Is Venom Box Office Poison ?

We are The Wages of Cinema collaboreview for Venom! (Not the one where the tow truck driver got possessed by evil souls kept in voodoo snakes nor the one where kidnappers are scared of a single black mamba. At least it isn’t the third remake of A Star Is Born. We need a Venom/”Bad Romance” mashup pronto to quell that bad blood!) Bond with our symbiotic SPOILERS below!

The trailers have been mocked for seemingly outdated CGI, yet it’s kind of appropriate since the idea of a Venom solo film has even been a round since the 90’s. (He’s supposed to look like a hulking monster made of sentient tar, & he mostly looks good here.) Ruben Fleischer’s film even contains an on-brand original song by Emniem that is outclassed by Ludwig Göransson’s pulpy score. On the other paw, that infamous line of dialogue deserves mockery.

While it’s refreshing to see characters in new contexts, Venom may be the most dependent upon his archnemesis for defining context. In the comics, Eddie Brock was fired from his job at The Daily Globe for writing an expose on the Sin-Eater’s identity right before Spider-Man unmasked the real serial killer. His wife, Ann Weying, divorces him. Rather than take responsibility for his unethical reporting, Brock blamed Spidey for his disgrace. The symbiote has a more legitimate beef with Peter Parker for rejecting & abandoning it. The two bonded in a church, so there’s an added layer of Catholic repression. The adaptation of Venom in Spider-Man 3 wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was was way too rushed for it to connect. (If the overrated Spider-Man 2 had set up Brock & the symbiote, it might’ve worked.) In the Venom movie, all those details are ground off. Venom wasn’t in the aborted plans for The Amazing Spider-Man 3, so Sony always intended to give his background short shrift? A redemption arc for Venom isn’t engaging if they’re not already established as a villain. His last cinematic outing underwhelming only had one scene of Venom fighting Spidey, but his solo film up the ante with zero Spider-Man battles. (They didn’t get Andrew Garfield to reprise his role to clearly distinguish this from the MCU.) You’ll enjoy this more if you have no knowledge of the character.

Fans were mad at Topher Grace being cast as Eddie Brock last time for being too on the nose as an evil Peter Parker. Tom “the Bane who ironically wasn’t mainlining Venom” Hardy is a better fit for a more direct adaptation. Then I learned John Cena can act, & I’m disappointed all over again. In stead of being an embittered hardcase, Hardy acts so confused & obtuse you wonder how he made it that far in journalism. His Brooklynite disguise voice makes sense but can sound unintentionally comedic when combined with this new characterization.

Unfortunately they don’t substitute anything compelling for comic book fidelity. Brock is an every-man who becomes somewhat schlubby when his life implodes. In trying to make him the hero, the film becomes an inferior The Mask or a superior Catwoman. Although he acts unethically to get his intel, he is vindicated by being right about Carlton Drake’s villainy. So Bobby Fish (he did say he was heading west in Luke Cage) gives him his TV show back (he was given it after The Daily Globe ran him out of New York for undisclosed reasons) rather than billing him for the damage to his office. Hooray for white guys failing upwards!

Instead of being a crazy ex-boyfriend, the Venom symbiote (who is actually named that before bonding with Brock) is a sarcastically callous parasite. Then at the climax it suddenly decides it want to save Eddie & his planet. It’s implied he doesn’t like his former commander, Riot, who takes six unseen month to get stateside from Malaysia. There is no clear arc to Venom becoming The Lethal Protector.

Ann Weying’s part gets beefed up from the comics. In becoming an active participant, she becomes less distinct from all the other superhero girlfriends in modern cinema. Michelle Williams has enough charisma to make her seem like a better character than the script earns. (Ditto Riz Ahmed as the cliche baddie. Were I him, I’d tell everyone “Nobody beats The Riz!”) Her old firm is named for Venom’s creators & she is its host for one scene.

The first third is dull. Then once Brock & Venom merge, it becomes a likeable comedy where Eddie eats trash. The best scene occurs at a restaurant. Venom suggests they bite the heads off Drake’s goons & stack their bodies in a corner because its perfect host is really a cat. Venom vs. a SWAT team was also good because it shows how effective he is as a monster. This could’ve been an engaging Jekyll & Hyde spin suffused with dark comedy. Then the main plot returns & it feels perfunctory.

Venom being chased on a motorcycle is embarrassingly goofy, especially after Ant-Man & The Wasp featured a thrillingly goofy shrinking car chase in the same city. Although tasked with capturing Venom, Drake’s henchman try crashing a bunch of drones at him. Not only is this a wasteful counter-intuitive plan, the exploding drones feel like bargain bin pumpkin bombs.

Symbiote weaknesses to intense heat & noise is maintained. Even a plane passing above a skyscraper where Venom is perched is sufficient to incapacitate it. So naturally the climax is set at spaceship launch? Neither Venom nor Riot seems too phased by this setting until Ann activates the loudspeakers. This is at night so it’s nigh-impossible to tell one black combatant from the other. It’s not the most incomprehensible CGI fight I’ve seen, but it’s up there.

denimVenom

Venom has an outstanding design to make up for its name not being literal. I really liked the Venom costume in Spider-Man 3 despite its mask being retracted too often. The distressed webs added some texture to show the jilted symbiote’s trauma. Venom’s Venom hearkens back to its minimalist roots. (Todd McFarlane makes sound effects whilst modifying the face.) In fact it’s too minimalist! Without the white spider emblem on the torso, he’s not distinctive enough. I don’t care that it makes no narrative sense for it to have a spider logo if it hadn’t been worn by Spider-Man! (He doesn’t websling either.) Now they can’t casual cosplay as themself! They should’ve compensated with googly eyes. It totally works! Making Venom extra venous doesn’t cut it. Tinting his saliva green would’ve added some color. It’s too difficult to distinguish Venom from Riot, who sadly takes after his comic design instead of its wilder action figure.

I grouse that the MCU will often use evil doppelgänger of its superheroes, but Venom is probably the most popular of them all. It took Spidey over two decades to acquire a proper one, so he felt exciting during his introduction. (Both he & Typhoid Mary debuted in May 1988, while Tombstone premiered in March.) Venom became so popular Marvel spun him off as an anti-hero, so Carnage was was created as a monstrous doppelgänger of his own. While Venom vs. Spidey fights started off high stakes because they were so evenly matched, Venom vs. The Life Foundation feels rote. It makes sense to lead with disposable foes for his introduction before leveling up to Carnage in the sequel, but Riot is already equipped with Carnage’s enhanced weapon-generating powers.

Did I mention the anti-fan service? Taking the wrong notes from BVSDOJ, John Jameson unceremoniously dies in the first scene. #JusticeForManWolf! A yellow & red symbiote is bonded to a bunny, but it never merges with someone to become Scream. Brandishing  hamfisted foreshadowing, Woody Harrelson in a hideous wig is Carnage. Since Cletus Cassidy was originally drawn as the Joker, Cameron Monghan would’ve been the obvious choice.

Science logistics plot holes abound. If they share no biological commonalities, how is anybody a viable long-term symbiote host? Venom eats people, but their mass instantly vanishes? How does Venom instantly heal Brock even after being hurt by fire if it’s not being fed well? If the symbiote literally atrophied Brock’s heart, how is he still alive once they’re separated?

Releasing this in October feels thematically on point. It was once suggested that this would be R-rated, but obviously that wasn’t going to happen since Sony wants kid & family money. (So the answer to my headline is probably  “no.”) Gore wouldn’t have improved it that much. Forty minutes of Hardy’s favorite scenes were cut from the movie! That’s not good, unless he has bad taste in scenes.

This feels like the kind of movie a studio would make if it couldn’t get the rights to a recognizable IP, yet Sony does (begrudgingly) have the license from Marvel. (Supposedly Upgrade starring Logan Marshall-Green is the better symbiote movie starring someone resembling Tom Hardy this year.) Even if this flops hard enough to instantly sink Sony’s franchise plans, it won’t be a simple matter of sliding Venom over into the MCU by bonding the symbiote to Jemma Simmons. Not only has the groundwork not been laid again, Spidey’s talking AI costumes from Stark make a symbiote suit redundant.

We were disappointed by this movie, although its trailers accurately set our  expectations. This isn’t the X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Deadpool trajectory fans hoped for. On the plus side, if you buy a ticket to an advance scene from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, they throw in a free Venom movie!

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Venom eats Oakland Raiders fans to become the new team mascot? He’s got the right colors, but why doesn’t he root for the 49ers if he lives in San Francisco? Or is that why he ate them? Sadly this scene was missing.

How to carve your WaterVenom or VenoMelon.

If you have sex with Venom, it’s an automatic threeway.

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Sony making a Morbius the Living Vampire (you have to sing his name like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) movie starring nobody’s favorite Joker instead of David Dastmalchian is further proof we don’t live in the most ideal world. Remember when he was henching for & slicing off the faces of much better Jokers? Preacher needs to cast him as Frankie Toscani to match Happy! having Patrick Fischler as Smoothie.

There should’ve been scene in a Raimi Spider-Man movie where John Jameson Jr. becomes Man-Wolf & Mary Jane says to the camera “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Captain America may be cool, but he’ll never be as cool as a werewolf ex-astronaut son of the world’s greatest newspaper publisher. That’s why Steve Rogers hired Man-Wolf as his personal pilot to glom onto his awesome. (Any landing you can walk away from is a good one, but the better ones don’t have an interval where you’re frozen for decades.)

Betsy Brandt should play Betty Brant to put an end to the confusion!

If the set pictures of Jake Gyllenhaal from Spider-Man: Far From Homecoming are accurate, MYSTERIO IS NOT OSTENTATIOUS ENOUGH!

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The underwhelming Dark Phoenix trailer manifested (just in time to miss being included in my latest The Gifted review) to confirm that Simon Kinberg is just remaking his  X-Men: The Last Stand debacle. Apparently Selene gets to be butchered this time, but everything’s looking up for Red Lotus! Within two days of the trailer announcing a Valentine’s Day 2019 release, it’s been bumped again to June 7. If they want to keep pushing back Dark Phoenix indefinitely, that’d be fine.

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Doctor Who & some DC shows are up for next installment!

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