"Venom" - Review (No Spoilers) / by Keith LaFountaine

DIRECTED BY RUBEN FLEISCHER

WRITTEN BY JEFF PINKER, SCOTT ROSENBERG, KELLY MARCEL

PG-13 | 112 MIN


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They almost got this one right.

Here's the thing: I don't go into superhero films with as critical of an eye as I probably should. The main reason is because I compartmentalize superhero films in a different quality echelon than I do regular dramas, comedies, and thrillers. The motivation behind a superhero film -- in terms of what it's trying to accomplish with its story -- is almost always radically different than what other films are pursuing.

So, with that said, I didn't hate Venom. It has a lot of problems, don't get me wrong, but they were really close to nailing this one.

Venom follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative reporter who is infected by a parasite, Venom, while pursuing a story. As he and his ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams), cope with his new powers and Venom’s bloodthirsty personality, Eddie finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and his evil corporation.

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The issue is the script. With three screenwriter credits, this script has clearly been overwritten and dumbed down. Not only that, the screenwriters don't have the same exact vision for the film (at least, from what I could surmise) -- Venom feels split into three different tonal visions which all clash with each other, akin to the bombastic action on display.

The clearest example of this is how certain plot devices are used. They almost never make sense in the context of the story; rather, they have been placed there to move the story along, indicating that scenes had been assembled together, but without the necessary bridges to make the film feel "whole", so to speak. Characters appear in locations without explanation as to how they got there, character motivations change drastically and without warning, and the tone of the film goes from dark comedy to serious drama.

With a better script, though, this really could have been a cool film. Tom Hardy is great in this role, and Ruben Fleischer is a perfect directorial choice. His brand of dark humor, which made Zombieland so refreshing and fun, is exactly what a Venom film needs. Unfortunately, neither he nor Hardy are given much to work with. The supporting cast is also severely underutilized (especially the incredible Michelle Williams), as their characters feel nothing more than cardboard cutout clichés with vague glimmers of depth.

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The highlights of the film are the scenes between Brock and Venom. It takes the "buddy comedy" aesthetic and utilizes the absurdity of Venom to further enhance the comedy. It's clear that those are the scenes Tom Hardy misses, and I can see why. It’s in those moments that the film is the most fun.

Overall, Venom is pretty much what you are expecting. I don't think it's as bad as some critics are making it out to be, but it is a mess, especially in terms of its writing. The pieces are there, but they need a better foundation. I think if Fleischer had a better script to work with it wouldn't have felt as tonally jarring and narratively inconsistent.

 

RATING: ★★☆☆☆