Venom

Venom (2018, Ruben Fleischer)

For most of the movie, Venom’s greatest strength is its potential. It certainly seems like lead Tom Hardy can do anything but as things progress, it becomes more and more obvious the potential is an illusion. Director Fleischer just hasn’t done a big action sequence yet, so the movie hasn’t shown its hand–Fleischer’s action sequences are awful–and there’s literally nothing Hardy can do. He’s along for the ride down the proverbial drain.

Of course, even when Venom seems like it might go well–and for a while, it’s shockingly all right–there’s the problem of the villain. Riz Ahmed is a billionaire super-genius who’s funding space exploration to bring organisms back to Earth to try to cure cancer. All of his experiments involve killing San Francisco’s homeless population and Ahmed has one of the worst written god complexes in motion picture history. Venom’s script is frequently bad, but the better actors work through it, as they get no help from Fleischer who’s concentrating on… something. Nothing good, nothing relevant, but presumably something. Ahmed’s terrible though. He’s the worst performance until the “surprise”–but credited–end credits cameo. And Ahmed’s quite bad throughout, so for the surprise cameo to be worse? Well, it’s an achievement of sorts.

The movie starts with a private spaceship crashing in Malaysia. Ahmed’s spaceship. It picked up some alien lifeforms–symbiotes, which are kind of like CGI slime but never green–and one of them escapes. Meanwhile, Hardy is an investigative reporter with his own TV show, which has opening titles where Hardy rides his motorcycle around San Francisco looking tough.

This opening is not where Venom shows potential. It’s all quite awkward and flat, also introducing Michelle Williams as the fiancée Hardy will betray to get dirt of Ahmed and Jenny Slate as one of Ahmed’s scientists. Once Hardy betrays Williams–for nothing, his network fires him for not brown-nosing Ahmed–Venom skips ahead six months. Hardy is now unemployable, broke, living in a bad neighborhood and a gorgeous, enormous San Francisco apartment, and feeling sorry for himself. And even though he says he’s given up on helping people, he’s really nice to his new supporting cast, primarily homeless lady Melora Walters and convenience store owner Peggy Lu.

It has somehow taken that escaped alien in Malaysia six months to get to an airport, but it’s finally on its way to Frisco to confront Ahmed, which has been its plan since… the second or third scene in the movie. Again, bad script.

Like when Hardy meets up again with Williams, who has moved on and is now dating nice guy surgeon Reid Scott. Though she apparently hasn’t gotten a new job. Because in Venom’s San Francisco, you can apparently just not pay rent.

Eventually Hardy breaks into Ahmed’s brodinagian research facility and picks up a symbiote of his own. Shockingly light security–including no security cameras–and the safety protocols for the hostile alien life forms are rather lax as well. Hardy and the alien talk to each other–Hardy, with some modification, also voices the alien (Venom, who comes from a planet where all the creatures were named by eight year-old boys)–before Ahmed sends his private security force (led by paper thin Scott Haze) after the new partners.

There’s also some stuff where Hardy gets help from Scott and Williams for his alien problem, which is where the film’s best. The character drama isn’t well-written or well-directed, but Hardy, Williams, and Scott all give good performances. So they get it through. They’re all likable, all sympathetic, all wasted.

The movie’s got three big action set pieces, four if you count a motorcycle and drone chase through San Francisco. Incidentally, that chase sequence is where it becomes obvious Fleischer’s never going to deliver good action. It just gets worse after that one. When it’s the alien in control–when the alien takes over, he’s like seven feet-tall and eats people’s heads–the film loses the Hardy grounding, which does help it. It can’t save it, but it does help it. Including Hardy’s voiceover talking to the alien always feels forced. Though the talking between Hardy and the alien always feels forced. Even when Hardy’s good. Crappy dialogue. Again, bad script.

Technically, Venom’s perfectly competent. It’s got no personality, but it’s competent. Well, some of the digital mattes are really bad; the digital effects are never great. Fleischer actually seems to get that shortfall. Even after the movie’s done hiding the shark and Venom is out of the water, the alien is a special effect not a character. He’s always turning back into Hardy in between action requirements.

For the first forty-five minutes, I was surprised how… mediocre it seemed like Venom was going to turn out. Then it started getting bad and just kept getting worse.

Given its subject matter and artistic ambitions (wokka wokka), Venom shouldn’t be a disappointment. But thanks to Fleischer and–to a lesser extent Ahmed)–it sure manages to be one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ruben Fleischer; screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, based on a story by Pinkner and Rosenberg and the Marvel Comics character created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Alan Baumgarten and Maryann Brandon; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Hardy (Eddie Brock), Riz Ahmed (Carlton Drake), Michelle Williams (Anne Weying), Jenny Slate (Dr. Dora Skirth), Reid Scott (Dr. Dan Lewis), Peggy Lu (Mrs. Chen), Scott Haze (Treece), and Melora Walters (Maria).


Venom 7 (November 2011)

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Venom finally meets the Anti-Venom… only it’s unclear why a meet-up is so necessary. Eddie Brock’s rambling, religious “hero” is kind of a buzz kill. The meeting has no weight for Flash Thompson, only for the symbiote. And, regardless of series title, Flash is the main character.

So instead, Remender uses the issue to deal with Flash’s growing dependence on the suit. You’d think the government would vet him well enough to know he has an addictive personality.

The whole issue–down to the reconciliation with the dying father–feels forced. Flashbacks showed us how terrible Flash’s dad was to the family, yet Flash gives him a tearful forgiveness. Either Flash is lying to be a swell person or Remender’s taking a really big short cut as far as character development.

While Fowler’s art is still awesome, Remender can’t make the requisite tie-in issue belong in Venom.

Venom 6 (October 2011)

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“Spider-Island” seems a lot like that Batman crossover, “War Games.” Just in the city in panic stuff. Maybe I’m thinking of a different one.

But this issue has Fowler back–and on it solo, doing all the creatures, an area where he excels–and my biggest complaint has nothing to do with the crossover.

Actually, it’s all fine. The crossover stuff, I mean. It could all fit into the comic without a lot of forcing, so it does work. And there’s a Venom dog. Strangely, it’s kind of cute.

No, my problem is Remender’s handling of Flash’s father dying. All of a sudden Betty Brant is at the hospital with him. Flash walked out on the guy, so obviously something has happened. Either it was in a previous crossover issue, which is malarky, or something got cut to make room for crossover nonsense.

It’s still good, I’m just perturbed.

Venom 5 (October 2011)

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Wow.

The comic opens, unfortunately, with Tony Moore. He handles the Venom part, Tom Fowler handles the Flash Thompson part. My complaints about Remender waiting on establishing Flash are, it turns out, ill-founded. At least they appear to be after this issue.

It’s a depressing look at Flash’s family life, with occasional callbacks to his origins in Amazing, without going so far as to flashback (though Fowler’s Peter Parker is definitely Ditko influenced). Fowler’s lush work turns a regular kitchen conversation between Flash and Betty into the most exciting action in the comic. Fowler drawing someone cutting carrots is more visually engaging than Moore showing Venom webbing a falling chrch bell.

While Flash’s vet stuff makes it topical, Remender and Fowler transcend it (I wonder if Remender realized how edgy it was to make the homeless vet young). They make a comic about Venom as a secret agent timeless.

Venom 4 (August 2011)

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Why did Tony Moore have to come back? He ruins the last scene of the comic, with Pete and Flash having their first sit down as unknowing nemeses. The scene should have been a mixture of confusing, ominous and fun. Moore ruins it.

Remender focuses mostly on action this issue. Spidey and Venom continue fighting–with some of the bad guys showing up for another action scene–and the aforementioned quiet finish.

It should have all worked well. Remender is comfortable with Flash and his dialogue is fine… so what happened?

The comic can’t hold up without compelling art. As an action comic, the art is often the only communication method for a couple pages when dialogue balloons take a break.

Remender plotted this issue, and the last two, as continuous. It makes it so Flash doesn’t have much resonance yet.

It’s also hard to return to Moore after Fowler.

Venom 3 (July 2011)

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Tom Fowler drawing Venom is a waste of talent. A glorious waste of talent. While Fowler’s able to do a crazy Venom, full of tentacles and slime, the regular stuff is better.

The comic opens with a guy playing racket ball and seeing Fowler’s attention to movement is great. And it’s not just a Venom comic–it’s Tom Fowler drawing Spider-Man, which is pretty darn awesome too.

There’s so much good design (Fowler manages to do both, design and draw), Remender can get away with almost anything. Fowler sells the big bad guy’s silly henchmen and their silly costumes (it’s more and more a homage to the original Amazing it seems). He’s also able to sell the terror of Betty being kidnapped.

The mix of Remender’s competence and homage and Fowler’s artwork makes Venom a singular Marvel comic. It’s fun, standalone, good and enthusiastically admiring of its Amazing roots.

Venom 2 (June 2011)

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Moore really starts to hinder Venom this issue. Maybe the flashy inks (no pun intended) weren’t enough to correct his weaker impulses. There’s a scene with Peter and Betty (Remender does a good job bringing in the traditional Spidey soap opera, even if it’s Flash’s book) and Moore fumbles the entire thing. He can’t do the scene.

But the opening art, with Venom on the run from Kraven in the Savage Land, isn’t bad. The first few pages at least are decent, probably because Moore’s drawing Venom in costume. Or in alien slime.

Remender does a quick little reference or two to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and Venom feels like a trip through Spider-Man history. Like a guided tour (but there are no reminders to check out the original stories).

But it’s surprisingly good stuff. Remender continues to write Flash quite well; he makes Venom worthwhile, overpowering Moore’s weak art.

Venom 1 (May 2011)

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What a depressing comic. It’s like Rick Remender looked at some old Spider-Man comics and tried to figure out how he could make any even more depressed arachnid superhero.

Flash Thompson (the new Venom) comes into the comic a jingoist and leaves it a broken wretch. I initially had problems with Remender’s characterization because it seemed cheap–Marvel trying to sell comics to the U.S. Army. The end decidedly makes the book something quite different.

There’s a slight disconnect because Thompson’s “Agent Venom,” the worst detail in the comic is that name, comes in acting like a super-U.N. peacekeeper, but it’s soon revealed he’s just a black ops guy for the U.S. government. Neither fit into Flash’s self-image at the start of the comic.

But Flash was never smart, something Remender doesn’t shy away from.

Tony Moore’s okay enough. I think the overdone inks actually help him.

B 

CREDITS

Project Rebirth 2.0; writer, Rick Remender; penciller, Tony Moore; inkers, Sandu Florea and Karl Kesel; colorist, John Rauch; letterer, Joe Caramagna; editors, Alejandro Arbona and Stephen Wacker; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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