The movie-going public has become accustomed to associating movies derived from comic books with breaking box office records and at least for the MCU, with extraordinary critical acclaim. Then, there are the outliers, the movies that fall short of fitting into those enviable statistics. The subject of this consideration is a film that is technically within the newly expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to the recent inclusion of Spider-man, but devoid of the MCU screenwriters, directors, special effects or any of the myriad of talented people that brought a decade of excellence to the big screen. Venom originally was created as a major Spider-man villain as the centerpiece of numerous stories. Venom was a formidable foe fighting Spidey but is ill-suited as the primary focus of an entire movie; Sony had begun production developing a story for the character before Disney acquired the rights. Previously Venom was the primary Big Bad of Spider-Man 3 (2007). A few basic aspects of the traditional origin story were retained but failed to transfer the full impact of the potential danger. It is rare that a villain can fully carry a story. Its power and treat potential must be generated by confronting an adversary, the superhero. What remains is an entity with superior potential facing a non-challenging opponent.
One of the most popular sources of overpowered evil I the sixties was either radiation, a left over from the post-war years or the burgeoning unknown of outer space. The latter persist as viable in today’s culture, so the story began in outer space were a probe from the Life Foundation is examining a comet. It is enveloped in an organic mass that turns out to be a race of symbiotes. They transverse the vast void in search of a suitable host. Samples were obtained and transported to earth. Predictably one sample breaks free, crashes the transports. This event will remain in the background until the script is forced to devise something suitable for a grand dénouement. Back in principle thread, the remain three sample are taken bake to the research facility was the investigation determines the symbiote requires a warm-blooded, oxygen breathing host to survive. Most subjects, fatally rejected by the symbiote raising one of the biggest possible plot holes. The symbiote was sufficiently advanced to survive an incredibly long period exposed to the vacuum, radiation and drastic temperature changes of interstellar space. The only viable potential host was a creature restricted to living in the narrowest possible sliver of conditions found on Earth. This is not a reasonable survival strategy. All life forms offered are killed during rejection but an investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), happens to be nosing around the laboratory and happens to successful bond with the extraterrestrial black goo. Brock is not the noble, seeker of truth commonly associated with an investigative journalist; he is a failure, unable to sell a story to a reputable news outlet.
The only reason he was in the Life Foundation labs is he broke confidence with his fiancée. Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), an attorney preparing a lawsuit defense for the Life Foundation. He barges in to confront the Foundation’s CEO, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), only to be vehemently rebuffed and getting Anne fired from her law firm. This is generally consistent with the comics painting Eddie as a person of dubious moral fiber and little regard for others, even a woman he supposedly loves. When he was juxtaposed against a noble, self-sacrificing hero, Peter Parker/Spider-man, there was a palpable dramatic tension created. His story pits Eddie/Venom, the chosen name for the symbiote, against a dubious biological research company. Even later in the movie when the menace is personified with Venom’s arch-rival, there is a complete lack of moral certainty for the audience to cheer. Attributes of this type are consistent with a low budget slasher flick suitable for a direct to video offering not a theatrical release from a major studio. What is truly perplexing is the level of the principal cast. Actor of this exalted caliber would never be associated with such an example of mediocrity. Mr. Hardy earned an Academy Award Best supporting actor nomination for ‘The Revenant’, and most bewildering of all is the participation of Michelle Williams who earned four Oscar nominations, two for supporting and two for leading actor. Her respect among the peers in her craft is without question. Role in this kind of production is usually sought after by actors still waiting tables and the ink still wet on their SAG cards. At least Mr. Hardy didn’t have to wear that awful face mask as Bane although the CGI Venom effect wasn’t much of an improvement.
Since ‘Deadpool’ has broken the ‘R’ rating barrier regarding comic book movies, it might have been a slightly better approach. While the introduction of mature language and explicit violence would have brought it closer to a valid portrayal of a slasher movie the haphazard script is beyond any hope of salvation. The lack of clearly delineated characters is systemic, affecting everyone from the leads to the second and third tier characters. Eddie is presented as a loser willing to throw his girlfriend under the bus for a meager shot at notoriety. Then, with the forced inclusion of ill-formed jokes, the audience is expected to accept the same character as the likable loser cornered by circumstances. It is a transition that reveals lazy writing unconcerned with internal consistency. The setup of Carlton Drake as the main villain for the third act is weakly deployed. Initially, he was presented as the archetypical sleazy guy in charge, the genius behind the central scientific discovery that served as the instigating plot device. Having the deadly alien that he brought to earth turn on him is a trope directly lifted from a fifty’s creature feature. Many of us cut our cinematic teeth on these movies and have retained fond memories of them. What transpires in this movie would have to improve more than possible to reach that level f entertainment. It is possible for a film to fit into the ‘so bad its fun’ category that can lead to classic cult status. This movie is destined to footnote in the annals of Marvel live action movies. It might be considered better than the made for television adaptations of ‘Doctor Strange,’ ‘Spider-man’ or ‘Captain America’ buttie for the bottom rung of theatrical releases, Fantastic Four (2015). Considering the epic failure that flick was this is an infamous yet deserved placement. The movie did leave open the possibility of a sequel, but hopefully, the studio will shift its priorities to anything else.