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KARACHI: There are multiple ways to take the people’s favorite formidable, intimidating super anti-hero and fail him with a boring film. Firstly, give him the least threatening antagonist in recent memory. Secondly, have three writers pen a script with no character development, interesting supporting characters or a consistent tone.
Finally, and most importantly, give it the most generic treatment and don’t add anything new to make it stand out. Sony’s first film in its separate Marvel Universe, Venom, checks all these boxes.
“Venom” is based on a character from Marvel comics (best known as an enemy of Spider-Man), but his standalone film is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s akin to that “Catwoman” movie from 2004 that had nothing to do with Batman.
It’s all part of a complicated rights issue between Disney (owners of the MCU), Marvel, and Sony (owners of this film). My guess is that the people at Disney could have gotten their hands on this movie if they really wanted to, but they decided that this was simply not a battle worth choosing. Given the shoddiness of the film, I can’t say I blame them.
Following Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, a journalist, who ends up with an alien symbiote’s host body and has to fight the cold-blooded genius inventor Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) to save the world, Venom is doomed from the start. The first hour’s slow pace and clichéd setup makes you look at your watch at least thrice.
Then it has the most anti-climactic climax which doesn’t even try to up the ante against Venom. It’s almost as if the film just goes through the motions with no interest or excitement in the effort of telling the story. And the audience feels it.
The only reason you stay in the theatre is because of Hardy’s performance. It’s a given, no matter what role he plays, he gives it his all. He is not only the best aspect of the film but the only good aspect of the film too. His growly accent, offbeat personality and his relationship with the “parasite” in his body makes his portrayal interesting enough to survive the mediocrity of the film.
As to how accurate his portrayal is to the comics, only a comic book follower may tell. To me, director Ruben Fleischer’s treatment of the relationship between Brock and Venom reminded me of that between Light Yagami and his Shinigami Ryuk in Death Note.
It has its amusing moments but they stand out because they are actually funny and because the tone of the rest of the film is so somber that they stick out like a sore thumb.
The latter half of the film is filled with action sequences involving Eddie and Venom, Drake and Riot, and Drake’s goons. This is problematic because the film doesn’t do action well. Almost all of it takes place at night, so already things are murky, and then both Venom and Riot are an inky black color, which makes it even harder to see their movements in the dark. But as difficult as they are to see, it is very clear that they are made up of bad CGI. All these factors plus bad editing make for a finale where you can’t tell who’s doing what, who’s winning, or even who’s still alive.
While Venom tries to add comedy into the mix, his antagonist Drake acts like he is in a different film altogether. And it’s not even his fault. He is asked to look and sound menacing and he does. But there is nothing more to it. Michelle Williams as Brock’s fiancée Anne Weying comes off like she doesn’t even want to be in the film. And quite frankly, the amateurish script gives her no reason to even want to.
In all, no one expects a brilliantly written and crafted film in the superhero (that’s why when it happens, such as in the cases of Logan or Deadpool, it’s heavily praised) but one at least expects to have fun watching it. Venom falls short of delivering that too. Not only does the film waste a great character, it does no justice to Hardy either – exactly how Suicide Squad let everybody down.
“Venom” might be the single dullest superhero movie of this era. You can tell where the writers were just dispassionately plugging story elements into their required roles. Hero in need of redemption? Check. Love interest who tells them they need to grow up and stop being so selfish? Check. Villain who runs a big science-y corporation? Check.
Another villain, this one from outer space, who wants to turn Earth into just another planet they conquer? Check on that too. The only time the movie is halfway interesting is when Eddie is arguing with the lowbrow Venom, and even that is kept to a minimum (supposedly around 45 minutes were cut from this movie, and the speculation is that it was R-rated banter that would have made the film less accessible to teenagers, but a lot more watchable for adults).
“Venom” may not be a disaster, but that’s only because it doesn’t have the ambition to try anything potentially disastrous.
Verdict: The hype may bring you to the cinema but don’t expect anything to ‘marvel’ at.