By John H. Foote
Hell must be different for everyone.
My hell is unique, I just know it. For me, hell would be sitting in a chair, unable to move, unable to close my eyes, watching movies I loathe. Let me be clear, I hated Solo (2018), hated every aspect of it. But I would rather watch Solo (2018) than ever be subjected to this movie again. In my hell, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971) I am sitting, eyes held open, unable to move watching Venom, over and over, on a loop for eternity.
That is my nightmare.
Yet another film from the superhero universe, this one about a villain from the Spiderman series, a parasite that invades the body of a human and turns him into Venom, a black, toothy entity with a tongue borrowed from Gene Simmonds of Kiss fame. It is a wretched film, a dreadful experience that gives me hope that with each of this genre that fails, they will think twice about making more. This will stop the Venom franchise Sony hoped to be creating, but there are a lot of comic books and superhero films coming our way. As long as they make money, and most of them do, they will keep making them.
But we will not be seeing Venom anytime soon.
Where to start?
Tom Hardy, a great actor, one of the best working in modern film was attracted to the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of the story he says. Um, ok, but where are they? They are certainly not in the film! And if attracted to the elements of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, why not try and get a feature film made about that instead of this? The one hundred million they sank into Venom, could have easily funded a lavish, handsome production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the best version released in the thirties, winning actor Fredric March an Oscar.
Hardy is coming off a great year, 2015 in which he wowed audiences in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), The Revenant (2015) for which he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor and Legend (2015) for which he should have been nominated for Best Actor portraying both Kray brothers, criminals in sixties London. Scripts must have been piling up for the actor because he was suddenly what they call in the business, hot. Instead, he does what so many actors are doing, mysteriously, he decides he wants to do a comic book movie. Why? Big Payday? Maybe. Perhaps he wants a blockbuster that will give him box office clout though that has not done much for Robert Downey Jr. So great as Iron Man in the films he has made, he has yet to turn that into making greater films, Tropic Thunder (2008) the only exception. SO many of the actors that step into these superhero films were already great actors, they do not need the films to give them clout. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michelle Pfieffer, Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, Anne Hathaway, and Gal Gadot are already great actors, which might be why they bring such life to the superhero characters they are portraying.
But not even a great actor can save a film without a script and Venom, despite four writers, had nothing going in. I remember at one point saying aloud, “Man this is one stupid movie” and I never speak during a film. Ever.
The story, or what can laughingly be called a story?
Eddie Brock (Hardy) is an investigative journalist fired from his job after insulting a wealthy tech magnate Drake (Riz Ahmed). Meanwhile, a spacecraft has crashed in Malaysia, bringing with it a sticky black-blue substance that somehow comes into the possession of Drake. With his investigator’s nose Eddie just knows something is afoul at the Drake mansion and sure enough, he manages to get himself infected by this parasite that turns him into a black monster with jaws or deadly teeth and the tongue of a seventies rock star. Suddenly Eddie has superpowers that he must adjust to having.
Now part of the trouble here is that Hardy portrays Eddie like a dumbass, a doofus of a journalist who would screw up the easiest of jobs, like reviewing this film. And why Hardy picked this film to pay homage to his method actor idols is beyond me, but we get a poor impersonation of Brando, merged with De Niro, merged with, um, Adam Sandler. I kid you not, listen close, he is doing Sandler. One thought is he knew how terrible the film was and decided just to have some fun, ala Jon Voight in Anaconda (1997) but when you here of Hardy complaining publicly that they edited the best forty minutes out of the film, you know you have serious problems. Hardy is what he has never been before, terrible. You will find yourself actually happy when the black goo covers his face and turns him into this creature because at least we do not have to watch a great actor laying waste to his career.
And then comes the internal struggle, the creature means to harm, needs to feed on living things, but Eddie does not want to hurt to anything. Well, that’s a twist!!!!!!!! Where did that come from???? Who is the genius who thought that one up?? Pretty tough to keep a franchise moving on a villain is it not?
What is Hardy doing in this nightmare? And Michelle Williams?? And Woody Harrelson?? Can none of them read? Or is Hardy correct that the filmmakers deleted the best forty minutes? Why would these great actors, and I mean great, sign on for this garbage? One would hope a film entitled Venom might have some bite to it, but all here is poisonous.
The effects are B grade, been there done that, the cinematography terrible, the direction pedestrian and the performances just woefully bad.
How many genuinely fine screenplays were shelved so this tripe could be made? If just a single good idea was blocked to give this more money that is too many. I had thought I had seen the worst film of the year in Solo, but this one is far worse. I had thought I had seen the worst films based on comic book heroes and villains, Catwoman (2004) and The Green Lantern (2012) but no, this takes things to a new low.
The question is, how low can they go?
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.