VENOM (2014, PG-13, 112 minutes, MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT/SONY/COLUMBIA PICTURES)
To say that there is a lot riding on this film is kind of an understatement.
Sony Pictures is not willing to relinquish the rights for the Marvel characters it scooped up a while back, although it did come to terms with Marvel Studios and allowed them to introduce Spider-Man in the MCU. For now, it appears that Sony is keeping the web slinger out of their films, and is choosing to focus on the hundreds of other characters they have to choose from. And their own brand of a Marvel Universe begins here, with one of Spider-Man’s most notorious villains: VENOM.
Tom Hardy (aka, Mad Max) stars as down-on-his-luck reporter Eddie Brock, a man who comes into contact with an alien life form (called a “symbiote” in the film and comics). The alien invades his body, occasionally controlling him to help thwart the baddies and keep Eddie alive—Venom has had issues merging with other host bodies, and for some unexplained reason, fits perfectly with Eddie. It is their relationship which ultimately redeems the film; there is plenty of humor here, and some engaging action sequences. But their banter and reliance upon each other is what drives the story.
Of course, there are a few typical superhero trappings: a lost love, a man coming to terms with his powers, the bad guy just being an evil version of the hero, the entire world in jeopardy—you get where I’m going with this. But surprisingly, these are not enough to bog the film down. Thanks to the script by JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE buddies Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, along with Kelly Marcel (“Terra Nova”), moves the story along at a brisk pace, and director Ruben Fleischer (ZOMBIELAND) makes sure it stays that way. Don’t let that runtime fool you; thirteen minutes of that hour and fifty-two minutes is credits (which, by the way, you need to sit through to the very end), less roughly five minutes of one cut scene and one special peek into another Sony project.
That is one of the refreshing things about the film: it cuts out the fluff. We’ve seen enough origin stories to know all about moral dilemmas of using one’s superpowers for good, of how anyone that loves a hero isn’t safe from the bad guys, etc. So it is rather refreshing to not have to rehash the same old storylines again.
The biggest risk for this film was with going with a PG-13 rating. In the comics, Venom is one of Spider-man’s most lethal and violent foes. He eats people’s heads, for crying out loud. You would think that not showing that would soften the villainous good guy, but Mr. Fleischer and Company pull it off rather well. Yes, Venom is a pretty nasty anti-hero, but the sound of the chomp and the sudden darkness is actually better than seeing a headless corpse collapse amidst an arterial shower of blood. Keep in mind that this is most certainly NOT a kid’s PG-13 film, however. This is not like your typical Marvel fare, which works for the better. Had this the normal Disneyesque spin on it, it would have had softer lighting and much less…chomping.
What also helps is the grittiness of the movie. Taking a page from Netflix’s Marvel success, Sony has created a grim reality by starting their version of the MCU off with a character that hails from the villainy side of the comics world. This is a planned move; there are rumors circulating that there will be at least two more films, all based on foes of Peter Parker. Also, from the rumor mill—although plans for this seem to be on hold now—was the idea that some of these other villains and/or characters might be introduced in the MCU first, and transition over to the Sony MCU. (But even if that doesn’t work out, it makes you wonder why Universal won’t budge on their film distribution rights they have over the Hulk character) (okay, yeah—totally geeking out right now, sorry for preaching…)
Whatever they decide to do, I’m onboard. So long as the studio continues to take the subject matter and the world they have created with VENOM seriously, the future looks brighter for edgier, harder, superhero films.