Today, I’m kicking off my Worst of 2018 coverage with the divisive quasi-Marvel movie, Venom.
The plot of Venom is summarized on IMDb as follows:
When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.
The screenplay for Venom was written by Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle), Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Fifty Shades of Grey), and Scott Rosenberg (Kangaroo Jack, High Fidelity, Con Air, Disturbing Behavior)
Venom was directed by Ruben Fleischer, who previously directed the films Gangster Squad and Zombieland, as well as episodes of Santa Clarita Diet, Superstore, and Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.
Venom is based on a popular Marvel comics character of the same name that first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #300 in 1988. The character was created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie as a new, villainous form of the sentient black-and-white Spider-Man costume debuted in 1984. Since then, the character has gone through multiple incarnations, and oscillated between being a villain and anti-hero in various plot lines.
The cast of the film includes Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Locke), Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea, All The Money In The World), Scott Haze (Midnight Special), Reid Scott (Veep), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Bored To Death, Zootopia), Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Four Lions, The Sisters Brothers), and Woody Harrelson (Kingpin, True Detective, Seven Psychopaths, Zombieland, Rampart).
The cinematographer for Venom was Matthew Libatique, who has shot such acclaimed movies as Black Swan, A Star Is Born, Iron Man, Phone Booth, and Requiem For A Dream.
Venom employed the work of two editors: Maryann Brandon (Alias, Super 8, Passengers, Star Trek, How To Train Your Dragon) and Alan Baumgarten (The Lawnmower Man, American Hustle, Trumbo, Zombieland, Lifepod)
The film’s music was composed by Ludwig Göransson, who previously provided scores for Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station, Death Wish, and Creed 2.
Venom had a lengthy, tumultuous production history. The film was originally envisioned as a spin-off from Sam Raimi’s widely-reviled Spider-Man 3. Shortly after the Spider-Man films were rebooted, however, the film was announced once again, though this time within the continuity of the rebooted series. Following the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony announced that Venom would be a part of their Spider-Man Cinematic Universe. Following that film’s lackluster reception, however, Sony and Marvel decided to collaborate on another reboot of the Spider-Man films, which placed Venom in limbo once again. Ultimately, Venom was produced as a “tangent” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though the exact relationship of the character to Spider-Man and other Marvel properties has yet to be properly clarified.
The actors Alan Tudyk and Jackie Earl Haley were at one point considered for Woody Harrelson’s role as Cletus Kasady / Carnage.
Director Ruben Fleischer has stated that he wanted Venom to look tonally different from other contemporary comic book movies. According to him, he “wanted to make a darker, grittier, kind of edgier comic book movie that also has a strong horror element…Those were the aspects: darker, edgier, grittier.”
Before Riz Ahmed was ultimately cast as Carlton Drake / Riot, actors such as Matt Smith and Pedro Pascal were considered for the part.
The trailers to Venom met with uniquely negative reactions from fans. First, the initial trailer was criticized for lacking the iconic Venom suit. Additionally, many fans went up in arms over characters’ pronunciations of the word “symbiote,” which many felt was indicative of a lack of familiarity with the source material and history of the character.
Despite the reticent fan reaction to the trailers, Venom was a box office hit, taking in $855.5 million on a production budget of $100 million. However, the critical reception to Venom was mixed. While it earned decent marks from audiences, including a 6.8/10 IMDb user rating and Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 84%, it was frequently named on year-end “Worst of 2018” lists by critics, and earned a dismal 28% Rotten Tomatoes score from critics. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times even referred to the film as “a tone-deaf, uneven and maddeningly dumb clunker,” echoing the critics’ consensus regarding the film’s awkward humor and tonal issues.
Speaking of which, it is hard not to take note of the odd moments of humor and attempted banter that pepper the film. While this is certainly reminiscent of the comic origins of the character, it doesn’t translate very well in this film – perhaps more adept hands could have pulled it off, like more comedic-experienced actors and sharper dialogue writing to boost them.
Tom Hardy’s performance in this film is perplexing. His line deliveries and accent are odd, but also evidently very specific and crafted. He clearly had inspirations for his performance, but they don’t necessarily feel appropriate for this character. Brock, thanks to Hardy’s performance, comes off as a bit of a prat-falling doofus, as opposed to the brooding and motivated reporter he was clearly written as. I’m not sure if this was necessarily miscasting per se, but I think the director should reigned Hardy in and given some guidance in a different direction.
A key problem I found with this film were the visuals – while they are certainly in line with the director’s stated vision, I found them to be a little bit too dark. This isn’t necessarily an issue in all cases, but for this movie, where a number of characters are amorphous black-colored CGI monsters, having a dark palette and general design often makes it difficult to tell what is happening on screen. If you ask me, the Venom costume at least needed some kind of more visible contrast (like the prominent white from the original comic design, residual from the Spider-Man suit).
My biggest issue with this film is something that is difficult to pinpoint – I just found the whole package to be a bit bland and uninspired. On top of the already outlined issues, the villain was unremarkable, the effects and stunts felt unspectacular, and the story and character relationships were both a bit lacking. Pretty much every element of the film was at least a wee bit sub-par, and the sum follows suit.
Overall, this film could have easily been much worse. It isn’t particularly good or a stand-out by any means among its comic book movie peers, but I’d certainly take this over Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, or the Ang Lee Hulk adaptation. Despite some iffy dialogue, Hardy’s odd performance, and the muddy visuals, it is a watchable enough flick. I’m not sure if I would recommend it to any but the most staunch of Venom fans, but it would be a bearable HBO watch if you were captive in a hotel room.