Venom (2018)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/05/18 10:37:28
Years from now, when Michelle Williams is fully ensconced in her position as one of the most gifted American actresses of her generation, future film scholars will look back on her body of work and no doubt ask the same question that I have been asking for the last couple of months—what in the hell is she doing in the likes of “Venom?” Face it, as an actress, she tends to gravitate towards more serious-minded fare (though she is equally adept at comedy, as her hilarious turn in the underrated “Dick” will confirm) that is not aiming for blockbuster success and when she does turn up in a film that becomes a big hit, as she did last year with “The Great Showman,” it is more of a fluke than anything else. I mean, I know why she presumably signed on—she probably got paid enough money to finance three or four Kelly Reichardt films all by herself with plenty left over—and I certainly don’t fault her for that. My question is, of all the would-be franchise projects out there that presumably had roles to offer her, what was it about the utterly nondescript part she plays in “Venom” that made the producers think of her for the role and what was it about it that caused her to finally sign on for her tent pole debut. Actually, most viewers will probably find themselves contemplating this question since the film, an adaptation of the Marvel comic book (and not a remake of the weird 1982 thriller of the same name in which Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski put on a scenery-chewing clinic for the ages) is such a complete garbage fire of a movie that they will want to distract themselves with something while waiting for it to come to its merciful end.Tom Hardy, employing the kind of New Yawk accent rarely heard outside of middle school presentation of “Guys & Dolls,” stars as Eddie Brock, a hard-driving and committed cable news show host who is determined to uncover all the scandals of the world. When he is assigned to do a puff piece on Carlton Drake (Ruiz Ahmed), a rich tech genius with more than a whiff of Elon Musk to him, he decides to instead ambush the guy with questions involving rumors of unsavory activities. This inevitably gets him fired and since the basis of his accusations was a legal document he lifted from the computer of his lawyer girlfriend, Anne (Williams), she gets canned as well and quickly kicks him to the curb. Six months later, Eddie is boozing it up when he is contacted by one of Drake’s scientists (Jenny Slate) with a horrifying tale to tell. It seems that a Drake-funded space mission brought back samples of an alien life form deemed symbiotes that he is trying to bond with humans in order to create an advance that will allow people to live and work in space. Alas, the symbiotes have a nasty tendency to consume their hosts from within and as a result, Drake has gone through dozens of homeless “volunteers” in the hopes of finding one who has the ability to play host without dying in the process.
So as not to belabor things (a lesson the film itself could use), Eddie sneaks into the lab after hours, is attacked by one of the creatures and flees with it inside of him. Unlike the others, Eddie seems to be an ideal host for his visitor, dubbed Venom, and when Drake’s men come to retrieve the specimen, the newly-formed double act make short and messy work of them. While trying to stay one step ahead of Drake, who is having some symbiote-related difficulties of his own, Eddie decides to complicate things even further by trying to reconcile with Anne, who has moved on to Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), who can inform Eddie and the audience about how weird his medical tests are now thanks to Venom. It all ends, as most films along these lines must, with a big chase culminating in a final fight scene in which things are smashed or blown up in moments that have been edited in such a rapid-fire manner that even Michael Bay himself might have trouble figuring out what is going on at any given moment.
On the bright side, “Venom,’ who is perhaps most famous as a one-time adversary of Spider-Man (and who fought him in “Spider-Man 3,” a superhero movie just about as atrocious as this one), certainly ins’t the usual by-the-numbers big-budget comic book adaptation. The problem, however, is that is isn’t much of anything at all when all is said and done. The film is trying to go for a darker strain of humor than usual for this sort of film while still providing the usual array of thrills and spills but director Ruben Fleischer, who made the brilliant “Zombieland,” rarely manages to find the right tone at any given point. The jokes are fitfully amusing at best, the action beats are so haphazardly executed that watching them becomes a chore and the screenplay is so uneven and poorly paced that it feels as if entire scenes were removed at the last minute without anyone making the slightest effort to fill in the resulting gaps. The film also fails the biggest test of a film of this nature by giving us a remarkably dull villain to root against even though it is never entirely clear what he is trying to accomplish and why he immediately decides to go the evil path in order to achieve his muddled goals. The romantic triangle (or is it a quadrangle?) involving Eddie/Venom, Anne and her new beau doesn’t really add up to much either but at least it inspires what is arguably the film’s most entertaining scene, a bit where Eddie/Venom bust in on Anne and on a dinner date in a fancy restaurant and tear the place up while trying to satisfy Venom’s hunger, eventually winding up in the live lobster tank. And, befitting the increasingly schizoid nature of its central character, the film can never make up its mind in regards to the level of violence that it shows—while it never comes close to being gruesome enough to qualify for an R rating, even though the success of the “Deadpool” movies has made that less of a commercial scarlet letter, it is nevertheless way too brutal and creepy for the younger audience members that it is clearly being aimed at.
I know I kind of singled out Michelle Williams earlier in this review but the truth is that “Venom” has an abundance of good actors who have inexplicably elected to sign up to play absolutely worthless parts. Tom Hardy, for example, can be one of the most magnetic actors alive when working with the right material but here, he just comes across as the kind of mush-mouthed antihero that few viewers will feel the need to work up any sympathy for as things progress. As his arch-enemy Ahmed is similarly at sea with a screenplay that gives him all the standard-issue super villain lines to say but nothing that might convince him to invest his delivery of them with any meaning. With Williams, the problem isn’t so much her performance—she probably comes the closest to creating a plausible character in the midst of this nonsense—as it is the fact that her part is so dreadfully written and inconsequential to the proceedings that watching her gifts being squandered pretty much casts a pall on the proceedings every time she comes on screen. All that she does here is show that there is actually something that she can’t do as an actress—she does not seem to maintain the ability to fake her way through a badly written role by investing it with more thought and energy than it received from those who wrote it in the first place.The biggest problem with “Venom” isn’t the fact that it is a bad movie—although it is a terrible one, to be sure—as much as it is a complete nothing. Even a film like “Suicide Squad,” as dreadful as that was, had a couple of specific ideas behind it—it just happened to execute them in the most witless, tacky and obnoxious manner imaginable. “Venom,” on the other hand, feels more like a two-hour version of its own coming attractions trailer—a random assemblage of crudely executed action that might make some vague sense to hardcore Venom fans while leaving everyone else trying in vain to figure out what is supposed to be going on. There have been some recent news stories that have suggested that fans of Lady Gaga have been flooding IMDb with bad reviews of this film in an alleged attempt to lessen the box-office chances of the chief competitor to “A Star is Born” this weekend by spreading around poisonous word of mouth. I don’t know if this is true or not but if so, I would suggest to them that they needn’t bother with this since actual viewers of the film should be taking care of that task for themselves before too long.
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