Sony, stick to making TVs
In the wake of the Marvel juggernaut, Sony, who long ago acquired the rights to Spider-Man and associated characters, and whose retention of said rights was based on using them or losing them, i.e. making movies in perpetuity whether audiences wanted them or not, had to file for creative bankruptcy. They didn’t use that exact form of words you understand, but doing a deal with Marvel Studios that effectively leant Spidey back to his parents, so a successful studio could do the hard work while Sony took a cut, was an acknowledgement that the comic book empire has a command over its material that its licensees lack. Sony, who once planned a new Spider-man universe featuring Andrew Garfield (56), might have renounced their rights completely, content they’d exploited the IP to death and had no new ideas, but instead we have Venom – the first in a series of Spider-Man spin-off movies, er, without Spider-Man.
Venom, as Marvel Heads will know, is a malicious and deadly alien parasite that merges with a human host and in doing so acquires some of their characteristics. In the comics, Venom first merged with Spider-Man, hence the morphing menace’s near identical appearance, albeit with an evil sheen. In Venom the movie, the symbiote retains the look without ever meeting the man. Instead, he merges with Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, a curiously tenacious investigative journalist. Why curiously? Because, as rendered by a mumbling and bewildered looking Hardy, he’s hapless in all other respects.
Naturally, there’s comic potential in an empowering alien occupying a disempowered man (Brock’s ethical approach to journalism costs him his job and fiancé in just a few placeholder scenes) but this isn’t a flick with the wit or comic imagination to exploit it. Venom’s a chaotic, unfocused, assembly edit of a movie, that appears to have had all the vitality and humanity parasitically sucked out of it – we suspect in the editing suite. From the hot mess that emerges, Hardy looks a man desperately trying to hang on to some semblance of where he is in the story, what he’s supposed to be doing, and why he’s associating with the cold hearted bitch who dumped him (a largely ornamental Michelle Williams). A drained audience isn’t far behind.
Thus Sony have once again bestowed upon us a movie that shows great and conspicuous artistic ineptitude; a film that takes the superhero genre back two decades to a time when botched comic book adaptations, like 1997’s Spawn – joyless b-movies, stank up the place; the proverbial dead rat stapled to the curtain. Marvel make the production of fun and forgettable superhero movies look so effortless, that we’d almost forgotten that the good ones, namely those that told a coherent story, featured enticing characters, were well-edited, and built anticipation for further entries, were once the exception not the rule. Marvel will thank Sony for reminding audiences why they enjoy a strangle hold on that particular market.
A far more interesting sequel is teased in a mid-credits sequence, but this irritates rather than seduces. Why, we wonder, didn’t Sony just skip straight to the hook rather than making us sit through this moribund origin story? Like the recent Predator sequel, we’re left baffled by filmmakers deferring their best ideas. Don’t they know that if no one likes the first film there won’t be another? Sony, you can have that advice for free. For specifics my fee is $20m.