‘Venom’ is intentionally gross and unintentionally funny, a film that careens all over the place but is sometimes enjoyable in its bizarreness.
Kernel Rating: 3 (3 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 112 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. Most superhero or comic book adaptations these days can be viewed by tweens because while the themes are often weighty, the visuals are usually bloodless; numerous people die, but you don’t see much gore. ‘Venom’ is not like that; the film’s alien beings are destructive forces that eat people from the inside out, and there are various unsettling images, like the aliens causing seizures and exploding out from bodies. A good amount of cursing, including one use of the f-word; some kissing and implied sexual content; and a variety of violence, including a space crash that kills astronauts, a car chase scene in which numerous people are injured, and humans whose heads are bitten off and eaten by the alien beings. These aren’t necessarily bloody images, but they are pretty gross.
By Roxana Hadadi
Comic book and superhero adaptations now follow a pretty typical formula: Marvel movies like “Infinity War” are often pretty jokey, with world-threatening destruction and crossovers between the Avengers and other characters; DC movies like “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” are more serious, also with world-threatening destruction but characters who are more solemn and downtrodden; and then there are outliers, like the X-Men films and the recent “Apocalypse,” and now “Venom.” The film adaptation of the popular ’90s comic book character is a strange mixture of unintentional humor and icky grossness, and although it doesn’t really fit the accepted definition of “good,” it’s so tonally disjointed that it’s almost enjoyably bizarre.
You may recognize the Venom character from the Spider-Man universe, where he was often a villain; he showed up in the films starring Tobey Maguire years ago and was a mainstay on the ’90s TV show that so many older millennials grew up watching. This film version, in making him the primary character, is primarily backstory: Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, of “Dunkirk”) has made a career of advocating for the downtrodden, especially San Francisco’s homeless community. He has a feeling that the CEO of the bioengineering corporation the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”), isn’t really interested in saving the world through space exploration, and when one of the foundation’s ships crash-lands in Malaysia, Brock sees an opportunity to uncover Drake’s duplicity.
But things don’t go exactly to plan, and instead, Brock loses his job and becomes blacklisted by Drake, and also causes the firing of his fiancée, attorney Anne Weying (Michelle Williams, of “The Greatest Showman”), who leaves him. Six months after the crash, Brock’s career is over and he’s drowning in debt when he’s contacted by one of the Life Foundation’s researchers, Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate, of “Gifted”), who says she has something to tell him — about what the corporation is doing with alien lifeforms that Drake that calls “symbiotes.”
It’s then that “Venom,” after about an hour of dancing around its titular alien subject, transforms into a different movie. When Brock becomes possessed by the symbiote Venom, the movie ramps up the action with car chases, fight scenes, and shootouts, but also the humor, as Brock begins hearing Venom’s voice in his head, who encourages him to eat raw flesh, get back together with Anne, and bite off people’s heads. This is a totally different avenue for the film from what came previously, which was more of a straightforward drama about Brock’s professional and personal failings, but it’s what the movie needs to go from sort of boring to entertainingly unhinged.
For younger viewers, though, a lot of this will probably be quite gross, and it feels like the movie walks right up into the R-rating line and leans over it: The symbiotes absorb into human bodies and then consume them from the inside, devouring organs, causing seizures, and leaving behind grotesque corpses. Once fused with Brock, Venom manipulates parts of his body, expanding outward into black ooze that can form into new limbs, has gigantic teeth, and relishes in showing off a slimy tongue. And although the final fight between Venom and another symbiote is confusing to watch because of all the CGI, some slow-motion moments of the symbiotes being peeled away from the human skin underneath is effectively unsettling.
On the one hand, the varying parts of “Venom” never mesh together well, and the film jumps over huge narrative gaps in order to set up a sequel. On the other hand, for older audiences, “Venom” is so different from most other comic book movies that it’s almost worth experiencing for that reason alone. Weirdly disjointed but sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, “Venom” is like a ’90s flashback, one that doesn’t make much sense but is still a silly ride.
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