By Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Writer
To anyone who’s been paying attention to the divided superhero market in the last twenty years, there have been a few undeniable business facts that would otherwise boggle (or at least confuse) the untrained mind, were it not for repeated explanatory breakdowns as to why Batman and Wolverine can’t fight side by side.
Here are some salient points you need to refresh yourselves on, if you haven’t yet mastered the studio-based productions blueprint layout by franchise:
- Marvel is owned by Disney, which also owns Lucasfilm
- The-X-Men and their offshoots (like Deadpool) are owned by Fox, which ironically, just got bought by Disney/Marvel
- Sony Pictures own Spider-Man, except of course when they lend said character to Marvel for large cross-over films like Infinity War
- Sony also owns any offshoot of said Spidey property, like Venom.
- Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the likes of DC Comics, which is owned by Warner Brothers. But that’s another story for another time.
Now here’s the contractual kicker: If a franchise owned by a company doesn’t produce a viable film release based on said property within a certain number of years, those rights often revert back to its original owner. In the case of Spider-Man, Sony has released and rebooted the wall crawling hero a number of times over the last two decades, if only to ensure they kept those precious rights. What resulted was an increasingly silly series of bad sequels, remakes and watered-down villains.
Thankfully, Sony had a sit down with the mighty Marvel folks, and were able to borrow the character, starting with Captain America: Civil War, with Tom Holland in the role of Peter Parker. In exchange, a few Marvel bigwigs (Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark among them) get to play in Sony’s backyard out of courtesy.
In the case of Venom, however, there is no such deal with any other studio, not any reciprocal agreement. What results is a very lonely standalone spin-off, based on a secondary Marvel character whose background was never heroic, but is rewritten in such a way as to fill the narrative void in a story where no one else showed up to the party.
The Plot (Or Whatever Little There Is of It)
Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) seeks to find incriminating evidence that could involve powerful CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a ruthless bio-engineering magnate whose deep space probe has found a comet covered in symbiotic liquid lifeforms. When Brock unearths proof of human experimentation to fuse the aliens with human hosts, he not only loses his job but gets his corporate lawyer girlfriend (Michelle Williams) fired in the process.
Eddie refuses to give up and breaks in, only to be infected with a symbiote that calls itself Venom. Together, they become a powerful but violent entity that tries to stop Drake from a much more nefarious purpose, one that could signify the end of life on Earth as we know it.
What to Love?
The film’s plot is threadbare at best, and has such a color-by-numbers, charisma-free villain that the whole thing feels forced, even necessary. Despite this, any interaction between Brock and his mischievous symbiote makes for a fun experience, as are the action scenes involving multi-vehicle chases, with Venom using his powers to wreak havoc on nameless cronies and henchmen. Also, this Venom looks much more credible than Topher Grace’s incredible risible take from Spider-Man 3. Oh and a post-credit scene featuring Woody Harrelson as comic book villain Cletus Kassidy (aka, Carnage, another symbiotic villain)
What to Skip?
Ohhhh boy. An underdeveloped lead character, no real connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a wasted co-star in the form of Michelle Williams, a predictable third act and narrative cohesion as liquified as the film’s symbiotes. The limited cast gives the impression that they’d come up with this project as a rushed product under impossible deadlines, with too much of the budget spent on copious visual effects. This Marvel-free Marvel film wants to be included, but simply wasn’t invited.
I’d go into the blu-ray extras at this stage, however Sony Home Video for Canada didn’t make a review copy available. Sorry, folks. This review is based on a screening of the theatrical release.
Does the film look good? Sure. Does the narrative do justice to the ambiguous nature of the character, who could have a change of heart one moment, then itemize your tasty organs the next? Also yes.
As its own entity (no pun intended), Venom works well enough to excite audiences with the right amount of violence, stunts and still have a minimum of gore.
All the same, you can’t help but feel like Sony is trying to shove a square peg in a round hole, especially when we get to witness the de rigueur Stan Lee cameo, a staple of Marvel films.
Sony, you’re playing Monopoly and own nothing but Boardwalk and Park Place, hoping you can still take over the board. Give it up. This is one symbiotic merger that is doomed for failure.