VENOM: An Anti-Hero is Given His Own Anti-Movie

A movie striving for Darkman glory, but settles for Shadow-like flatness

It’s hard to think of too many movies facing the kind of hate that Venom has received from the beginning of it’s pre-production period up until the week of release. Every trailer that came out was met with swifter criticism than normal and even a Comic Con showcase featuring footage as well as support from director and cast members did virtually nothing to satisfy an inexplicably growing hunger for Venom to fail. The lambasting and outright tearing apart of a movie that hadn’t even been released yet was so deafening, that it convinced me that it didn’t stand a chance. All of the harsh treatment this movie was receiving infuriated me to no end since it showcased the growing legions of cynical film critics; those in the industry who are so quick to write off a film solely based on sometimes nothing more their initial feelings about its premise. What made me even madder than the despising of a movie no one had any valid critique to base their misguided hate on, was the sad realization that the negativity wasn’t altogether unfounded.

Sensational news vlogger Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has it all; a thriving career and an engagement to successful attorney Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). However when Eddie decides to betray Anne by stealing the files involving one of her firm’s high profile clients; the controversial scientist Dr. Calton Drake (Riz Ahmed), which he uses to ambush him during an interview, he loses everything. Months later, the disgraced reporter is contacted by Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), one of Drake’s employees who reports that her boss has contained an alien symbiote which he intends to merge with human cells. Intrigued by the thought of exposing Drake, Eddie ventures into his lab, quickly encountering said symbiote which makes its way into his body and unleashes a new dark force within him; the aptly named Venom.

If the Razzie’s had a category devoted to editing, Venom would surely be the movie to beat. So rarely has there ever been such a movie whose flow, pace and structure have reeked of studio-mandated, focus group-driven influences. Venom suffers from a barely passable amount of exposition before introducing us to characters we know nothing more about that what one would read on a Tinder profile before slapping together a dizzying array of pieced-together plot turns. The use of the admittedly decent CGI is a fun distraction, but does little to disguise the movie’s abridged feel. During a recent interview, Hardy revealed that a whole 40 minutes of footage had been excised from Venom in the interest of time. The cuts are obvious without ever having seen the footage. Venom has such an abruptness of story that it cannot help but bring down the whole affair, even making Stan Lee’s traditional cameo come off as rather awkward. Even the film’s rating, a solid R whittled down to a tame PG-13 signifies both a nervousness on behalf of the filmmakers and a lack of interest from the studio towards making Venom as worthwhile a movie as it could have so clearly been.

It’ll be apparent to everyone (whether they’d like to admit it or not), that what does work in Venom would have worked even better had the movie not undergone such hacking. The effects do contain the right kind of dark excitement, particularly in the operatic final showdown between Venom and instant nemesis Riot. Likewise, the action sequences, in particular the car chase that takes place smack dab in the middle of San Francisco’s downtown area, are executed well. Venom has some fun with the dark, tongue-in-cheek humor its dark protagonist indulges in, such as taunting Eddie for his fear of heights. Meanwhile, the scenes in which Eddie is trying to understand/control Venom are so entertaining given that the alien inside him is so much more smarter (an wittier) than him. It’s because of this that the makings of a morbid buddy comedy show themselves, giving Venom the kind of mischievous jolt it so desperately needs. Finally, if audience members were to walk into Venom thinking it more a horror film than comic book movie, their chances of enjoying would no doubt improve as director Ruben Fleischer’s promise of a John Carpenter influence is obvious in spite of the unfortunate rating.

It seems a bit unfair to rate the performances in Venom since the actors don’t really get a chance to do much of anything. What little they are given in the way of characters is hampered by the fact that the every figure in this film is a construct; the idea of a person rather than an actual person themselves. What’s left is a cast of typically dependable actors squandered playing men and women who, much like the movie they’re starring in, were edited down to the point where they became as bland and generic as their character descriptions. Hardy remains the only cast member whose saved from such a malady thanks to some truly enjoyable scenes of him acting opposite the dark voice in his head and his vain efforts to control it. The way he sells the concept with such gusto results in one of his most fun and accessible on screen turns to date from the actor.

Venom is a nearly two hour-long movies that feels like 45 minutes; and that is far from a compliment. It’s such a shame at how such a potent and vibrant concept was so inexcusably jumbled up, that even the film’s most ardent naysayers might feel a tinge of sadness towards the unrealized potential of what could have been. There’s no question that there will be less people leaving Venom hating so much as saddened by it. Movies are made in the editing room, as the old saying goes, and judging from the end result of Venom, that’s also where they’re ripped apart. I’m sure there’s an extended cut of this movie laying around somewhere that actually does right in telling Venom’s story of the inherent darkness living inside the everyman’s naturally grey soul. Maybe one day we’ll even get to watch it.

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