Wednesday, October 10, 2018
I suppose only time will tell if this experiment works out, but actually it's off to a good start. In my recent October movie preview, I predicted that "Venom" would earn around $50-55 million on its opening weekend. That was based off of the presumption that the range was $50-70 million, which is where most box office experts pegged it at. I thought the horrible critic reviews would hurt it and cause it to hit the low end of things. But nope. The movie ended up being critic-proof by exploding to $80.2 million. That puts it right in line with plenty of other superhero movies that opened in the $80 million range, suggesting a final domestic total of around $180-220 million, depending on how it holds in the coming weeks. With a $100 million budget, as well as overseas totals to add to its domestic total, Sony is going to pull off a win here, meaning a "Venom 2" has probably already been greenlit, which is actually exciting given the mid-credits scene that you NEED to stay for. As I already mentioned, the critics panned this movie, penalizing it with a 29 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. But audience were much more forgiving, giving it an 89 percent audience score as well as a respectable B+ Cinemascore, leaving me really confused as to what to expect going in.
Alas, though, that'll never be the case and I suppose I can accept Tom Holland's Spider-Man jumping in and facing Tom Hardy's Venom, even though "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Venom" have two drastically different feels to them. If Sony ever lets that happen, of course. But until then, let's talk about what we actually have here and that is essentially a character study on Eddie Brock, the alter-ego of Venom. Tom Hardy absolutely nails this character. He does great as the questionable reporter who doesn't quite have a strong sense of moral values, but is far from being a horrible human being. You like him and you care for him even though he's not always acting in ways that you agree with. Which is exactly what an anti-hero is supposed to be like. Then when the floor completely crumbles beneath him, causing his life to collapse, Tom Hardy also does a great job of playing the broken individual who becomes a lot less likable and more of a jerk. But then when he accidentally stumbles on the symbiote, you can definitely tell that he's still a good human being with boundaries when Venom wants to go around killing everyone and eating everything because Eddie Brock won't allow that. He's broken and he's scarred, but he refuses to let Venom turn him into a maniac.
This is where your typical Venom lore departs from the comic book origins. His actual origin is more along the lines of what "Spider-Man 3" attempted to do with the symbiote initially going to Peter Parker before then accepting Eddie Brock as its host. But since we're not doing Spider-Man in this movie, the writers had to be more creative in their approach, so they settled with Eddie Brock sneaking into the lab of Riz Ahmed's Carlton Drake, who is the head scientist secretly harvesting all of the symbiotes that showed up from space. Eddie Brock gets there because one of Drake's people becomes extremely uncomfortable with the situation and convinces Eddie Brock to go with her at night to see what is happened at this lab so that he, as a former reporter, can expose Drake. And that of course leads to the Venom symbiote discovering Eddie Brock and infesting him like a parasite. This is by far the best part of the movie as Eddie tries super hard to figure out what exactly is happened to him. Eventually he starts hearing voices before Venom officially shows up, which sparks a lot of Gollum-like banter as Eddie seems to be arguing with himself as no one else can hear Venom unless Venom chooses to show up or if Eddie allows him to take over.
Speaking of script revisions, the overall conflict is pretty weak. I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of saying Riz Ahmed's Carlton Drake is a bad villain or that Riz Ahmed was miscast. I just think the writing in the movie didn't do him any favors. Riz Ahmed himself did an excellent job and could've been a fantastic villain, but we have the classic critique here that he did the best he could with what was given to him, but sadly wasn't given much to work with. Given that we've had so many superhero movies of late, I pay specific attention to the motivation of the villain and I didn't really get much of that from Carlton Drake. All I could pick up was that he became obsessed with making the symbiotes connect with their proper human vessel, because that's necessary for the symbiotes to survive as they can't simply connect with any human or animal. But I don't know why he was doing that or what his ultimate goal was. When he himself became a symbiote host and transformed into Riot, I'm not sure what I thought he was accomplishing. Riot was actually super cool, but the Riot symbiote wasn't given enough screen time for me to be able overcome the fact that Carlton Drake was a poorly written villain that ends up being super forgettable.
In summary, I can conclude simply that "Venom" suffers from what I have coined as origin-story-itis. My two biggest complaints when it comes to origin stories are that many of them spend too much time setting up the hero while not having enough time to dive into the meat of the movie and the movie not having an interesting villain because you can't spend your first movie on the character's biggest arch-rival. And that's exactly what happens here. Tom Hardy is great and I loved the banter back and forth between Eddie Brock and Venom, as well as their progression in becoming a compatible team. But there was too much time spent setting everything up, thus not leaving enough time for an interesting movie around the two of them. And what we did setup was a pretty forgettable villain. The battle between Venom and Riot was pretty cool, but it was super short, almost like it was an afterthought of the film, thrown in there out of necessity rather than being properly setup and given enough time to progress. All that said, there's enough in this movie for you to enjoy as it's not nearly as bad as many of claimed and I do think this new Venom universe provides a lot of promise for the future with the likes of Carnage and hopefully Spider-Man, so I'll give the movie a 7/10.
P.S. - In addition to me recommending you stay for the mid-credits scene that teases the sequel, I'd also highly recommend you stay for the post-credits scene, which is a sneak peak of the upcoming Sony movie "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." We get to see a 3-5 minute scene from the beginning of that movie that's legitimately excellent.
P.P.S. - If you've somehow managed to avoid the trailers of this movie, DON'T WATCH THEM. The whole movie is in the trailers, including the final battle, the final scene and the final line. Sony really needs to work on this. As a general rule, I try to avoid saying that a trailer can ruin a movie because I don't think that's fair to the filmmakers who often have no say in how the studio puts together the trailers, but in hindsight these trailers were awful.