by Austin Casey | Staff Writer
Now is the time for Venom, a character you may remember from “Spider-Man 3” over a decade ago, to get his turn in the spotlight. “The world has enough superheroes,” an online ad for the movie proclaims. Venom, an amorphous alien goo called a Symbiote, comes to Earth (with three goo buddies) and attaches to journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) after an ambitious billionaire brings them here from a nearby comet.
I came into this movie having seen no trailers or promotional material. I am relieved to say that for the most part, the movie works. It was relieving to see Tom Hardy avoid his recent tendency of choosing projects where the audience has trouble hearing or understanding his voice. He is still doing an accent in this movie, yet remains as charismatic as ever. Impressively, by the end of the film, Eddie Brock is a character that I feel like I know and understand completely. Hardy’s powerful acting makes Brock completely engaging and leaves me wanting more.
While Brock is our main character, the camera isn’t afraid to be somewhat omniscient and show moments happening far from Eddie’s eyes. This helps to set up our other six characters or so within the first 40 minutes and let them bounce off each other for the rest of the run-time. Most of these characters feel like real people and not generic comic book movie characters until we spend more time with Carlton Drake, the young but ruthless Bay Area tycoon who brought the alien species. It’s not actor Riz Ahmed’s fault that his character was written so one-dimensionally, but Drake and his unending negative energy feel far too over the top for this fairly grounded movie.
The effects deserve a huge shout out: this movie has a budget much lower than other films of the genre, yet has a sense of genuineness that those movies occasionally fail to achieve. A great choice was to shoot most of the scenes involving the hulking Venom during the night, which usually makes the limitations of CGI less noticeable. When we see the goo, it stays in constant motion which makes it visually engaging. “Venom” has some unique tricks that show the action was not created without care.
This film isn’t always an easy watch. “Venom” tries to have everything from comedy and horror to action. The bouncing around of tones led to me feeling like I was being dragged a number of directions without being able to settle into one. Some might call that ambitious, but I could feel that the people around me in the theater were also unsure how to react at certain moments, which is a real problem.
The choice to have Venom converse with Eddie while inside his head also seems odd. Their back-and-forth does lead to some effective laugh moments, but it feels overused by the end of the film and some of these man vs. alien conversations feel extraneous to the story. The setting up of all the characters early was a good choice, but it did have the negative consequence of leaving the third act without any major surprises. Not that every movie needs to have a third-act twist, but the feeling of knowing all the characters so well by that point and an absence of any serious change of direction on a story level made the final 20 minutes or so feel a tad predictable.
San Francisco was a smart setting to get both the young-money tech genius for the story and the streets on huge hills for the action. The choice to go PG-13 instead of R sounded like a mistake but turned out alright. There are still very violent moments for comic book fans who want to see the Symbiotes at their most dangerous, but you could also take your parents to this movie without scarring them for life. The run-time is perfect at a brisk 112 minutes. It doesn’t try to be a sprawling epic tale, but rather keeps a rapid-fire pace without any filler.
The more I write about this movie, the more I talk myself into liking it. “Venom” stands on its own without Spider-Man and I am genuinely curious about what happens with Eddie and Venom and I hope to see more. You don’t have to be a die-hard comic book fan to enjoy this movie. It’s not necessarily a must-see, but it’s a unique movie that gets a passing grade on both story and visual levels. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to have a bit of fun this weekend.