Sunday, 7 October 2018
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Very slight spoiler in here.
Well this was a bit of a surprise.
I saw the trailer to Venom and it looked awful. This was followed up with a lot of negative, bad word of mouth comments on Twitter on the first couple of days of its release. However, I wanted to keep abreast of things because the Fox Marvel Universe looks like it will be properly merging with the Disney owned Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) any time now and so there’s a possibility that the character could be crossing over into that world at some point, possibly with the same actors attached.
What can I say? I may be out of step with the zeitgeist again because I had a really good time with it. There are a few issues (not as many as you might think from people’s reactions) but overall it’s a pretty great Marvel movie and I hope they make good on the promise of the first of the two extended post credits scenes (so that’ll be the mid-end credits scene then) at some point. So hoping for some good box office on this one but, judging from people’s reactions, it might not get it.
I’m not that up on Venom as a character, to be honest. He’s only about 30 years old and I think I’ve only ever read the first ten or twelve years of Spider-Man in the comics. But this highlights one of the biggest problems of this movie right there, in relation to this source material and its pretence to be an adaptation of it because, although there are Spider-Man universe references in it, the primary one being that J. Jonah Jameson’s son, the astronaut, gets a few brief shots at the start of the movie and the other being mention of Eddie Brock’s New York problems (I’ll get to the final post-credits scene soon), this incarnation of Venom has nothing to do with Spider-Man at all which is odd here because... well okay here’s why.
Venom first appeared as an alien symbiont in a Spider -Man story called Homecoming... which is what the last solo(ish) Spider-Man movie was called, right? The story was part of a big Marvel event called Secret Wars in the comic, which featured all the Marvel characters battling each other on an alien world. It’s here where Spidey picked up the black, alien symbiotic costume and, many issues later, got rid of it when it became the villainous Venom and bonded with, among others, reporter Eddie Brock. Now, we saw some of this story already on screen when it was used, alas minus the Secret Wars part, for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. So I can half understand why they didn’t want to go down that route here and instead give him a new origin again (kind of, not really but I’m not going to condemn them for it) but we still have the problem that Venom still totally looks like Spider-Man.... because that’s who he first bonded with.
And that’s my biggest problem with the new movie. Venom bonds with Eddie Brock, played here quite comically by Tom Hardy who portrays him as a much more sympathetic character than I recall. And for the first twenty or so minutes after he bonds with Eddie, which in itself is a fair way into the movie... which is fine, it’s a slow burn... we don’t ever see him manifest as a full character and all the while I was thinking... oh, they’re doing this right. Soon he’ll see some footage or a picture of Spider-Man and that will justify him looking like the character. And that’s where they slipped up because, when Venom does manifest to Eddie and various others, he looks just like Spider-Man but with absolutely no justification for that. Which is what I was worried about when I first heard they were doing a stand alone Venom movie and, yeah, they really dropped the ball here.
Most everything else is great though. The movie takes time to build up the characters like Eddie, his former girlfriend Anne (played by Michelle Williams) and the movie’s main villain Carlton Drake (played really well by Riz Ahmed). And there’s even another symbiont (there’s a few actually but one other main one) which starts the movie as kind of a red herring because you assume it’s Venom but then it turns out... oh no it’s not. This character is useful in the early parts of the movie (and works much better then than in the end third of the film) because it allows the writers and director to play with the idea of the alien symbionts in almost a horror movie kind of way. This is something that’s further enhanced by Ludwig Göransson’s rather appropriate, almost cheesy riffs on a kind of 1950s style scary sci-fi approach to the scoring... which surprised me from this composer and is spot on for this. Well done to Sony for giving it a CD release at the end of next week. Much appreciated.
The musical style also changes when it needs to, especially when, somewhere in the last third or so of the movie, the tone shifts and it becomes an all out adventure Super Symbiont style action fest in the Mighty Marvel Manner (as they used to say in the comics). And this kind of works for the film too... it’s a fun watch with some nice, fast pacing and there’s even a brief appearance of a sexy Lady Venom at one point (or She-Venom as she was known in the comics, apparently). The point is, everyone is good and everything, more or less, follows through on story logic. I don’t know why people are saying it’s a mess and doesn’t make sense because, it clearly does... even if it does come off as a bit of a cross between the plotting of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reviewed here) and Rampage (reviewed here) at certain points.
I have only two other problems with it.
One is the time continuity. At the start of the picture we have a rocket crashing on Earth and then Eddie Brock brought in to to do a puff piece interview with Carlton Drake as damage control on that event. Soon after, we have a caption that reads “Six months later” and Eddie is in a bar watching a news item. All well and good except the news announcer is talking about that same rocket crash which happened... one month ago. I appreciate that the timing relocated to a longer period makes more sense with what’s happened in the progression of the characters in the intervening months... but if you’re going to slap a caption on there then make sure the dubbing on the news cast synchs up with it. Mind you, it’s not as bad as the appalling time continuity error made at the start of Spider-Man Homecoming (reviewed here) with it’s proximity to the events of The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble, reviewed here) so I think we can let these guys off the hook on this a little.
What really made no sense however, especially after a quite cool, extended mid end credits sequence, was an extended post-credits end sequence which is an action scene from the new Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse movie released in December... especially as it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with Venom or the rest of the film. So that was a bit strange but not especially damaging to the rest of the picture, I guess.
So what else can I say? Despite the unbelievably bad word of mouth the movie has been getting, I thought this one was a really fun ride and there are a lot worse things you could be seeing at your cinema at the moment. It’s not super great but it’s certainly not a dud and it’s also got a memorable cameo from Stan Lee near the end of the picture. So if you are one of those fans who are fond of the old phrase “Make Mine Marvel”, I think you’ll find Venom is at least worth a look. I was pleasantly surprised by this one.