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Venom Movie Review: Sony’s Darker MCU

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Venom Movie Review: Sony’s Darker MCU

Giovanni Kozel ‘19, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Today, Sony Pictures has come to a crossroads regarding the Marvel franchise. Only ten years ago, the ability to make a Marvel movie was split among five major studios, as each production company owned the rights to separate characters and story arcs they could adapt into screenplays. This led to a jigsaw puzzle of films that, while based on similar source material, never really had any unison due to competing interests among the companies making the movies and the way in which the creative teams behind the films decided to carry out their vision. Now, however, there are only two major players in the Marvel franchise after Disney entered the fray and slowly began to eliminate their competition. Two of their previous rivals raised the white flag and either sold off or sat on their rights to characters by 2015, while Twentieth Century Fox, a strong contender for control of the direction of the franchise with characters such as the X-Men and Fantastic Four, is in the process of being bought by Disney. This leaves only Sony holding on to its piece of the once fractured Marvel universe with its rights to Spider-Man.

    Part of the reason that Sony has not been so easily overtaken by Disney is that in 2016 the two companies made a deal to have Spider-Man, played in his third iteration by Tom Holland, appear in Disney’s films such as Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, while Sony could have Disney’s characters appear in their own movies starring the wall-crawler. Despite this peaceful coexistence between the studios, Sony has no intention to go the way of Twentieth Century Fox and be absorbed by its competition; as a result, the company needed a new way to both differentiate itself from Disney’s franchise and create a new vein in which they could produce their own films to exploit Spider-Man. Their solution: Venom.

    Venom as a character appeared in comic books beginning in the early 1980s after Spider-Man returned from a series of adventures in space, unwillingly bringing the alien symbiote back to Earth with him. He originally began as one of Spider-Man’s many villains, but, over time, the character evolved to take on more heroic traits and attempted to reform his way by joining the team known as the Thunderbolts, a program designed to give reformed villains a chance to do good. In film, Venom first leaped onto the big screen in Sam Raimi’s fiasco Spider-Man 3, which killed the previously successful and popular film series starring Toby Maguire as the titular hero. Fans were extremely disappointed in the character’s adaptation, as Raimi was not very interested in Venom and only felt compelled to include him in the script by executives. As a result of the film, Sony put Spider-Man on the backburner until attempting to reboot the franchise with Andrew Garfield in 2012 and quietly set Venom to the side. Until now.

    On October 5, Venom returned to the big screen with his own standalone film, Sony’s first attempt to delineate itself from Disney’s Marvel films after their deal in 2016. Determined to stand apart from their competition, the studio plans to have Venom be the cornerstone upon which they can build their own series of films based on the many villains Spider-Man has faced over the years in the comics, who are both well-known by fans and diverse in their potential for story-telling. Because these movies center on characters that are either villains or anti-heroes, Sony is changing its tone to create its own universe of movies that are darker than Disney’s offerings. The next scheduled film for them is Morbius, starring Jared Leto as a bloodcurdling vampire facing his own demons.

    However, all these plans hang entirely on Venom and its leading man, Tom Hardy, who plays journalist Eddie Brock, the unwilling host of an alien symbiote. Hardy has previous experience in action films such as Mad Max: Fury Road and comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight Rises, where he portrayed the villainous Bane. Michelle Williams also appears in the film as the former love interest of Eddie Brock, Anne Weying, while Riz Ahmed plays the anti-hero’s nemesis Carleton Drake. This is a solid cast with truly talented actors, all of whom have been nominated for numerous awards in television and film such as the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards. Ruben Flesicher served as director of the project, and, while not having extensive experience helming a feature-length film, he was responsible for the critical and commercial success of Zombieland, whose dark humor and great action he attempted to channel into Venom.

    The movie begins at a very slow clip, starting with a scene depicting how a group of  symbiotes were transported to earth by Drake’s company, the Life Foundation. It also sets up the usual struggling hero cliche for Eddie, an activist and journalist prone to challenging those in power who are used to getting away with their crimes. The audience is briefly shown his career, his love life with lawyer Anne Weying, and his downfall after attempting to take on Carleton Drake over his abuse of the poor in testing the symbiotes. The pace begins to quicken after Eddie is given a second chance six months later by a scientist at the Life Foundation to investigate Drake, leading to his pivotal encounter with one of the symbiotes and his ultimate transformation into the superhuman Venom. From this point on, the entire film becomes riveting, high-paced, action-packed, and at times very funny.

    Venom’s strength comes from the talent of the cast that portray its characters. Michelle Williams does a good job as Anne Weying, who, while still being defined by the common film tropes associated with playing the love interest of a superhero, is able to provide both a greater amount of substance and independence for her character than is usually seen in such roles, as well as a fun dynamic with Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock. Riz Ahmed helps elevate a role that is also too often made uninteresting or downright boring due to repetitive cliches, recycled lines, and a lack of real character development or purpose, acting opposite Hardy as the film’s villain. While this role has been seen extensively in recent years with the boom in superhero films, with Ahmed’s mad scientist and sinister business mogul cross being a particularly popular archetype to use, Carleton Drake is not a boring amalgamation of the stereotypes of his character. Ahmed is able to deliver a performance that is both earnest and convincing through his actions and dialogue, rising above simply going through the motions of his role. However, one of the film’s strongest performances comes from Tom Hardy himself, who portrays both Eddie Brock and voices the titular Venom. The interactions between Eddie and Venom are perhaps the best part of this movie, as the two are forced to share one body and frequently converse in both humorous and intense ways telepathically. These exchanges are clever, witty, and lead to some of the most memorable scenes and lines, as the vicious and fearless Venom contends with the more mild-mannered and cautious Eddie until they finally learn to work together.

    This film is enjoyable for any casual theatergoer or curios viewer, but as always, the target audience for Marvel movies is their loyal network of fans who both read the comics and go to see them come to life on the big screen. In comparison to the multitude of other Marvel films, Venom is definitely not the best, nor is it the deepest, most dramatic, or cinematically clever. However, it is intensely fun and action-packed, with a good story and talented actors that bring the famed symbiote’s story to life in ways that true fans will appreciate and enjoy. Flesicher perfectly captures the darker and more vicious tone of Venom in this film, a character trait well-established by the comics, but he also tempers this more frightening side of the character with Eddie Brock’s more mild-mannered adaptation on the big screen, managing to both stay true to his source material while still making the film friendly to a wide variety of audience members. In addition, this portrayal of Venom is a serious improvement from Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, being both accurate to the comics and well-animated. Last, fans who choose to wait for the end credit scenes to role will not be disappointed in both an interesting character reveal and being treated to a scene from Sony’s upcoming animated Marvel film Into the Spiderverse.

    As the first step in Sony’s plan for the rest of its Marvel films, Venom’s performance, both critically and commercially, is vastly important to the studio. Critics savagely tore into the movie, giving it a harsh thirty percent on the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes and leaving stinging excerpts from their reviews in the comments. However, regular theatergoers seem to be enjoying Venom much more than the elites, as the audience score for the film on Rotten Tomatoes currently rests at a strong eighty-nine percent. In addition, Venom smashed the October box office opening record with eighty million dollars, easily passing 2013’s Gravity to nab the top spot and showing the possibility to continue its strong grossing in the coming weeks.

    The main reason for such a chasm between audience and critical reception of Venom has a great deal to do with the name that comes in the opening credits: Marvel. Most critics are not impressed by special effects, well-choreographed action, or the notion of superheroes; their job entails them being cold and critical, seeing all those features as parts of the larger whole that is the movie and its acting. That is why Avengers: Infinity War, which the populist Internet Movie Database calls one of the greatest movies of all time, only received a score of eighty-three percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics see superheroes and their bells and whistles as just that: extra. They cannot allow themselves to be lost in wonder at the spectacle they see before their eyes. Is Venom perfect? Absolutely not. Is it a good film though? Yes, but only if you allow the illusion to take you away, to let going to the theater just be about having fun and being taken in by the action, especially when that action revolves around superheroes with fantastic powers.

Official Promotional Image for Venom

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Venom Movie Review: Sony’s Darker MCU