Thursday, 4 October 2018

Review: Venom

Venom (2D / Vaguely spoiler-ish)
Cert: 15 / 112 mins / Dir. Ruben Fleischer / Trailer

In short: I went to see Venom.
It is not a good film*1.

In long...

If there was ever a celluloid embodiment of the words 'oh mate', this would be the one.

So. It's Los Angeles. Some gooey aliens want to take over the Earth because scientists went into space and that was always going to end badly. We're at the point now where extra-terrestrial invasion narratives are no longer a metaphor for colonial attitudes or fear of progress, but just reflect the page where the library-copy of The Hollywood Screenwriter's Handbook falls open.


Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter who makes non-branded videos of domestic issues which we first assume are just for YouTube, but are apparently for some corporation or other, the precise nature of which isn't explained. He's the kind of hard-hitting, new-media journalist who corners his quarry by politely arranging meetings in their place of work then arriving on time. Who ruthlessly fronts his videos by looking at neither the camera nor his interview subject, but at a scratty notepad clutched in his hand while he mumbles vague accusations. Who responds to firm corporate rebuttal by leaving the building when asked. Who is so celebrated and in-demand as a journalist that when he's sacked from his part-time job nobody even notices, let alone head-hunts him for their own company. If Brock is actually capable of any kind of sleuthing or intelligence-gathering, we don't see it in this film. Anyway, Eddie is poking his nose into things he shouldn't, and an alien goes in him. That's Act 1.

Brock's girlfriend, Anne Weying, is played by the Academy Award-nominated actress Michelle Williams, who brilliantly and incisively interprets her role as a woman looking indelibly bored for two hours. Anne is a lawyer whom we never see doing any lawyering, although given that a) it's not her film, and b) we barely see our investigative reporter actually investigating or reporting either, this is hardly surprising. Riz Ahmed plays Carlton Drake, who is The Baddie. We know this because he wears a sharp suit and whenever he opens his mouth, is forced to recite lines from The Movie Baddie's Phrasebook while squinting at underlings just off-camera. Woody Harrelson is in this but not until the end, and then you'll wish he hadn't bothered.


So. Venom feels like spending two hours watching first-takes of actors reading their lines for the first time, from a script which was written by a 12yr old who only watches superhero movies.

Demographically, Sony have spent so much effort angling their product to a non-kiddie audience that they didn't notice anyone old enough to get in will have seen all of this before (and better), whether it be any movie with aliens arriving on Earth, Todd McFarlane's other creation, Spawn, or even just the distrusted-authority in shiny skyscraper laboratories of Sony's last two Spider-Man outings. And although we get enough of the glistening fangs and body-horror to squeak through as a 15-certificate, there's little here to actually earn this edgier rating in terms of lasting threat or human injury.

By the time Brock and Venom become a variety double-act of grumpy bickering which barely stops short of looking right down the camera, this is like a Hallow'een-costume Deadpool.
But without the swearing. Or the self-awareness. Or the wit.


Beats are taken haphazardly from the horror genre, from the conspiracy thriller, sci-fi, action, comedy and of course the superhero-origins story. None of these gel together in the final edit, which incoherently changes tone at a rate suggesting that director Ruben Fleischer has suffered some sort of cranial trauma, and is permanently unable to recall the footage he shot each previous day. As a result, Hardy is left to bimble along from scene to scene in the title role, himself displaying symptoms of scriptual amnesia as he struggles to work out who his character is meant to be. The lack of direction in Tom's performance - both narratively and in terms of just being directed - is staggering.

The most disappointing aspect is that Venom should be better. It could be better. Why isn't this better? By this point, Sony have held onto the Spider-Man rights long and hard enough to know what works, what will be derided by critics and audiences alike, and what is ultimately damaging to their own reputation. To have assembled a cast this impressive and still have churned out a Tesco Value Sausage of a superhero movie is an embarrassment to all concerned.


There are some moments of fun, but there are far more which aren't. Perhaps the only saving grace is that the movie appears to exist (thus far) in its own standalone stream of continuity. In this respect, at least it will be easy to disregard.

Venom shows that not only are Sony not on the same page as Marvel Studios, they're not even in the same chapter. Okay, it's not Fantastic Four levels of bad, but the tonal inconsistencies and cack-handed moralising in the final moments put this on the same shelf as Ghost Rider.

There is a decent Venom movie to be made from this story, by this studio and with this cast.
But this isn't it...

The business-end:

• Is there a Wilhelm Scream? There is.
• Is there a Stan Lee cameo? There is.
• Is there a mid-credits scene? There is.
• Is there a post-credits scene? Well, kinda*2.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Life, and the first Amazing Spider-Man flick.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Not unless you like your migraines to originate from a 60ft wide screen.

Interestingly enough, this features the same cinematographer - Matthew Libatique - as A Star Is Born, also released in cinemas on the very same opening weekend. Although his hand-held, closeup style often threatens to derail that movie, too. In Venom, Matthew teams up with editors Alan Baumgarten and Maryann Brandon to go Full Seizure-Mode™

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Sure. This will make an interesting companion-piece for other superhero movies in the years to come.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In no way, shape or form.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Come at me.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is, and it's as subtly woven into the mix as one would expect from a movie where a murdering alien says "turd" in the trailer.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This has got Bodhi Rook, Tobias Beckett and let's not forget Last Jedi Deleted Scene Stormtrooper Tom himself in it.
Not a bad turnout for a flick which doesn't have a Disney stamp in sight.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 That's the micro-review version. But I'm writing this as well. Hey, I said I was going to stop doing full reviews for every single thing I watched, not that I was going to stop writing altogether. And if anything was going to bring me back for a stab, it's a disappointing Marvel flick. But I'm getting ahead of myself... [ BACK ]

*2 The mid-credits scene is a coda to Venom, so stay for this. After the names have rolled (and I don't usually moan about the time taken to credit everyone who contributed to making a movie, but Venom's roll-call is presented in the same 'easily readable' speed and size typeface throughout, mostly in a single-column list. Reader, this is a four-songs-and-a-bit-of-the-soundtrack-length reel), we get a sequence from the upcoming Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse animated film. It's not connected to Venom by anything other than the rights-holders, and if you arrived at the cinema early enough you'll have already seen the latest trailer for it. With this in mind, you'll already know whether this is worth you hanging around for an extra ten minutes.
[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.


  1. *Love* those crossheads. Never realised you shared Gisela's taste in music!

    1. Haha, to be fair I was always more of a thrash/death/black metaller. But I went through a glam-phase on the way up (down?) the ladder, so it's lodged in there on some level.

      And for the most part, the glam has aged far better than most of the 'making mean faces in the mirror' content ;)

    2. Motley Crue still has a certain cheesy appeal. I like to listen to it at work on days when I need something peppy to get me through.