Venom – 2018

Director Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel
Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Ron Cephas Jones, Melora Walters

Somewhere between the drawing board and the actuality of the screen a great film was lost. What is left is a good film that has enough pieces on the cutting room floor, the home release should be interesting.

The desire to get out ahead of a disastrous marketing campaign led many reviewers to prematurely mark this film an equal disaster. It’s not great. let’s be sure about that. There is no way one could legitimately consider Venom a fatally flawed film. In comparing it to the low bar, it’s better than any film DC has put out in this decade without Wonder Woman in the lead.

The film takes its character, Eddie Brock (Hardy) as transplanted from Spider-Man’s universe (NYC) to San Francisco. This helps to put off any immediate need for a crossover until they can get Kevin Feige to agree to the idea.

Eddie is still an investigative reporter at the start of the film, and his fiance, Anne (Williams) is a lawyer. Brock takes advantage of Anne’s relationship with her client the Life Foundation, and uses it to confront its leader, Carlton Drake (Ahmed) regarding the treatment of its experimental subjects. He is thusly canned from his reporting gig and Annie is fired as well. This also means the end of Eddie and Annie.

Meanwhile, Carlton had lost one of his spaceships upon reentry into the atmosphere. There was a crash and some of the contents of the ship is lost into the world, literally. The other contents find their way back to the Life Foundation in San Francisco. Carlton pushes his way through experiments, theorizing we are running out of time with one more generation until complete meltdown of the earth. One of these experiments finds its way to Eddie and in the process we meet cute, symbiosis style.

Venom is good character, for how strangely it develops. At first we find that the symbionts need live food. Eventually Eddie and Venom seem to be okay with cooking up some tots. My guess is the more cohesive development scenes are somewhere on the cutting room floor.

Still, the potential is there. Early plot ideas are solid enough that we don’t see the titular anti-hero until well into the second act. It takes guts to go this long without action in an action film. By the time things roll along, we have enough time invested in Hardy’s loser Eddie we want to see where it’s going.  Then it starts to fade in the third act. In the end it’s entertaining enough, if the goal is getting through a plot that starts disintegrating as it approaches the stratosphere and an obvious sequel.

The special effects, rendering the symbiote in some sort of liquid clay type form, works for what it is we’re supposed to be seeing. It’s easy to wish for more clearly developed action scenes. There are few directors that know the intricacies of doing something like the Russos did in their Captain America films then the 3rd Avengers film.

Will this film suffice? It works for me, mostly. I don’t really love Michelle Willams all that much. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Ahmed playing manic driving force, even if I wonder how much more he had left to offer.

This is Hardy’s show, and he certainly is not wasted. He said most of his favorite stuff is not in the film. What is left certainly entertains. His talent is one of economical emotion. He doesn’t blow up on a whim and has the ability to sell the idea he’s not alone in himself without being creepy. His modulated voice handles the Venom role, and gives us the glimpse of the R rating everyone wanted but was never truly part of the plan. He’s just a shade more emotional than Mad Max Fury Road, but it helps the film approach the character it might have had with an R.

Venom could surprise at the box office. It’s better than the standard is for hero films these days, even if it’s not all that great. It makes its viewer want more.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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