Sunday, October 21, 2018

Venom (2018) Makes Comic Book Movies Fun Again

Venom Movie Review
Sony Pictures
Why so serious comic book genre? This is the big question that pops up in my mind over the intense division, even backlash, over Venom. Sony's latest attempt at their own comic book universe is an unexpected detour from the expected adaptations we've seen over the years, and reminds us of how the genre used to be: purely fun for fun's sakes. Venom's splash of action, sci-fi, and rom-com is not the most traditional story of its kind, and that works both for and against the film.

Humankind is depleting all of its natural resources. So much so that it's gonna need a better planet. Creator and inventor of the Life Foundation Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) uses his spaceships to bring back aliens known as symbiotes with the hopes of finding human hosts, but they’re much more deadlier and dangerous than even his multi-million dollar corporation ever planned for. Enter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who uncovers shady dealings with Drake’s corporation and inadvertently becomes the host of a violent symbiote called Venom. Forced to act as a hybrid, Eddie and Venom work together to take down the Life Foundation.

Venom is an absurd comic book movie that embraces how absurd it is, and honestly, the pure joy of the film comes out of its leading performance by Hardy. Already having a reputation for going all in for his characters, he makes no shift in changing his methods now, and here it really works – he’s not only playing Eddie but gives Venom his voice and comically, awkwardly, and believably acts like there’s an alien taking over his body - it's some of the best, and most importantly playful (and not method-esque performances) he’s ever given. As much as the film includes the typical CGI combat scenes between the two of them against Drake's cronies, there's quite a few set pieces of Eddie fighting his body's reaction to Venom's invasion or embracing Venom until they end up creating a weird bond of compromise and trust. Their arc from enemies to frenemies and friends is one of the best on-screen relationships to come along in a long time, especially in the "superhero" genre. It’s almost impossible to think that another actor could’ve carried the film as entertaining as he does.

Following behind Hardy is the supporting cast who aren’t “bad” in any sense of the word, but in comparison to Hardy don’t have as much to carry in terms of showy performances or transformations. Riz Ahmed as Drake is sort of your typical Marvel villain as a rich inventor who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, but Ahmed is charismatic and tries to rise above some of the cliche tropes his character has. More minor characters are filled in nicely: Jenny Slate as one of the few doctors who questions the lengths Drake is willing to go to; Celphas Jones as Eddie’s steely boss are fine the roles that they have; Reid Scott as a doctor who tries to help Eddie. The only casting that felt out-of-place was Michelle Williams as Eddie's girlfriend Anne; she's well-balanced as stuck between loving or leaving Eddie, but the chemistry between herself and Hardy didn’t quite gel - I had a hard time trying not to imagine someone else in the role.

Therein lies a small crux to Venom: it entirely rests on Hardy’s beefy shoulders. If his performance works for you, it’s guaranteed to be a good time; if it doesn’t, well, the whole film falls apart.

As unique as the idea is for an alien to find its human host and for the two to create a bond with each other, and what comes out of that with Hardy’s chemistry with virtually himself, the film contains a generic plot that unravels at a predictable pace. From the beginning, the script’s pretty much the writing on the wall; there’s no skeletons falling out of the closet or super exciting twists that’s going to make this a revolutionary comic book movie - there's not even an electrifying soundtrack or drastically different style in its direction or production design. These aren't elements that ruin the film because there isn't one scene where I didn't feel like I was genuinely being entertained by Eddie's circumstances. However, there are elements, especially the script/story, that could have supported Hardy more and overall elevated the movie to counter the haters.

By not following in Marvel or DCEU's footsteps, critics seem to disagree with Sony's rogue approach. In spite of Venom not being a groundbreaking comic book movie, it does remind me of how fun these movies used to be, similar to the early 2000s movies where we had some variety (good and bad): the utterly forgettable Catwoman, the genuine crowd-pleaser (at the time) Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire, the cringe-worthy Daredevil with Ben Affleck. Once  Zac Snyder's Watchmen or Christopher Nolan's Batman gave Disney, and even Warner Bros., the blueprints to show that their franchises can be more than camp, superhero movies have been churned out one right after the other...but isn't it a little boring that the studios can make these movies in their sleep? and not change in style or entertainment? Venom reminds us how comic adaptations have become predictable in  handling the hero’s journey, that “superhero” movies can be a wild rollercoaster ride. They don't have to take themselves so seriously and that doesn’t make said-movie dumb or so-bad-it’s-good, just genuinely different.

Like going into a lab and literally experimenting on their own film universe, Sony’s flick works because of the zany ride that Venom is – it’s funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not), action-packed, a little quirky and a little cliché. And none of those for me are cinema sins that the film has to be so hated on, you’d think it was the worse film ever made. Similar to Ant-Man or its sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, Venom has capitalized on its own weird corner of characters and gimmicks without having to worry about being a part of a bigger franchise. The film has a great lead in Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed(working out on some kinks in a cliché villain), as well as actors in supporting roles.It’s difficult to judge if this will kick-off an interweaving legacy of characters and feuds twenty-movies deep from Marvel’s world, but Venom is up for two more films, and the next ones could be better. This might not be Sony’s Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Soldier,but every new venture has to start somewhere. It’s going to be a fun ride to see what Venom and the studio morph into next.

Rating: 
Have you seen Venom? What did you think?

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