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In 10 Words or LessNo Spider-Man is no problem for Tom Hardy
Reviewer's Bias*Loves: Good superhero movies, Jenny Slate
Likes: Spider-Man, Tom Hardy, superheroes as genre films, Michelle Williams
Dislikes: obnoxious anti-heroes
Hates: The CG Venom
The MovieThe first trailer for Venom was intriguing. That's what happens when you keep the main character out of sight. You build anticipation. The final trailer was less interesting, with the Spider-Man anti-hero Venom in all of his CG glory. To put it bluntly, the character looked dumb. And in the final movie, it's not much better--all glistening and goofy--an utterly unreal computer creation set loose in the real world of San Francisco for his own solo adventure free from any tie-ins to everyone's friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. It was a bold decision to tell stories from the Spider-Man universe without Spidey himself, but moviegoers were OK with it, and now Venom is very much his own symbiote.
As someone who grew up reading the era of comics that are currently being strip-mined for live-action films and TV, I've given up on comparing what ends up on-screen with what was on the page. You know changes will be made, and often those changes are for the better. And so we end up with one of the most graphically-dynamic characters ever seen in comics stripped of an iconic part of his look--as the big white spider symbol on Venom's chest makes no sense without the matching symbol of its original host, Spider-Man (though I guess that his eyes still mimic Spidey's lens makes sense?) Either way, this Venom arrives on Earth via a very different route, and winds up joining forces with Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who keeps some of his Spidey-verse backstory (if not his personality.)
A journalist who lost everything, including his fiancee Annie (Michelle Williams), when he crossed swords with Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the head of the space-exploring, medicine-pioneering Life Foundation, Eddie is in dire straits when he becomes infected with a parasite that makes him into a complete loon, complete with an inner dialogue with the hungry, violent voice inside of him. It's in portraying the conflicting sides inside of Eddie that Hardy shines, in mannerisms, in conversations and in physicality--all of which are entertaining to watch, as Hardy convincingly looks like someone who is being manipulated by another force. Driven by a coupe of desires, including a hope to get the scoop on what Drake is up to and Venom's hunger for human heads, Edde makes it his mission to get to the bottom of the Life Foundation's plans and stop Drake's schemes.
Though it clocks in at 112 minutes (including two credit surprises) Venom flies by. There's not a lot of padding in between the fights and chases, and when it was clear we had reached the final fight, it was genuinely surprising, in an "Already?" kind of way. Admittedly, that fight is huge and over the top and approaches Bay-Transformers levels of incomprehensibility in its visuals, but the movie ends way sooner that you'd expect, with far less plot explored than you might expect. A superhero tale masquerading as a low-impact horror flick, this is an origin story through and through, with any universe-building left for Easter eggs and the aforementioned credit scenes. It's all empty calories and pretty forgettable in the end, but it doesn't taste bad.
Could it be better? Absolutely. But when you're spending your time setting up a sort-of hero, a villain, a race of extraterrestrials and your plot is pretty much Point A to Point B, there's not a lot of room left for character development. Heck, if Michelle Williams can't get much of a character (one scene's delicious fan service aside) out of Venom, what hope does the rest of the cast have, including Jenny Slate, who is remarkably underutilized. This film is mainly a chance for Hardy to go all-out and Ahmed to again make you want to see more of him, all wrapped up in some mildly-creepy horror wrapping and a whole lot of CG effects work.
On a side note, after watching the film, it was interesting to see how the trailer took scenes from the film out of order and subverted your expectations for them. It's impressive to see a moment from the trailer came from the end of the movie without ruining it. Also, I was not prepared for the traditional Stan Lee cameo, which, if you watch for the first time on video, follows his recent passing. It's a bit of a gut punch, for a moment that's always been about lighthearted fun in previous films.
The DiscsAs one of many versions of Venom being released, this edition features two discs (one Blu-ray, one DVD) packed in a single-width keepcase, with a slipcover that repeats the cover art. The Blu-ray features an animated menu with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras. Audio options include English and French DTS-HD Master AUdio 5.1 tracks, an English Descriptive Audio track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, while subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
The QualityFor a big-budget special-effects feast from 2018 like Venom, would you expect anything but a high-end presentation on Blu-ray? The AVC-encoded, 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer on this release looks gorgeous with excellent detail (the veins and sinews of Venom are particularly impressive) and spot-on color, no matter the setting (even if most of the film feels like it takes place in the dark of night.) The black levels are deep and solid, which, when dealing with a main character who is mostly blue-black, is very key, while the low-light scenes don't suffer from noise pollution. Impressively, for a film that, at times, is dominated by CG effects--including the climactic battle sequence--the effects work doesn't stand apart from the practically produced material, a problem that is often enhanced by increased clarity. Nothing stood out as problematic in the images, whether in terms of the stability of the image or the transition to digital.
For an action blow-out like this, you'd expect a full-featured audio presentation, but one will have to make due with the sufficiently engaging 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track included here, which would have been great if you didn't know there are more robust options available (like on the UHD release). That said, this is no second-rate track, as it takes full advantage of your room's soundstage, moving the action throughout the surrounds and backing-them up with a low-end presence that will impress (even in terms of the boost it gives Venom's inner voice) and atmospherics that fill out the feel. Dialogue isn't ignored either, getting a strong placement center front, with some spillover and positioning courtesy of the surround channels. There's no doubt however that this mix was made for the big action scenes and it delivers emphatically in that regard.
The ExtrasSeveral of the extras on this release are exclusive to the Blu-ray, starting with "Venom Mode". This allows you to watch the film with a graphic trivia subtitle track, offering up bits of info about the film and the characters, as well as the differences between the comics and the film. Trivia tracks are a fine way to add value to multiple viewings, but the trivias here move a bit too fast, and the tall, thin font used is difficult to read.
There are a trio of deleted/extended scenes, running a combined 5:10. The thing you're going to want to check out is the extended post-credit sequence, which features more of the surprise appearance from the end of the film.
There are five behind-the-scenes featurettes, featuring interviews with the cast and crew including director Ruben Fleischer, Hardy, Williams, Ahmed and Slate, among others, along with comics superfan Kevin Smith, who provides his own trademark excited perspective. "From Symbiote to Screen" (20:03) is the longest of the group, offering an overview of the film, going in-depth on the plot and character, like a video Cliffs Notes. Do not watch this before the film, as it is the definition of a spoiler.
The 10:01 "The Anti-Hero" focuses on the character of Venom, from his development in comics through the adaptation on film. It's followed by "The Lethal Protector in Action" (9:14) which looks at the stunt work on the film, focusing on the big action sequences, while also showing how Hardy worked on the "puppet control" aspect of his character, making this one of the more interesting featurettes,
"Venom Vision" (7:02) gives Fleischer some spotlight as director of the film, while discussing how they made a genre horror film with a comic-book character. This section wraps with the 5:34 "Designing Venom", touching on the elements of Venom that were important to bring over from the comics and the removal of the spider icon from the symbiote suit. It would have been nice to hear from the original comic creators though.
A streamlined, video version of an aspect of "Venom Mode", "Symbiote Secrets" spends 2:40 on the big Easter eggs in the film, showing them in detail and explaining what they mean to non-comics fans.
There are eight pre-vix sequences to watch (13:53 in all), to check out early pre-production versions of some of the action sequences, done either in low-res CG or stunt-choreography test video. The scenes are presented in split-screen with the final film scene, to allow for comparison and to see what changes along the way.
Wrapping up the on-disc extras is a pair of music videos. Eminem's "Venom" (4:56) is a somewhat goofy video where his song passes from person to person like the symbiote in the film. It's no "Lose Yourself". Then there's Post Malone and Swae Lee's "Sunflower", which is actually from "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", and it's just not very good. The video uses clips from the film and lays the lyrics over it in a comics-appropriate style. There's more of the Spider-Verse film in the sneak-peek from the end of Venom, provided to view separately.
In the package is a code for a MoviesAnywhere copy of the film.
The Bottom LineRemove Venom from Spider-Man, and you're left with a limited character whose visual appeal far outstrips anything else about it. Thus, it's no surprise that the focus of Venom isn't the alien creature but the man infected with it, as Hardy as Eddie Brock is more interesting than a big goo monster with a mouth full of sharp teeth and a exaggerated tongue. Sticking to introducing the characters, the film is a brisk watch, and has enough to keep things interesting, along with a cast that's better than the film, and doesn't get dragged down by it. The presentation is top-notch on Blu-ray, with a load of extras to check out, including input by Hardy himself and some bonus Kevin Smith for those into him. Hardcore comic fans should be tickled by the film and its nods to Venom's history, but if you're looking for a Marvel Cinematic Universe kind of story, look elsewhere.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.