Venom (2018)

I think I understand now why so many people have not liked Venom.  You see, the movie has a terrible secret:

It isn’t a Superhero film.

Yeah, we know it is from the whole Marvel Studios/Marvel Comics empire, and yeah, Venom is one of their comic book characters.  But this still isn’t a comic book movie.

And I don’t just mean the fact that Venom is at best (beast?) an anti-hero.

The truth is that Venom is structured as a science fiction film, one of the modern ones, with a lot of action sequences.  I’m tempted to describe it as Splice meets Die Hard, or something equally improbable, but it would be a lot closer to compare it to District Nine, which deals with a very similar story — something alien infects a man’s body and he finds himself changing into something horrible, while at the same time he is being pursued by corporate goons.   

Admittedly, Sony had a problem because they couldn’t use Spiderman in this film and therefore had to change the storyline dramatically.  “Dramatically” as in “completely” — and yes, that means inventing an all new origin story.

But somehow it ended up as a very familiar story:  a private spaceship on its maiden mission encounters something unknown, everyone onboard ends up dead except for one survivor, who has been changed into something…else.

But that’s okay, most Americans haven’t seen The Quatermass Xperiment.

Of course, for those who’ve seen the second Quatermass serial, or its movie adaptation, the idea of an artificial asteroid (okay, comet, close enough, maybe they saw Lifeforce as well) chock full of aliens planning to launch an invasion of Earth might also sound a touch familiar.

What is less familiar is that small time thief Eddie Brock has become Eddie Brock, washed up TV reporter.  Now, just so there’s no confusion, Peter Parker was a news photographer.

I’m sure we’re all glad we got that straight.

He is still a bit of a loser, but then we can’t change everything.  Although Tom Hardy has changed his accent and sounds passably American.  However, it does make me wonder, once you’ve changed everything else, why not just say the heck with it and make Eddie British?  Just asking.

Now, if this were a straight up science fiction with horror overtones, instead of a science fiction film pretending to be a superhero film, they probably would have gone for an “R” rating and a lot more gore.  As it is, this is a PG-13 superhero movie where the…superhero routinely bites the heads off of the people he fights.  I’m not sure this internal contradiction really helps the film — I can’t help but thinking how different this one would have been if David Cronenberg had directed, in full body horror mode (particularly the fascinating scene where Venom produces a partial head out of Brock’s body so they can converse face to face!).  Now, I’m not necessarily saying that’s the route they should have chosen, but it does seem to me that the transformations should have been a lot ickier, and Venom’s rampages a bit bloodier.

There is one part of the film that is so tantalizing that it needed the deeper, lengthier and more nuanced exploration it would have got in that science fiction film.  Venom decides to stay on Earth and not let it get all messed up by the others of his kind:  we get a few hints of an explanation, and clearly his affection for Eddie (and his girlfriend) has a lot to do with it, but his change of heart comes with so little preparation that it seems to come from nowhere.  Which is a shame as it is the creamy center of the story.  

Sort of a Bromance, you might say (unless you hate that term as much as I do…).

In fact, the only thing that really reminds me of Marvel here is Eddie’s rather…complicated relationship with his girlfriend.

Well, that and the fact that there is an after-credits sequence, setting up Woody Harrelson as the villain for the (ughh) sequel.

On the whole I think I enjoyed this one more than many others have because I didn’t have any real expectations from it.  Besides wading through a raft of terrible reviews, it is also true that  I never read the comics (well, except the early Secret Wars sequences with Peter in the Black Spidey suit that would one day become Venom!).

In fact, the film has quite a few impressive bits in it, in particular the scene where Venom takes on a SWAT team in the dark.  Had it been a standalone SF film about a man bonding (in more than one sense of the word) with an alien symbiote, I suspect that it would probably have been better received.  Frankly, you also have to wonder whether, if we all didn’t know that Venom was going to end up as a superhero of sorts, they would have put more effort into the symbiote’s stunning decision to turn against his own kind.

And that perhaps is the biggest problem with this film.  Like all too many adaptations (from any medium) it has too much baggage weighing it down.  We have our expectations for the film — and far worse, the filmmakers know more or less what is expected of them.

Oh well.  Just try to forget about the comics, and accept this one for what it is.  It isn’t perfect, but if your expectations are low you should enjoy it.

But I still wish they had made the SF film they almost made…

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