all his paramilitary might to reclaim his property, but that property likes Eddie better.  The incredible, superhuman feats of strength, dexterity, self-healing, and general badassery, that save his life time and again, make Eddie form an uneasy alliance with his new guest; trying to reason with it to take a more humane approach to who the creature dispatches, and how. 

Humanity means very little to Venom and it only vaguely entertains Eddie’s notion of control until they are threatened, or the symbiote is hungry.  While beginning to embrace Venom for the unencumbered id the creature allows Eddie to release, the revelation that Venom is actually physically feeding off of his host and killing him, makes the reporter slightly less trustful.

Minus Venom, there are still two other symbiotes in Carlton Drake’s possession, and one running free on its way to join its brethren in San Francisco.  When Drake eventually becomes his own test subject, we discover there is a hierarchy amongst the space aliens, and that some of them don’t like each other very much.  It is a perfect symbiosis when Drake becomes one with the warrior-like Riot, as they both seek to capture -- and in Riot’s case -- destroy Venom, and, as an added bonus, that pesky Eddie Brock.

This should’ve been a bloodbath.  It should’ve been an ultraviolent exploration of humans’ darkest desires; of vengeance and insanity, and most importantly, it should’ve been a rip-roaring good time.  Those were the qualities that enamoured comic book readers to the black suit that first covered seminal good guy, Peter Parker, back in 1984, and threatened his very humanity.  It is what kept the symbiote world growing after Venom attached itself to Eddie Brock, and other chaotic space aliens like Carnage were added.  It was the attraction of this unstoppable, superhuman force that could enable a regular Joe to live out their darkest fantasies, or brightest hopes; to be hero, or villain, with powers that could not be contained, that could easily drive one to madness. 

This filmed version of VENOM is none of those things.  It should’ve hit like an iron mace to the face, and instead is a puling, bloated, paunchy fluffball.  None of the screen violence is actually consequential, it all looks terribly CGI, and with the exception of one insignificant devouring, every time Venom attacks an enemy -- not even superhuman ones -- they get right back up, free of any scratch or blemish, to attack Eddie again.  In our first action set piece, Venom leads Eddie on a wild vehicle chase through the hills of San Francisco.  Fleeing from Drake’s mercenaries, Venom/Eddie utilises super speed and agility, as well as a complete disregard for gravity (Why he’s fleeing at all with the damage he’s shown he can do, is anybody’s guess.).  Yet, after all these extraterrestrial tricks, the guards magically end up right behind Eddie time and again.  It made absolutely no sense. 

Criminally inept is the climactic fight between Riot and Venom in the shadow of another one of Drake’s rocket flights.  Director Ruben Fleischer sends up the universal distress flare for ‘I can’t stage an action sequence to save my life,’ by placing a battle between the two dark – black and blue – symbiotes against a nighttime background, then filming it in ultra-tight, whirling close-up, topping it all with choppy editing. 

All that effort and Fleischer still couldn’t camouflage that the scene was poorly-shot garbage; about as realistic or involving as watching an Atari 2600 video game.  The Venom from the 1990s Spider-Man cartoons was more thrilling and impressive than what Sony gives us here. 

My sense is that perhaps the powers that be wanted to make the character softer and more palatable to fold into the Spider-Man universe, where the symbiote originated.  However, what doesn’t seem to have been considered is the fact that it is the very violence and rawness of the symbiote that made the property so compelling and popular.  They should have brought VENOM out with both barrels, making his debut a literal splash, then, if necessary, calm him down for Spider-Man’s built-in family audience.  At least, that would’ve given a sense of Venom’s danger, even if it needed to be dialed back a bit.

VENOM’s only saving grace is the rendering of the creature, itself.  It looks imposing and strong.  Its iconic tongue, dripping saliva, extending and curling yards out of its frightening, dagger-toothed grin, lapping at potential two-legged snacks, is just the way fans imagined it.  And while sometimes verging on Bane-like incomprehensibility, when we can hear Tom Hardy’s voiceover for the creature, it does the symbiote justice. 

VENOM, the creature, is scary looking, as is right and proper.  Even if you know nothing about the comic book character, just seeing the terrifying image of the beast, it’s clear that whoever agreed to make that his grand cinematic solo PG-13 is a moron.  No amount of feckless, harmless action, cheesy sight gags, or duddy jokes was ever going to make VENOM appropriate for anything less than an R audience.

By trying to have it all, VENOM loses everything.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Oct. 2nd, 2018

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of 

Sony Pictures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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