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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Venom movie review: no teeth, no bite

Venom red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
A dull, dated comic-book clunker that is somehow even smaller and lesser than the sum of its noisy, junky, clichéd bits. So perfunctory that it saps even its excellent cast of all their charisma.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): big fan of comic-book movies, love the cast
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, female coscreenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Pretty ironic, huh? Here’s a comic-book movie about a guy who, I’m guessing, allegedly becomes something bigger and better — or at least different — than he is on his own as a result of accidentally hosting in his body a powerful and morality-challenged alien parasite. And yet this is a movie that is somehow even smaller and lesser than all the noisy, junky, clichéd bits that comprise it. I mean, I’m not familiar with the Marvel character this is based on, but how can it not be the case that Eddie Brock/Venom is supposed to be a joint entity that is more than the sum of his/its(?) parts? Wouldn’t it be missing a trick if this concept wasn’t being deployed in service of, at a bare minimum, that theme?

“Dude, it’s gonna be okay. Just relax and think of the paycheck, and how you will use it to subsidize some really interesting, fulfilling work...”

“Dude, it’s gonna be okay. Just relax and think of the paycheck, and how you will use it to subsidize some really interesting, fulfilling work…”

Many, many tricks are missed in this woeful misfire of a movie, which isn’t just not about any of that but not about anything at all. Bad enough that Venom is all plot yet no story, all action without any motivation, all “characters” it would be an insult to cardboard to call “cardboard.” But all this sound and fury signifies nothing. It’s not even trying to be about anything. Bad enough that Venom is dull and dated. But what is the point of Venom, on any level? Why does it have nothing to say about any of its potentially hot-button elements: billionaires who want to change the course of humanity? reporters who want to save the world? the body horror of possession by alien parasite? Why does it identify an unexploited niche in our current superhero ecosystem — the movie’s tagline: “The world has enough superheroes” — and then do absolutely zilch to exploit it?

Venom is all plot yet no story, all action without any motivation…
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In what might be the biggest waste of an origin story ever, it’s a full hour into this sub-two-hour movie before reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy: Dunkirk, The Revenant) has been infected with the alien parasite brought back to Earth by Elon Musk–ish Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, City of Tiny Lights). Prior to this, it’s mostly Eddie moping around because his girlfriend, lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams: All the Money in the World, Suite Française), broke up with him because, behind her back, he used privileged information from her law firm that he got by breaking into her computer, which cost her her job. And it didn’t even do Eddie any good, because the story he pursued on the basis of that info, one in which he was trying to nail Drake for doing evil things, also got Eddie fired from his unnamed TV network, for reasons that we never quite grasp but that, it is hinted, have something to do with some hold Drake has over the network. Do the four credited screenwriters explore the idea, maybe, that Eddie is a jerk as a boyfriend but a great reporter who sticks it to both aspects of The Man as represented by mad-scientist billionaires and lickspittle corporate journalism? Nope. So that first hour of the movie adds up to a big steaming pile of who cares.

“Dude, look on the bright side: At least it’s not a thankless girlfriend role, which you will never, ever have to take because they’re offering you fuck-all else.”

“Dude, look on the bright side: At least it’s not a thankless girlfriend role, which you will never, ever have to take because they’re offering you fuck-all else.”

And then, once the slithering lizardy alien starts using Eddie’s body however it wants — but only in ways appropriate to a teen-friendly rating, so, plenty of bloodless violence but that’s about it — another huge chunk of runtime is exhausted by a lazy, tediously familiar car-motorcycle chase through the streets of San Francisco, as Drake’s goons attempt to get the parasite back from Eddie. You’ve seen this before, and it’s boring and repetitive and utterly fails to finally inject any of the excitement the movie has been missing thus far. Director Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad, Zombieland) could have used this sequence to take advantage of the fact that the movie is available in IMAX, but he doesn’t. There is no justification for the ultra-big-screen format… except for the premium it adds to a ticket price, which fans — me included — are happy to pay if it amps up the thrills. But there are no thrills here.

The terrific cast is slogging through this incoherent mess just like we are.
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Venom feels like a direct-to-DVD clunker with a script dusted off from the 1990s — and no, tossing in a few late-2010s catchphrases such as “fake news” and adding a few drones didn’t update it. This feels like an exercise in corporate contractual obligation; was there a licensing agreement about to expire? (How mercenary is this movie? One of the postcredits scene is just an ad for the upcoming animated Spider-Man movie, Into the Spider-Verse. This is a betrayal of the postcredits spirit.) This is what cinematic spinning of the wheels looks like. It’s so perfunctory that it saps even its excellent cast — Hardy, Williams, Ahmed, and also Jenny Slate (The Lego Batman Movie, Landline) as a Drake scientist — of all their charisma. They are slogging through this incoherent mess just like we are.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.


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red light 1 star

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Venom (2018) | directed by Ruben Fleischer
US/Can release: Oct 05 2018
UK/Ire release: Oct 03 2018

MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong threat, horror, violence)

viewed in 2D IMAX
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Michiel Deinema

    Trailer was so cool, but my God this was an awful movie. Hell, it wasn’t even awful it just was, I don’t know, a collection of moving images on a screen.

    I almost miss the Topher Grace version..

  • RogerBW

    It’s taken over ten years under Sony to get this project to the screen, with at least two unrelated script iterations, so it’s not surprising if the style feels a bit dated. This thing only exists because of rights deals…

  • TheGameroomBlitz

    So would it be fair to call Venom this decade’s answer to Catwoman? Y’know, surprisingly bad special effects, a script that has precious little to do with the comics, actors who would much rather be doing anything else…

  • LaSargenta

    This is so disappointing. Not only do I enjoy watching Hardy act usually, but, also Venom is a character that has some pretty interesting stories. Mind you, I’d have trouble seeing this as a PG-13 film. Lots of the comics have a kinky sexual overtone. I was looking forward to it, but, I can save my money this way.

  • Jim Mann

    I’ll probably go see this anyway, but I’ve been a bit uneasy about a stand-alone Venom movie anyway. Venom is a Spider-Man villain (well, sometimes villain, sometimes hero, even at one point a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy), and at the very least they could have somehow found a way to tie him to Spider-Man (even if only by mention, to lead up to a later encounter).

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Venom exists to be the anti-Spider-Man. He’s nihilistic power fantasy over “great responsibility”. He’s alien symbiote body horror over cool radiation-gifted powers. He’s Nightmare Spider-Man over Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Even Eddie Brock, with his extroversion and naked ambition, is designed to contrast introverted Peter Parker who would really rather stay home.

    Venom without Spider-Man, without that contrast to give his existence meaning, is just pointless pandering.

  • Danielm80

    True, but power and responsibility are important themes, especially these days, and so are the ethics of corporations, scientists, and journalists (as long as we’re not talking about “ethics in video game journalism”). The character of Venom is fascinating and complicated, when he’s actually written well, and the body horror imagery that goes with him is beautifully frightening, so there’s no reason someone couldn’t make a terrific, scary film about him, even without Spider-Man.

    I can also imagine terrific films about Iago and Caliban without their traditional counterparts, but a film like that would take an extraordinarily talented creative team, along with a studio that understands the movie they’re trying to make and doesn’t get in their way. I suspect that Venom had very few of those things, even if the cast is phenomenal.

    A completely unrelated question for MaryAnn: Can you say something brief about why Mandy is ranked so low on the list of 2018 movies? I’ve heard that it’s a really divisive, over-the-top sort of film, but I’m still surprised that you hated it more than The Happytime Murders.

  • David_Conner

    Personally I think Venom is pointless even WITH Spider-Man, a character who is only interesting to 13 year old boys for about 15 minutes, but maybe that’s just me.

    I’m actually sort of glad this movie sucks so i don’t have to drag myself to a Venom movie because people are raving about it.

  • RogerBW

    but a film like that would take an extraordinarily talented creative team, along with a studio that understands the movie they’re trying to make and doesn’t get in their way. I suspect that Venom had very few of those things, even if the cast is phenomenal.

    I get the strong impression that the creative vision behind this film is “we have a licence to make a film about this character”.

  • This might be worse than *Catwoman,* which did at least try to be about something.

  • And also: “Comic book movies are a good way to make an easy buck.” And judging from the audience response so far, they weren’t wrong to think this way.

  • Can you say something brief about why Mandy is ranked so low on the list of 2018 movies?

    Nope. Not gonna derail this thread. You’ll have to wait for my review. :-)

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