Q: What do you get when you cross Big Pharma with Elon Musk?
A: You get the villain of Columbia’s contractually obliged use of Marvel property, Venom (the 2018 one).
But isn’t Venom a villain? Well, yes, in the comics he is and that’s what I was expecting heading into this movie. Riz Ahmed plays Carlton Drake, director of the Life Foundation and organisation whose space exploration program retrieves mysterious alien organisms in their quest to find a way off this near-uninhabitable planet. Their experiments related to these organisms, which they call Symbiotes, would have even the dodgiest Big Pharma executive calling their old ethics professor for advice and so disgraced reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) investigates. This is where Brock meets Venom, the alien organism who invades his body.
The battle begins between Venom and Brock as we learn that the Symbiotes weren’t discovered by Drake’s Life Foundation but actually hitched a ride here to take over the world. This is where we learn that the real villains of the movie are these Symbiotes. Carlton Drake is merely there as a comment on the evils of the corporate world.
The comment is well made. The presentation of Drake as the big man, sitting above everyone in San Fransisco with an ‘untouchable’ level of money, making decisions that no one questions. His treatment of ‘lesser’ people is left unchecked by everyone in the organisation until one of his offsiders enlists Brock to report on his actions. It’s a very relevant comment for 2018 and still relevant now. And it’s a very clever way of introducing us to the Symbiotes and their ‘body snatching’ tendencies. The investigative report of Brock is what leads him into the lab and that’s how he gets taken over by Venom.
The takeover of Brock by Venom is the most successful by the lab’s standards. Venom and Brock become cohabitants in Brock’s body in a very violent way and then Venom proceeds to give us a full display of the power and ferocity of the Symbiotes.
The action sequences that demonstrate this are impressive, there’s no doubt. Hardy’s performance as both the loser Brock and the evil power of Venom is excellent. We get to see the pure, unstoppable violence of Venom and the capabilities of this invading race.
It’s a clear contrast between this power and the character of Eddie Brock. The movie does a great job of setting up the fact that Eddie Brock (Hardy) is a loser. He’s in San Fransisco because he was fired from his reporting job at the Daily Globe in New York. But when he’s charged by his network with doing a puff piece on Carlton Drake, Brock can’t help but read the confidential files of his lawyer fiance Anne (Michelle Williams) and the light interview becomes hard-hitting and gets him fired from another job. The breach of confidentiality gets Anne fired and subsequently Eddie loses his fiance. So despite having a skill set that’s perfectly suited to the digital entrepreneurial age of the 21st century within six months he’s almost destitute.
But there’s little work put into setting up that Venom is in the same situation on their home planet. Venom is dominant in everything that he does. He quickly asserts himself and we see him as an indiscriminately destructive entity that is hell-bent on taking over Earth but is also really keen to bite the heads off people. Venom uses Brock as a vehicle to reach the Life Foundation lab to meet up with Riot, the ‘team leader’, to complete their global takeover. But somewhere along the way Venom changes his mind. We don’t really know when or why but he informs Eddie that back on his home planet he was a loser, just like Brock and Venom actually likes Earth so is suddenly determined to save the planet from Riot.
I don’t know if I wasn’t paying close enough attention but this seemed to happen very quickly. It’s almost like they got the final scenes of the movie and realised that Venom was a bad guy, and they had Hardy contracted for two more movies and they needed to quickly set it up for people to want to watch the sequels.
It’s not the first movie that’s tried to add social commentary at the expense of the real story and the real genre of the picture and despite the misspent timing of the story overall it’s a solid comic book action movie. Sony has done well to make a strong film out of one of the Marvel properties not owned or contracted by Disney. The action is engaging and exciting. Tom Hardy’s performance as both Brock and Venom is strong and again shows his versatility. While the social commentary takes a little too much time it’s a very relevant point. Overall, I’m looking forward to whenever we get to see Venom: Let There Be Carnage in Melbourne’s post-lockdown cinema reopening.