Like a turd in the wind

Images courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing.

4/10 After months of extreme public ridicule, Venom has finally arrived, and make no mistake, it is bad. Oh boy, it is so bad. But despite how much fun’s been had at its expense since the first teaser was released last February, it’s far from the worst movie of the year. It actually stands alarmingly head-and-shoulders above some other movies out right now.

After violating his fiance’s trust and his newspaper’s legitimacy, journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) loses everything. He’s rightly fired, and his fiancé Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) rightly leaves him. Six months later after nothing interesting happens I guess, Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) gives him an inside scoop on the company he was investigating, the Life Foundation. Skirth confirms Brock’s assertion that CEO Elon Musk Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is recruiting vulnerable San Franciscans for experimentation, specifically with a dangerous parasitic alien life form. Brock investigates and is taken by one of the symbiotes, which he discovers is conscious and goes by Cummyeyes McGoo Venom (also Hardy).

Venom looks awful. I mean awful. His eyes look like pools of fresh semen, and you absolutely can’t unsee it. His body is too artificial to even look like a gimp suit – the outside looks less like a reflective surface and more like lights have been haphazardly distributed across his body in post-production, which is of course what’s happened.

The more the character moves, the worse it gets. Much of his action is captured with wild bursts of CGI-enabled camera movement. Soon, Drake is himself taken by another symbiote, Cummyeyes McGee Riot, and then there’s two of them running around. The final fight is a completely incomprehensible mess of slime monsters, one black and one dark grey, smashing into each other.

Venom looks so awful in his own movie that it’s actually worth asking whether or not Spider-Man 3 did it better. The famously awful 2007 movie featured a slender Venom who mostly lacked his iconic tongue and whose face wouldn’t stop receding, but he was richly textured and grounded in that series’ Spiderman.

On second thought, he did look pretty silly in 2007.

That’s of course the other major argument against this second film version of the character – Peter Parker is nowhere to be found. We don’t even know if Spiderman exists in this continuity, as Sony executives can’t seem to decide whether or not Venom is set in the MCU. The movie has been carefully scrubbed of all references to the cinematic universe, which should have been quite difficult if it were ever intended to be a part of it at all, given how much space exploration and large corporations would be informed by previous installments.

Venom is certainly popular enough as a character to carry his own movie, but his backstory is inexorably linked to Spiderman. For all its many, many flaws – and its merits, which deserve to be examinedSpider-man 3 was an extremely faithful recreation of the Venom story. By eschewing that, Sony isn’t only denying itself one of the best Spiderman stories ever told, it’s also completely divorcing Venom from his comic book counterpart. It’s like asking fans to watch a show about Gotham City without Batman.

Oh wait, that’s actually a thing. Sorry, it’s such a dumb concept I sometimes forget it exists. Similarly, Venom’s reworked origin story hasn’t deterred fans – its $80.3 million opening weekend shatters the previous October record, an admittedly mild $55.7 million posted by Gravity in 2013.

Hardy’s Eddie Brock is also much stranger than Grace’s. He shambles around like he’s only about 50 percent there, mumbling out lines in what he refers to as an “aw, shucks” American accent, seeming somewhat off-putting at best and at worst like he’s got a serious cocaine problem. The somewhat terrorized performance makes sense if it had started after he’s been infected with the Venom symbiote, but he starts out the movie like that and barely changes once Venom enters the picture. It’s one of Hardy’s stranger choices in a career marked by outlandish ones that have mostly worked out well.

As a reporter, it’s always fascinating to see journalism portrayed in film – the general public’s eroded understanding of what goes into it, especially recently, makes mass media portrayals a potentially wild funhouse mirror for the profession. In Venom, Brock breaks into his defense attorney fiance’s email account for dirt on Drake, who is one of her firm’s clients, then immediately ambushes Drake with confidential information he gleaned. This pointless violation of his lover’s privacy gets them both fired – Drake obviously knows immediately where Brock got his information, leading to Weying getting canned, but because his information is stolen and apparently not backed up by anything public, Brock can’t defend himself to his own editor.

It’s hard to understate how stupid a move this is for Brock. There’s absolutely no other way that encounter would have gone. The stolen information could have been used in a myriad of different ways to develop a legitimate story – your list of litigants is right there, but copy the details down, ask some on-record questions and recreate the information above-board.

But the funniest thing to me is none of the information Brock confronts Drake with is in any way confidential – he just lists a few people who are suing the Life Foundation. Lawsuits are public. You can find a name-searchable directory of every lawsuit filed in Marin County online. Seriously, it’s right here. As long as the lawsuits were filed within the county, Brock would have had no trouble finding everything he had on his own.

This key image from the climactic battle looks like a Renaissance painting, and not in a good way. Seriously, set up a timer and see how long it takes to make sense of this image, even when it’s completely still.

Also deserving of mention is Drake and his baffling, completely awkward God complex. The trailers featured him screaming, “human beings are disposable!” This line is cut in the final version, but replaced in the same scene by one of the worst-written megalomaniacal monologues ever put to film, a wild, Alex Jones-esque screed about Abraham and Isaac and how Isaac is the real hero of that story. His speech is so much more nonsensical than it is sinister that it elicited long belly laughs, not just from bitter old me, but from poor souls who were actually there to enjoy a movie. It’s almost worth the price of admission on its own just to witness how truly scatterbrained this one monologue is.

While Venom’s version of Brock is a consistent sore spot, its saving grace is Venom himself. From his first introductions, where he’s just screaming “food!” and “hungry!” into Brock’s head, the casual cannibal is absolutely incorrigible, and his glee is contagious.

This is another movie where it’s public knowledge that a lot was carved out, to the point that what was originally supposed to be an R-rated monster movie has hit theaters as an extremely soft PG-13, but Venom doesn’t feel butchered as much as it feels streamlined. I could definitely use more scenes developing the relationship between Venom and Brock, but what we end up with is a fast-paced flick that lends itself to popcorn munching and getting swept up in the lead character’s joy.

And who really cares about its other flaws, anyway? That’s a genuine question. At least four of the past five no. 1 movies are all much worse. Venom a functional and coherent plot, which is more than you could say for The Predator, The Nun or Crazy Rich Asians. It has supporting characters who interact with each other and the plot in meaningful ways, which is a clear win over The House with a Clock in its Walls. And I haven’t seen Night School, but between laughs both shot for and unintentional, I’d wager Venom is funnier.

The MCU’s success proves audiences are willing to overlook many of Venom’s specific flaws for exactly the infectious silliness that it does provide. Sure, the main character looks like a humanoid puddle of sludge and cum, but Thanos looked like a giant ballsack and nobody batted an eye. Yeah, the action scenes are completely unwatchable, but so are the ones in Black Panther.

It comes back to the question I ask myself every time I walk out of a Marvel movie: “Was that really any better than Ant-Man?” With Venom, I instead have to ask myself, “Was that really any worse than Ant-Man?”

The answer is yes. Yes, it’s clearly worse than Ant-Man. But at the same time, anyone who actually enjoyed Ant-Man would probably still enjoy Venom.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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