"Venom" Review

Title: Venom
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Genre(s): Action
Rated: PG-13 (For intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language)

For as much as I've bemoaned the glut of superhero films in the last decade, all it takes is a movie like "Venom" to remind me that not only are the movies largely good, they are (largely) much, much better than they used to be.  I am reminded of this because "Venom" feels like the kind of regression you know is inevitable of any genre that invokes comments like "[comic book] movies have come a LONG way since they started making them!"  Indeed, what we have here is a movie that might not sit with the barrel scrapers of yesterday like "Catwoman," "Batman & Robin," and "Fantastic Four" (whichever one you choose), but it's not a movie that rises to even the mediocrity of "Thor: The Dark World" or "The Incredible Hulk."  


Some may even wonder what the point of the film is, seeing that Venom himself is known primarily as one of the chief antagonists to Spider-Man, an alien creature that shreds people to pieces, is constantly licking his blood dripped fangs, and only has the destruction of his enemies on his mind.  I personally felt that this is where the story would go, seeing that it features Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) coming in contact with the alien life form after losing his job when he (correctly) reports that a businessman is using his well loved company to do some seriously illegal things in the background (sort of like Amazon.com).  The idea that he would become bitter at being a good guy while finding power to enact petty revenge is the sort of story that isn't ground breaking, but it is one that could work considering the appeal of the character himself.

Are there comic book fans who really want to watch a film version of this character who is anything but a heartless killing machine?  Granted, there ARE scenes where Venom stabs multiple men and even bites their heads off.  Ah, but there was a push to get that highly marketable PG-13 rating so...yeah, you can probably see where this is going.  The fact that this isn't rated R probably cost it some brownie points, as a story this tame could probably be partially forgiven if the title character was allowed to leave a pile of headless bodies behind wherever he goes.  This would even be considered pretty forgivable since his personality is more in line with other iconic characters like the Terminator or Predator.  Instead, the film makers seem intend on making Venom more of an anti-hero who wants to ultimately be good.  Thus we spend lots of time with a person who is angry at the world, but still has enough of a heart of gold to not let the monster within him take over and run lose.

If the film makers of this movie showed the same restraint with Hulk or Punisher, those movies would be worse than they already are.  "Venom" clearly wants to be a franchise in its own right, and Sony wants their own cinematic universe of superheroes, so it appears their solution is to take the Spider-Man villains and turn them into less evil movie heroes.  I mean, without Spider-Man in tow, realistically changes had to be made for this to become a reality.  The fact that it doesn't understand why the character was popular in the first place is a huge black mark against it (ho ho), and it doesn't help that the screenplay feels like it was dusted off from the early 2000's.  During a slow month it might have been a barely passable film, but with it opening right next to "A Star is Born," it makes "Venom" a prime choice for the lame duck "wait for DVD" recommendation.

Parents, it's pretty obvious this was supposed to be an R rated movie at one point.  The violence is pretty extreme and the imagery as disturbing as the slightly more restrictive PG-13 will allow (with most of it happening off screen), but the violence and intensity is still strong enough to keep most young teens away.  Recommended for ages 15 and up.