Venom

Directed by Ruben Fleischer Publishing House: Columbia Pictures Corporation Released: 10.05.18 Review by | October 5, 2018 at 11:00 AM
7

Basically: A hard-charging reporter bonds with a snarky alien symbiote with unusual appetites. They’d better learn how to co-exist, because the world needs saving…

In Venom, based on the Marvel comic book character, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is in San Francisco, doing a street-level investigative journalism show and getting ready to marry his fiancée Annie (Michelle Williams). An investigation of billionaire tech entrepreneur Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) ends up leading to a catastrophically bad decision that costs him everything…even though he was on the right track all along.

With help from a disillusioned scientist (Jenny Slate), Brock finds out that Drake has brought back specimens of alien life found on a comet. One of these has escaped and is making its way toward the others. All Brock knows is that a homeless friend of his is trapped in Drake’s lab and his attempt to get her loose ends up freeing one of the “symbiotes.” Unable to survive in Earth’s atmosphere on their own, they must bond with a host, and Eddie finds he’s prime material.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Suddenly on the run from Drake’s goon squad, Brock and his new buddy discover they can do a lot when they work together. A running chase/battle through the streets of San Francisco proves both can be very resourceful when they try. Turns out Drake has plans for the symbiotes. Turns out the symbiotes have plans of their own. And turns out Venom (as Brock’s symbiote calls itself) kind of likes Earth after all and wants to stay…without competition.

Someone is not going to get what they want in all this. You know that, right?

Okay, very quickly, the elephant in the room: This character is rooted in Spider-Man but this movie is NOT a Spider-Man movie. Peter Parker is not referenced at all and Eddie’s issues in New York are covered in two lines of dialogue. There might be some connection someday but it’s not happening here. And that’s okay, because Fleischer and company do a lot of work to establish Eddie Brock and Venom as their own thing.

Hardy drives the plot as Brock, a guy with a need to get the story wherever it leads and whatever the cost. He presents as a friendly no pretense kind of guy who can’t help himself; he has to go there. And it costs him. Hardy plays the transition with emotional honesty and evokes some sympathy, even though Brock’s problems are really his own fault. He’s also hilarious when playing off himself as Venom, reacting to the voice in his head only he can hear.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Williams is earnest, sympathetic, and warm as Eddie’s significant other. She has her own trials to endure, not least of which is learning about the symbiote and what it’s doing to Eddie. Because she has empathy for Eddie, the audience does too, which is quite a feat for an actor to pull off.

Ahmed is refreshing as a villain who isn’t a diabolical madman or screaming tyrant. Drake is cool, even cold, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his vision. Like many great villains, he has a point he’s just going about solving his issue in a horrifying way. In that way, he’s probably closer to real-life villainy than most of the guys superheroes fight. Ahmed’s story arc might have a foreseeable outcome but he definitely brings some A-game to this formidable bad guy.

With Ron Cephas Jones (aka “Bobby Fish” from Marvel’s Luke Cage) as Brock’s network boss and Reid Scott as Dr. Dan Lewis (who discovers Venom’s crucial weaknesses), the cast delivers a strong performance amid a whole lot of gooey symbiote craziness. (And there is a LOT of gooey symbiote craziness, especially at the big action-packed boss fight.)

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Director Ruben Fleischer, whose work I’ve enjoyed since Zombieland, brings a strong narrative focus to the story, delving into how both Brock and Venom are outsiders who come to need each other. More than superheroics, this is the heart of the story, and it sets up a good basis for the next movie…as does a mid-credits scene featuring one of Fleischer’s former stars (you can find out who easily enough), setting up the future appearance of a major Marvel bad guy.

In the End: Stay through the credits and you’ll be treated to an extended look at Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the animated movie coming this December from Sony. It looks really good.

We have a whole lotta thoughts on Venom…read Philip’s review now!