Film Review: “Venom” Is Cinematic Poison

Film poster: “Venom”

Venom (Ruben Fleischer, 2018) 1 out of 4 stars.

Listen up: I have a really interesting idea for a movie. Imagine a human character inhabited by a super-intelligent, super-sensory and super-strong being, using its body as host, who initially rejects the very notion of such possession, but then gradually learns to accept, and even relish, the powers that come with the deal. He even forms a bond with his personal demon, even if the relationship is contentious, trading barbs in an internal dialogue. Violent though the story may be, there’s sharp humor in the proceedings, too, as the human watches in wonder as his body is made to do things he never imagined possible. Like the concept? Then I recommend Leigh Wannel’s Upgrade, released this past summer.

As for Venom, well, that’s another story. Featuring the wasted talents of Riz Ahmed (City of Tiny Lights), Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) and many others, the film careens from idiocy to inanity, occasionally surfacing above the muck for a semi-kick-ass action scene or two. What passes for dialogue is delivered in quick mumbles (especially by Hardy, who here never meets a consonant he cannot mangle), interspersed between one poorly constructed moment after another. While certain elements of the sci-fi fantasy entertain, everything on the periphery of the comic mayhem is ludicrous. Please don’t ask me about the hospital scenes.

Michelle Williams and Tom Hardy in VENOM ©Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures

Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a journalist (sort of) who takes his muckraking too far and loses everything, job and fiancée included. Meanwhile, Ahmed’s evil Elon Musk-alike spacetreneur – Carlton Drake – imports extraterrestrial creatures for purposes less than benign, only to discover that they require a human partner to survive. These “Symbiotes,” as they are called, just as frequently kill their hosts as empower them. Brock proves to be among the lucky few who survive and thrive after some newfound investigative vigor places him in the path of one. Soon, he and “Venom” (the name of his unwelcome buddy) make quite the team, fighting their way through Drake’s army. Will Brock hold on to his humanity and use his abilities for good? Do you care?

Well, you might if you enjoy seeing your favorite Marvel characters up on screen, for better or worse. Certainly, the audience with which I saw the film was excited by one of the two post-credit sequences that revealed who is up next in the ever-expanding Marvelverse (though this movie is released by Sony, and so runs parallel to the main, Disney-run series). Fair enough, but it seems like fan culture ought to be able to co-exist with a modicum of quality. Hopefully, if Venom ends up being box-office poison, we won’t have this plot line to contend with anymore. In the meantime, there’s always Upgrade.

Tom Hardy as Venom and Eddie Brock in VENOM ©Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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