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A (Partial) Symbiosis Of Awesome: My “Venom” Review

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Certain movies are subject to unique standards. Nowhere is this more apparent than with superhero movies. A sci-fi movie can be flexible with its use of sci-fi elements. The same can be said for generic genres like romantic comedies, horror, action, and even stoner movies. A superhero movie, whether fairly or unfairly, will be judged by much stricter criteria.

This is the problem “Venom” faced before it even started shooting. Most fans, especially those who follow Marvel Comics, were probably intrigued by the possibility of a movie about Venom. Casting Tom Hardy in the lead role definitely help. No offense to Topher Grace, but he’s far more qualified to play Eddie Brock than he’ll ever be.

Even so, “Venom” had a lot of logistical problems from the beginning. It wasn’t going to feature Spider-Man. It wasn’t going to take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It wasn’t even going to get input from Kevin Feige and everyone else at Marvel Studios, who have made creating billion-dollar movies seem inane. By some standards, that’s a serious handicap.

Most Marvel fans, and I consider myself one of them, aren’t too keen on the idea of a Venom movie that doesn’t involve Spider-Man or have any connection to the MCU. Even if you have a passing familiarity with Venom in the comics, you probably know that a lot of his story is connected with Spider-Man. Telling a Venom movie without Spider-Man is like telling a Joker movie without Batman.

Actually, that may be a bad example. Forget I said that.

Logistical issues aside, I was still intrigued enough to give “Venom” a try. Like many other Marvel fans, I was not pleased with how his story was handled in “Spider-Man 3.” The only good that came out of that was a slew of dancing Toby Maguire memes. I felt Venom deserved better.

Well, without getting too deep into spoiler territory, I can affirm that “Venom” definitely succeeded where “Spider-Man 3” failed. It’s not just a good movie about Venom. It’s a good movie, overall. It had a lot of things working against it, but it still worked.

I know that the movie didn’t exactly thrill critics, nor did it blow the minds of hardcore fans who saw it. At the same time, it wasn’t messy or cumbersome like the theatrical cut of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Yes, this movie probably would’ve benefited by taking the “Deadpool” approach and gone for an R-rating. However, it still succeeds in many ways.

At its core, “Venom” works because it’s less about alien symbiotes infecting random people and more about Eddie Brock. This is his story and Tom Hardy does an excellent job capturing his persona. You don’t have to read a single comic to understand that Eddie Brock is not Peter Parker. He’s not exactly a hero, but he’s not a blood-thirsty villain, either.

Although that’s not necessarily obvious.

Eddie Brock is one of those guys who’s a loser and not just because he ends up bonding with a parasitic alien. One of the best things this movie did was show that Eddie’s life falls apart because of a decision that he makes. He’s not a victim of bad luck. In the beginning, his life is actually really good. However, he makes a fateful choice that completely changes that.

At the same time, the movie establishes that Eddie is not the kind of guy who jumps at the chance to be a hero. He has a few opportunities before he bonds with the Venom symbiote. He doesn’t take it and unlike Peter Parker, it’s not purely out of responsibility. He’s just not the kind of guy who embodies the selfless spirit of Superman or Captain America.

Then, when he encounters the symbiote, these personality flaws intensify. At first, he’s just overwhelmed. He reacts in a way most people would. His first instinct isn’t to help people or be a hero. He’s actually petty and self-serving for the most part. As the story unfolds, he and the symbiote literally and figuratively feed off one another. They both grow and evolve, as characters.

That process involves plenty of action, some of which is pretty visceral. If you’re looking for the kind of cartoonish beat-downs we got in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” you’re going to be disappointed. The action here is quite violent. It’s not on the same gratuitous level as “Deadpool,” but it’s close and it even holds back at times.

Given Venom’s brutal nature in the comics, this can be a bit of a problem. In watching this movie, you get the sense that the effects team worked overtime to keep the violence just below PG-13 levels. At times, it feels forced and that impacts the story to some extent.

This moment could’ve been MUCH bloodier.

That’s not the only issue, nor is it the biggest. While I believe the story works, I also can’t deny that it’s missing some key components. Those not familiar Spider-Man’s history surrounding Venom probably won’t notice, but it’s hard for me to be a Marvel fan and overlook some of these flaws.

The story of how Venom and Eddie Brock come together is solid, concise, and compelling, as it’s presented in this movie. However, it still feels like it’s missing a lot of emotional depth without Spider-Man. A big reason why Venom, and Eddie by extension, becomes so menacing is because of Spider-Man’s role in his story. Removing him from that story is glaring, to say the least.

To fill in those gaps, the movie creates a new source of conflict through the Life Foundation, which acts as the primary antagonist through its unscrupulous Mark Zuckerberg wannabe, Carlton Drake. That’s not to say Drake isn’t a decent villain, but he’s not even in the same hemisphere as Erik Killmonger or Thanos.

Pictured here is NOT Thanos.

Even by non-superhero standards, these villains are pretty bland. It’s basically Venom versus and evil corporation who ends up serving an alien agenda. There’s nothing memorable or iconic about them, but that’s okay in the context of this movie because they still fulfill their primary purpose. They create the necessary moments that move Eddie’s story forward.

On top of that, the lack of connections with the MCU make this movie feel small by comparison, especially in a year when “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” broke box office records. “Venom” has everything it needs to connect with the MCU. There’s nothing in the story that precludes it from having a role, but Sony has gone on record as saying that this movie is completely detached from that world.

The shared reaction of many Marvel fans.

As much as I’d love to see Tom Hardy and Tom Holland battle in a future movie, the lack of MCU connections still don’t take away from everything this movie does well. Overall, “Venom” is good movie that had a lot of factors working against it. This movie faced an uphill battle from the beginning, but still managed to achieve a lot. If I had to score it, I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

I’ve heard some claim that this movie belongs in the early 2000s and just doesn’t work within the current market of superhero movies. I say that’s bullshit. Good movies work, regardless of the year or era they come out. “Venom” is a good movie, but it’s also one that could’ve been much greater.

Coming out of the theater, I was satisfied, but felt as though there was a lot of potential left on the cutting room floor. It’s hard to know whether this movie would function better with an R-rating or as part of the MCU, but it manages to do plenty within its many constraints. Tom Hardy was handicapped in bringing Eddie Brock and Venom to life, but he still pulled it off.

Again, with all apologies to Topher Grace, Tom Hardy is now the definitive face of Venom and this movie sets him up for a promising future.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Movie Reviews, superhero comics, superhero movies

The Mixed (And Misguided) Messages Of All-Female Movie Remakes

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There are some topics that I really want to comment on, but the rhetoric surrounding it are so hostile and so controversial that I feel like any comment I make will put way too big a target on my back. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who has talked about issues like abortionreligious extremism, and Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins.

In general, if I want to contribute to the conversation, I try to wait until the heat dies down and the Twitter bans subside. Sometimes, that takes a long time, so much so that I’m tempted to just drop the issue altogether. For this one, though, I think there’s no use waiting because it’s a trend now and the controversies associated with it are here to stay.

It seems so long ago now, but when I first heard that there would be a new “Ghostbusters” movie with an all-female cast, I was genuinely intrigued. I was not among those who thought this was the worst idea ever and that this was somehow ruining my childhood, as some upset fans had claimed.

Maybe it’s because I’m not as big a Ghostbusters fan as I am an X-men fan, but I didn’t mind the novel/gimmicky approach that director Paul Feig attempted. The long-rumored Ghostbusters 3 wasn’t happening. The original cast couldn’t get it off the ground and Bill “Peter Venkman” Murray had made clear that he had no interest in reprising his role. Why not try something different to reinvigorate the franchise?

It could’ve been a bold new approach to Ghostbusters. A fresh take, a new cast, and an infusion of female-centered star power could’ve really kick-started a whole new trend, one that both elevated long-dormant franchises and expanded the role of female characters, a trend that had already begun.

Then, the trailer came out and those possibilities became much more remote. While I, personally, didn’t despise it, I was considerably less intrigued. The fact that the trailer went onto become the most disliked trailer in the history of YouTube speaks volumes for how poorly this otherwise-novel concept came off.

I had originally intended to see the movie when it came out. Then, as new clips came out and I got a sense of how the story would unfold, I decided not to. When it finally came out on cable, I tried watching it. I ended up changing the channel. It’s not that I hated the movie. It just had none of the appeal I’d hoped.

I know that’s somewhat petty considering the many controversies the movie generated, complete with sexism, racism, and everything else that sets the internet ablaze these days. As soon as professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos got involved, I saw that as a sign that this was one of those controversies that would transcend movies for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t know if enough time has passed for the animosity to settle, but in reflecting on the controversies of “Ghostbusters,” I feel the time is right to confront it. Regardless of whether it succeeded or failed, it effectively kick-started the idea of all-female remakes. That’s an idea that I think still has merit, but the approach and overall message of “Ghostbusters” make clear that the Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

In a sense, the problem with “Ghostbusters” is similar to the ongoing problems with strong female characters in general. From the parts I saw, the approach to that movie was shallow and crass in that it painted nearly every male supporting character a bumbling idiot in need of female guidance. This was especially true of Kevin, the dim-witted secretary played by Chris Hemsworth.

I get that some of that approach was an effort to inject the kind of humor that made the original Ghostbusters so funny and memorable, but it really fell flat, almost to an insulting degree. It reinforced the notion men somehow need to be denigrated or taken down a peg for female characters to be strong.

While it didn’t offend me, personally, it certainly undermined the story. A world full of idiot men isn’t that bad. That’s a huge part of the appeal for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” However, that kind of appeal doesn’t fit with that of Ghostbusters.

Beyond just making all the men seem like idiots, the way in which the all-female cast brought little nuance to their roles. They were just four women pasted into four roles previously played by men. That’s it. They brought nothing new to the table. I say that as someone who really likes Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, but I know they’re capable of far more than they gave in this movie.

If the intent was to show that women could work these roles just as well as men, then that’s the wrong goal, especially for a franchise as beloved as Ghostbusters. That effort denigrates both men and women because it doesn’t send the message that they’re equals. It sends the message that they’re interchangeable, disposable, and not the least bit unique.

The original cast of Ghostbusters had unique, quirky personalities that were memorable and iconic. The all-female cast had some of that, especially Leslie Jones’ character, but not nearly enough. Too much of it was built around the persona these actresses had already established in other roles. They really didn’t do anything to set themselves apart other than fill a role once held by a man.

That can’t be the only thing an all-female cast brings to the table. Just being women cannot and should not be enough to carry a story or revitalize a franchise. It’s true that men and women have various character archetypes, some of which are more distinct than others, but there has to be room for innovation.

Great female characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rey from “Star Wars,” or Sarah Conner from “The Terminator,” do a lot more than just do things men usually do while being women. They’re allowed to exercise their feminine traits every now and then. The all-female cast of Ghostbusters never got that chance. They tried too hard to be like the originals and it just didn’t work.

I won’t say that “Ghostbusters” utterly ruined the concept of remaking movies with an all-female casts. The movie wasn’t that bad. It just didn’t do nearly enough to make it really good. It didn’t kill a genre like “Batman and Robin” almost did with superhero movies. It does count as a setback, though.

It’s one I hope Hollywood learns from because, at the moment, there are similar movies in development. The latest, which I admit I’m also intrigued by, is “Ocean’s 8.” Unlike “Ghostbusters,” it’s not a complete remake and it doesn’t try to replace the entire cast of “Ocean’s Eleven.” It’s following a similar narrative, but using an all-female cast to tell the story.

While this franchise isn’t as iconic as “Ghostbusters,” it’s still bound to cause plenty of controversy and heated debates on sexism. However, based on the trailer, I’m intrigued once more. I know that burned me last time, but I’m still willing to give it a chance.

I still believe that all-female casts, even for non-remakes of major movie franchises, have great potential. Women do make up half the population, last I checked. They have plenty of stories to tell. If “Ocean’s 8” can succeed where “Ghostbusters” failed, then that can revitalize the concept. As Hollywood has shown before, it only needs to work once to start a trend.

I believe the concept will succeed once these movies stop trying to troll certain audiences and focus on building new perspectives within a story. The perspective of women is supposed to complement that of men, not subvert it. If a movie can succeed in that, then it can truly appeal to everyone.

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Filed under gender issues, Movie Reviews, sex in media, sexuality