Monday, May 20, 2024

‘Venom’ Spins A Messy if Bugnutty Web

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Marvel’s latest installment, Venom, is a half-baked story brimming with absurdity and all but teeming with hedonistic delight at its own existence. It has been a long while since a comic book movie has been this dumb and this fun. Venom works because, at all times, it never pretends to be anything other than Venom.

I won’t be coy, a large part of what makes Venom work is Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock. He’s an internet journalist who works for a major news corporation. Somehow he makes enough to have an apartment in San Francisco. I told you from the start, Venom was absurd.

Eddie Brock is a one-man Landay and Strobel of modern journalism. Uncovering the truth and ripping the lid off cover-ups of mega-corporations and politicians alike. Like any good journalist, he is popular with his readers but is reviled by those in power. Hardy plays Eddie as a good-natured but prickly man of the people.

Fans of the comics will more than likely gnash their teeth at all the changes made to Brock’s character. They’ll wring their hands over Venom’s origin story, or even the look of Venom himself. I, on the other hand, could care less. Ruben Fleischer has made a slick, quick moving, and riveting action buddy comedy movie.

Yes, I said buddy action movie. Once the symbiote, Venom, takes over Eddie the two begin bickering and quarreling like a parasitic Odd Couple. If it were any other actor than Tom Hardy I’m not so sure it would have worked as well. Fleischer uses computer effects for Venom, but practical effects for everything else.

I should stop and briefly explain Venom to those who may be blissfully unaware of what exactly is going on. Venom is a parasite or a symbiote. It inhabits Eddie Brock and gives him a multitude of superpowers. It’s as if the old 1950’s the Blob took human form. At times his arm may turn into a black goo that can morph into anything Venom desires. Other times Eddie will morph into Venom’s tue form, a nightmarish creature ripped straight from a bad acid trip.

If all this sounds confusing rest assured that Fleischer and his trio of writers Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel seem lost too. We get the sense that they don’t really care much either. It’s as if the whole crew got together and said “Tom Hardy talks to himself. That’s our movie and that’s what we’re sticking with.” They made the right choice in my opinion.

Venom never seems bogged down trying to explain why anything really is as it is and seems more concerned merely to get to the next scene. Eddie’s fiance, Anne (Michelle Williams) is a corporate lawyer. Her firm represents Carlton Drake’s Life Foundation. She takes the discovery of Eddie’s condition remarkably in stride. After witnessing Venom morph back into Eddie she stares in terrified awe before pointing to the door and merely stating, “Hospital.”

Shockingly Venom is the rare superhero movie that holds its hero accountable for his moral failings. After Eddie was assigned the Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) interview, he hacked into Anne’s computer. If that wasn’t bad enough he stole some information from some confidential documents about the Life Foundation. He used that information to ambush Drake in the interview, getting himself and Anne fired. Anne, rightfully, breaks up with Eddie. For much the of the movie, Eddie feels nothing but regret and shame at his actions.

While in the backseat of Anne’s car, Venom, who is inside Eddie’s head, tries to get Eddie to apologize to her. For the last decade, Marvel has failed to have Tony Stark learn anything close to the right lesson. But the movie about the intergalactic sentient parasite somehow understands the value of admitting when you’re wrong and apologizing.

Avengers: Infinity War felt hermetically sealed. Because of all the VFX used combined with the rote visual mediocrity, the whole thing felt staid and lifeless. Fleischer’s decision to go halfsies on computer effects and practical allows Venom to move at its own weird and frenetic pace. The chase scene in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight is often lauded as some of the best action filmed in a superhero movie. This is because of Nolan’s insistence of using real cars to allow for freer movement of the camera.

Fleischer and his cameraman Matthew Libatique take a cue from Nolan. The action in Venom is tense and at times immersive and thrilling. A motorcycle chase scene as Eddie/Venom try to outrun Drake’s henchmen goes on for some five minutes, and it’s riveting. Libatique gives Venom a slick glossy finish in some shots while having others feel as if they were shot on a handheld. The contrast lends Venom its own visual style, utterly apart from the run of the mill studio auteur style of other Marvel films.

It’s fair to say Venom never really answers the question of why anything in Venom happens. In some ways, it harkens back to the comic book movies of the nineties. Except they didn’t have Tom Hardy. Hardy commits to Eddie Brock and Venom with an almost Jerry Lewis-like zeal. Watching Hardy throw himself about as he struggles for control with Venom is like watching Astaire dance with Ginger Rogers, only we’re watching Hardy dance with Hardy.

Venom bites off a man’s head and as he turns back into Eddie we see him gagging and freaking out. An understandable reaction, after all, most reporters, while not vegan, are hardly cannibalistic. For all the bemoaning of how Venom isn’t rated ‘R’, precious little is said about how the implied violence is at times more grotesque than actual violence. I’m not sure an ‘R’ rated Venom would have been as much fun as the one we got. Although there are plenty of scenes in which Venom does something and the character by all rights should have died.

I forgive Venom all its flaws because the character of Venom understands how awesome Anne is. We even get a brief glimpse of a Venom/Anne and it’s glorious. Anne kisses Eddie moments after biting a man’s head off. Moments like these where Venom is deliriously weird and kind of daring are a large part of its charm. At one point, after all is said and done, Eddie leaves Anne’s apartment with her new boyfriend. We hear Venom’s voice “You belong with us, Anne!” I couldn’t help but chuckle at how desperately smitten Venom was with Anne.

We can hardly blame him considering Williams plays Anne as a woman who takes no guff from Eddie or Venom. After the break-up, she begins dating a doctor, Dan (Reid Scott). Refreshingly, even though she is angry at Eddie, both her and Dan are concerned when they see Eddie.

Williams is age appropriate for Hardy’s Brock; a true rarity. She is never the damsel in distress. Somehow, despite having every reason to be the contrary, she has a level head. After all, it’s heavily implied that it was her idea to host Venom until she could find Eddie. Needless to say, I fervently hope there is a sequel and that we get more Anne.

A movie that lacks the second act, in theory, should be an unmitigated mess. Fleischer has made a distinct and individual movie in Venom. While Venom feels meddles with, it also doesn’t feel as if it was built on an assembly line.

But I found the whole thing endearingly kooky. I admired the odd little risks it took. One such as the moment where Hardy’s Brock stumbles around an upscale restaurant taking bites off people’s plates and grumbling, “This is dead!” If more superhero movies were like this I wouldn’t mind as much. It’s not perfect and you more than likely have seen better superhero movies. I know I have. But I’ve rarely had as much fun as I did in Venom.

In the end, Fleischer’s Venom is the superhero equivalent of a Fast and Furious movie. Granted it’s less about “family” but they both treat the laws of thermodynamics with about the same level of respect. It’s looney tunes mixed with an alien parasite made of black CGI goop. All I know is that Hardy should get an award for his Eddie Brock. Not an Oscar but an MTV Movie award for sure.

Images Courtesy of Sony Pictures

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