‘Venom’ Amusing, But Doesn’t Rise To Marvel Level


I finally got around to seeing Venom, a remarkably popular movie that claims a Marvel Universe heritage but does not rise to the usual charm and form of films from the genre. At the start, the credits say “In Association with Marvel,” meaning that the connection is there, but it is sort of counterfeit. The movie is not bad, and actually enjoyable at times, but there just is not enough meat in the burger.

The film begins with the crash of an exploratory vessel owned by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a scientist and businessman of very dubious morality, bringing back alien life forms and having one escape while he experiments with the others. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a popular TV reporter who ruins his own and his fiancée’s lives when he gets into her legal files (her firm represents the businessman) and steals information so he can go after Drake. He asks nasty questions on air and is fired. His fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) loses her job and kicks him out of her life, and he quickly descends to close to the gutter. But a call from one of Drake’s minions, Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), who tells him of dangerous illegal experiments, brings him to Drake’s headquarters, where he winds up merging with a being from outer space named Venom. This provides him with super powers, and a great desire for eating other people’s heads. The merging, which often goes wrong and kills the human involved, works fine for Eddie. In a wild set piece, Drake sends his minions out to capture and imprison Eddie. But his powers help him escape, even though at first he thinks he’s crazy because he hears a voice in his head, which turns out to be the alien, which pushes him to do things he never would dare to try.

From there you can probably figure out much of the rest of the story. Eddie/Venom goes after Drake, who winds up merging with another, far more vicious, alien. And the battle begins. There were some great twists. Anne finds a way to fight the creatures and manages to use it to great effect. Her new boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), actually seems far more interested in curing Eddie than playing jealousy games. That provides an interesting, far more human, element to the story.

The more or less internal dialogue between Eddie and Venom is quite funny, very much in the vein of Deadpool. Although the rating for the movie is PG-13, it feels like an R-rated film. There is a lot of violence, a couple of crazy car chases, a few scenes of people’s heads being bitten off, etc. This is not a movie for kids, although quite a few parts sound like young people wrote them. The dialogue sounds like it is right out of middle school.

Many critics did not like it, and I can see why. There are several major plot holes, to put it mildly. But in a lot of ways, the movie works. It is entertaining. Not as entertaining as Deadpool, and not even close to being in the same league as some of the more recent real Marvel films like Avengers, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: Civil War, not to mention the brilliant Black Panther, my favorite for best picture of the year.

But it is an amusing film, due largely to the really good performance by Hardy. He manages, despite being pretty much a social moron, to demonstrate a wistfulness that is quite attractive. He is a loser and a social idiot but, in the end, a rather sweet one. The ultimate irony is that Venom, the alien, is pretty similar, and they work well together. I have been a fan of Michelle Williams for years, and she gives another really strong performance here. She is not a weakling; she can fight as hard as anyone while never giving up a bit of her femininity. She provides a strong balance wheel. Ahmed was a good villain, wildly optimistic about creating a new future while totally ruthless about using and discarding anyone who gets in his way.

Is the film worth seeing? It is not as good as quite a few films out now, but it does provide some comic action relief. If you really like this type of movie, go. If not, it will be on television sometime soon.