Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel
Story by Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg
Based on “Venom” by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane
Produced by Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach and Amy Pascal
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Edited by Maryann Brandon and Alan Baumgarten
Music by Ludwig Goransson
“Venom,” from Marvel and Columbia Pictures, is fun, funny, fast-moving, suspenseful, action-packed and thoroughly entertaining—a good, solid, gritty and appropriately rough-edged comic book/super hero/fanstasy/science fiction movie that is successfully produced in the “Deadpool” mode—with loads of cynical, sharp, black comedy laughs that register as genuinely funny; over-the-top violence that’s gruesome, but not stomach-churning gruesome because it’s all so over-the-top; an underlying street-tough, rougher atmosphere, mood and feeling; a down-on-his-luck but still-appealing anti-hero hero main character; attempts at heroism that go hilariously wrong, showing that even superheroes can make mistakes—sometimes huge mistakes; and a decidedly punkish, alternative and in-your-face take on the entire comic book/super hero genre. “Venom” works on all of these levels, to the movie’s credit, and it’s not a rip-off of “Deadpool,” but rather a friendly nod to that very similar character and the two movies featuring that character. But despite similarities, the cast and crew make “Venom” stand on its own, and the result is just a fun, goofy, entertaining time at the movies.
Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams lead a solid cast; director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) delivers another strong directing success; the production is appropriately street-tough gritty and laboratory-and-hospital-and-office-glitzy at the right times, offering a mix of conflicting worlds; the appropriate mix of sci-fi, fantasy, suspense, action, humor and even touches of horror are all there, well-mixed and evenly distributed; the special effects are dazzling; there’s plenty of rough-edged humor to keep things funny at the right times; and the movie moves along at a fast, brisk, breakneck speed–in a good way. Hardy and Williams lead a talented cast, the script is sharp and consistently funny, and the production, set and art design gleefully combine gritty, street-tough elements of every-day, middle- and lower-income life on the streets with the high-powered glitz of moneyed laboratories, offices, high-rises and upper-income apartments, as noted.
Director Ruben Fleischer, who directed the 2009 horror-comedy classic “Zombieland” to great success, again finds a way to mix comedy with another genre, or genres–this time, he and his writers mix laughs with comic book/super hero/fantasy/sci fi genre elements, to great effect. It’s the same style Fleischer succeeded with in “Zombieland,” and fans of that classic will definitely enjoy the same mix in “Venom.”
Hardy plays a popular investigative reporter named Eddie Brock who’s the toast of the modern-day town of San Francisco, researching and uncovering and breaking corruption stories in government, and reporting all of that to a faithful audience through a series of popular television reports. Brock is riding high, breaking stories, enjoying his fame and stardom, and he’s living the high life with a beautiful girlfriend, a planned wedding and nice high-rise apartment. All is well, but not for long. Through a series of pretty stupid moves by Brock—but stupid moves that show in the context of the overall story that Brock is human just like everyone else—Brock’s world abruptly crumbles and falls apart, and he’s lost everything. That would normally prompt an uneasy feeling and a mood of pathos in a drama, but in the context of a humorous, action-packed comic book/super hero movie, Brock’s fall from stardom means only that he will stumble into the Marvel universe, pick up some super powers, battle evil—in this film, against his better wishes and intentions—learn to lift himself up, bury his personal demons, learn to follow a better path, redeem himself, and even become a hero—sort of. In this movie, Brock is not the ordinary, average, everyday hero—and that’s what makes the character, and the movie, appealing.
Yes, that overall storyline and character development, story development and plot development arch is a cliché, but that’s been a cliché in comic books and comic book and super hero movies for at least sixty years, so if anyone starts worrying too much about that over-arching comic book/super hero storyline being a cliché in a worrisome many, then the entire Marvel universe will tragically collapse into a black hole and cease to exist. Let’s face it—that’s basically the storyline in dozens of comic book and super hero movies, if not all of them to some degree. However, it’s what the filmmakers do with that cliché in the context of each respective film that gives these characters and movies and stories their individual identity. In recent years, Marvel and other studios have greatly improved upon this ability, and the result has been a treasure trove of actually good comic book and super hero movies in recent years. “Venom” continues in that positive manner.
Through a series of events, Brock stumbles upon a most disturbing devious psycho plot by crazed businessman and true mad scientist Carlton Drake, who quite frighteningly wants to simply merge some alien beings with human beings to create some type of bizarro co-existing symbiotic mutant human-alien being. Yes, that’s a cliché, too. Again, this isn’t the time or place to start worrying about this cliché, either. Actually, the entire idea of aliens being inside humans, or humans being inside aliens, or some mixture of both, is so prevalent in science fiction, fantasy and horror, it’d be exhausting to list all of the films and television shows featuring some type of human-alien co-existing creature. This storyline has appeared in the “Stargate” movies and television shows—in fact, symbiotic relationships are at the core of the entire “Stargate” universe; “Alien” and its sequels, of course—in fact, symbiotic relationships are at the core of the entire “Alien” universe; the “Star Trek” movies and television shows—in fact, so many aliens existed in so many humans throughout the “Trek” universe, including the terrifying Borg, it was almost expected in each project, in a good way; “The Thing” and its iterations—in fact, aliens taking over humans was at the center of the “Thing” movies; “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and its iterations—in fact, aliens taking over humans was at the center of the “Invasion” movies; any vampire project; any werewolf project; and thousands more. The gimmick was even prevalent in Carl Reiner’s and Steve Martin’s “All of Me.” So it’s not quite the time to worry about human-alien combinations as a cliché.
Without revealing too much, Brock becomes quite close with the title character, an alien with a heart—somewhat—named Venom who, touchingly and humorously, changes from wanting to take over Earth with his cohorts to learning to like these cute little busybee humans and wanting to save Earth from his cohorts. That change of heart by the lead alien is nice, and is touching, and Venom’s change of heart regarding humans provides one of several somewhat-hidden messages and themes that do exist in “Venom” amid the action and mayhem. And Brock and Venom, who have to interact to save the planet, are two species so far apart in character, personality, emotion and outlook, it’s a hoot to watch the two creatures—because Brock as played by Hardy is a bit of a lovable-loser type of human creature—try to interact, live and exist with each other. If you squint and use your imagination a little bit, you can connect “Venom” at times with Reiner’s and Martin’s “All of Me”—with the same intended, successful comic effects.
Brock and the Venom character battle Drake, and Brock’s former girlfriend, Anne Weying (a beautiful, strong Michelle Williams) and her new boyfriend, handsome surgeon Dan Lewis (Reid Scott) assist Brock and Venom–and all the screenwriters and Fleischer have cobbled together five characters here that are all quite disperate, which is used to comic effect. Brock is the rough-and-ready, down-on-his luck tough guy anti-hero; Anne is the squeaky-clean, family-oriented, high-powered, respectable lawyer; Lewis is the straight-arrow, high-society surgeon—although he has a good heart; Venom is, well, a somewhat mean-spirited, highly-dangerous, highly-powerful alien who likes to eat people and animals at will; and Drake (Riz Ahmed) is flat-out crazy bonkers psycho lunatic. To watch these different characters and personalities come together as a team and as opponents is funny, yes, but also interesting at times. Anne and Dan are drawn into a world—the Marvel universe and the comic book/super hero universe–they initially cannot understand or comprehend, and to watch them break down and join forces with Brock is encouraging. And to see them come through in heroic manners to fight Drake is also encouraging.
Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of Drake is sneaky, cleverly good—he underplays and downplays the character, letting his sinister, psycho deviations ooze out in bits and pieces and through occasional shifty, narrowing eyes or subtle, questionable, shaky intonations in his voice. Oozing past a security guard, Drake quickly says “you’re fired” in a manner that anyone could hate (yes, yes, yes—that’s a cliché, too), and he quietly but firmly tells one of his many evil henchmen “not to come back” until he’s found Brock (that’s a bit of a cliché, too, yes)—again, in that soft tone of quiet desperation that slightly oozes pure craziness. Ahmed’s Drake will remind filmgoers of hundreds of similar, soft-spoken villains, of course, but Ahmed in “Venom” reminds one of one particular recent, modern-day villain who acted and carried himself in a similar mode—Timothy Olyphant’s excellent and scary Thomas Gabriel in Len Wiseman’s classic 2007 “Live Free or Die Hard,” which is actually one of the better sequels in eons, and one of the better modern-day action-adventure movies. Olyphant in that film and Ahmed in “Venom” play smooth, slick, handsome, soft-spoken, evil geniuses—but at the same time, they let that craziness ooze out here and there to show that those evil geniuses are also flat-out certifiably insane.
Tom Hardy’s Brock in “Venom” does channel Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool from 2016’s “Deadpool” and 2018’s “Deadpool 2,” but it’s still a welcome channeling. Brock and Deadpool endear themselves to audiences precisely because they are not glittery, shiny, rich, snobby, snotty, know-it-all golden boy superheros with perfect hair, perfect bodies and perfect lives. Brock and Deadpool are poor, struggling, have difficult relationships, have trouble holding jobs, live either very close to the edge or right on the edge, and seem at any moment to just lose it all and go stark raving mad. That may seem like a template for unlikeable characters, but Hardy and Reynolds play their characters with plenty of aforementioned humor, self-awareness and self-indictment. These guys know their limitations, they know their negatives and problems, and they know they’re not perfect. Thus, to suddenly see them as superheroes, fighting to save the planet and all of humankind against dark, devious villains is equally funny, positive—and encouraging.
Director Ruben Fleischer is one of those directors who if he only made one good movie, he would be inscribed in the Movie History Book of Achievement forever, because he directed the wonderful, enduring and forever endearing “Zombieland,” an instant-classic that remains one of the better comedies, better horror-comedies and better movies of the last fifteen years—really. But Fleischer hits many of the same notes in “Venom” that he hit in “Zombieland”—perhaps not quite as consistently well as in “Zombieland”—but he hits enough positive notes to register “Venom” as a fun movie. “Venom” can sit beside “Zombieland” as a brother or cousin film by Fleischer, and they can stand together as directing achievements for Fleischer. There’s always something to be said for humor in comic book and super hero movies, of course, but when it’s a more gritty, tougher, rougher, over-the-top humor mixed with over-the-top violence and situations, the humor’s more original and inventive.
“Venom” screenwriters Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel deserve credit, of course, for providing that sharp humor in the movie’s script, and for still remaining fresh and fun despite relying on the aforementioned story clichés. They somehow overcome the clichés and the genre’s limitations and expectations, and dare to go into the same dark corners of the comic book, super hero, Marvel and movie universes as “Deadpool” and other similarly grittier genre films.
The special effects in “Venom” are impressive, as the animation and digital artists had to contend with numerous sequences of aliens and humans merging, un-merging, interacting, melding, un-melding and combining with each other in several scenes. The credits list literally hundreds of special effects artists—that’s standard today, of course—but their work is evident up there on the screen in those merging scenes and in many other scenes—especially the well-timed reveals of the true faces of the alien beings—and their hard work is impressive throughout the movie.
There are some messages and themes buried in “Venom”—the usual ones about good versus evil, of course, but some other inherent themes about—yes, it’s a cliché, too—man playing god, man messing with man, absolute power corrupting absolutely, and the dangers of man and science in general, the inherent problems with some of the more experimental, genetic-oriented aspects of modern-day science, messing with the unknown in general, and messing around with elements of the universe that man and alien are just not meant to mess around with. That’s all there, and, amid the humor and action, the messages do provide some interesting thoughts about these modern-day scientific dilemmas. Man has yet to truly interact with aliens in real, non-movie, non-Marvel life, of course, but one can only shudder to think what would happen in today’s world if any actual alien were to interact with some of the scarier, money-hungry, power-hungry, corporate-minded mad scientists lurking in the halls of power in government, politics and business in same manner as aliens do interact with humans in science fiction films. And that’s exactly one of the main messages that the better escapist films send to moviegoers: watch out, be aware, stay on guard, stay informed, watch those politicians, watch those businessmen, watch those scientists, watch the skies—and pray that our present-day mad scientists never get their hands on a real, live alien being—or human-alien being.