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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Review: 'Venom' is better than 'Fantastic Four', but worse than most other superhero films

The director was given three of the finest actors of their generation - Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed and Michelle Williams. He let them down 

A scene from Venom - it's not the worst ever Marvel character film, but it's far from the best. Photo / AP
A scene from Venom - it's not the worst ever Marvel character film, but it's far from the best. Photo / AP

It would probably be stretching the bounds of reason to say “I feel sorry for Marvel.”

The comic book publisher, along with its associated, and now Disney-owned, filmmaking arm, Marvel Studios, just keep churning out ticket-selling films. What isn't stretching the bounds of reason is to say that Marvel have been done a disservice by previous management regimes.

Back in the eighties and nineties, when superhero movies were a thing of wonder and exoticism, Marvel sold most of its best-loved characters’ film rights to established film studios. Why would they need them for cinemas? They published comic books. This in turn left Marvel itself with the rights to use only some of its lesser-known characters in its eventual 2009 deal with Disney to make films about some of the characters it still had the rights to. They seem to have done OK with the likes of Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, et al.

So then we come to the more popular ones, owned by someone else for screen purposes. In fairness, Venom is no A-list superhero/villain. He’s not the X-Men (Fox), he’s not Wolverine (Fox), and he's not Spiderman (Sony). He's certainly not Batman, but Batman is DC, or Warner Bros cinematically, and anyway, who is Batman, other than Batman?

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Tom Hardy, left, and Riz Ahmed in a scene from "Venom." (Frank Masi/Sony Pictures via AP)
Tom Hardy, left, and Riz Ahmed in a scene from Venom. Photo / AP

Venom is an arch-enemy of Spiderman (Spiderman is owned by Sony cinematically. Including his home, family, university, and enemies such as Venom.) Venom is also one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel comics world, being a parasite that lives inside the body of his human host, journalist Eddie Brock.

Why Venom simply isn't good

Moving away from the machinations of Hollywood executives, and onto this quite poor film, Venom is not the worst adaptation of a Marvel film by another studio that holds the rights by a long shot. That prize will surely be held in perpetuity by Fox’s Fantastic Four. But Venom isn’t great. Or even good.

There is one story that should be told in this film. A human being is merged with a Symbiote, an alien being that, in a semi-parasitical way (don’t call him a parasite), invades his human host and gives him superhuman powers, and the two have to learn to live together.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Michelle Williams, left, and Tom Hardy in a scene from "Venom." (Frank Masi/Sony Pictures via AP)
Michelle Williams, left, and Tom Hardy in a scene from Venom

That’s it. That’s the story. Or should be. How does that relationship even work? How do these do learn to live together? That's the story we should have been told.

There’s apparently so little scope for exploration of this bizarre and fascinating symbiotic relationship that Fleischer decides instead to spend the first hour of the film worrying about Brock’s career issues, his relationship with girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams), and setting up Elon Musk, sorry, Carlton Drake, played by Riz Ahmed, as the baddie, that we’re left with a final 15 minutes where someone on the script team said: “Agh – we have 15 minutes to finish this off. Can we do a final battle?”

Consequently, an inexplicable change of heart on the part of both human and Symbiote partner takes place towards the end of the film, making them yearn to be together for evermore, they have a fight with the baddie, and we're still left thinking they don't even know each other, despite inhabiting the same body, and despite having had two hours to work on this relationship. We've been too wrapped up in Brock's ex's relationship with her new boyfriend. A doctor, in case you care.

The director was given three of the finest actors of their generation to perform here. Tom Hardy wins the most points, as some of his comedy dialogues with the internal “not parasite” are genuinely funny. Michelle Williams is wasted as “token female who somehow does something EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE FILM died from," but with absolutely no explanation, and Riz Ahmed comes across as the worst Bond baddie ever, whose emotions are shown purely through an inversely proportional “how stressed I am about my evil plans not working/how high the zip on my fleece is done up” scale.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Jenny Slate, left, and Riz Ahmed in a scene from "Venom." (Jessica Miglio/Sony Pictures via AP)
Jenny Slate, left, and Riz Ahmed in a scene from Venom. Photo / AP

What's next for Venom?

I could go into geek territory, so I will. Word on the internet is that, like Spiderman before him, Venom is set to be integrated into the main Marvel Cinematic Universe through a Disney/Sony agreement. In the comic books, Venom is technically Spiderman’s arch-enemy - a baddie. He has a very specific reason to despise Spiderman/Peter Parker. No spoilers here, but journalists, who seem to make up the bulk of Marvel superheroes (I’m still awaiting my superpower) can be very territorial creatures.

That whole reason was taken away in this film, and with it the whole relationship between Spiderman and Venom, so we’ll see how any future integration into the actual Marvel world goes bearing that in mind. That, however, is definitely geek territory. As is the fact that the onscreen representation of Venom can probably expect a letter from the late H R Giger's lawyers once the film comes out.

One thing that seems for certain with this film: If you stick around for the post-credit scene, Woody Harrelson shows up as Venom’s more powerful offspring Carnage, promising he’ll be coming soon (for the inevitable sequel). Should this movie do well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, and if the same team are left in charge, we can definitely expect carnage, but not of the good sort.

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