Un­con­vinc­ingly ven­omous

New Straits Times - - ENTERTAINMENT -

DI­RECTED BY Ruben Fleis­cher STAR­RING Tom Hardy, Michelle Wil­liams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott DU­RA­TION 113 min­utes RAT­ING P13

MORE than any­thing, Malaysian movie­go­ers would prob­a­bly be de­lighted to see East Malaysia “fea­tured” in the open­ing scene of Venom. The story be­gins with a rocket on its way back to Earth crash­ing into a thick jun­gle said to be some­where near Sibu, Sarawak. This en­ables one of the alien sym­biotes be­ing trans­ported in the rocket, which be­longs to the Life Foun­da­tion, to es­cape. The search and res­cue team then ar­rives at the crash site and heard con­vers­ing in Malay. Next, the film moves on to a Malaysian vil­lage where vi­o­lence soon rears its ugly head as the sym­biote moves from one hu­man host to an­other.

In­ter­est­ingly though, the film­mak­ers have re­vealed that these lo­ca­tions were not even filmed in Malaysia. The vil­lage was ac­tu­ally a set con­structed in the mid­dle of Ge­or­gia in the US!

While the “Malaysian” el­e­ment does not linger for long, it does pro­vide the back­drop in which the au­di­ence is in­tro­duced to what a sym­biote is gen­er­ally ca­pa­ble of.

The film’s main spot­light rests on in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Ed­die Brock (played by Tom Hardy), whose life turns up­side down when he bun­gles up an in­ter­view with Life Foun­da­tion head, Carl­ton Drake (Riz Ahmed).

Brock then gets the scoop of a life­time when he gets into the Life Foun­da­tion fa­cil­ity where Drake is us­ing hu­mans as guinea pigs in ex­per­i­ments in­volv­ing sym­biotes. But this is when the sym­biote Venom man­ages to fuse with Brock and all hell breaks loose.

As a comic book char­ac­ter, Venom’s first full ap­pear­ance in The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man is­sue #300 hap­pened about 30 years ago. Ini­tially, Venom was por­trayed as a ter­ri­fy­ing an­tag­o­nist but as fans fell in love with him, the freaky anti-hero with white eyes, ra­zor-sharp fangs and an in­cred­i­bly long mus­cu­lar tongue was given his own epony­mous comic book se­ries.

At the cen­tre of the Venom movie is not one but two anti-he­roes in one body: The ego-driven Brock who is ob­sessed with ex­pos­ing the pow­er­ful and cor­rupt; and Venom, the alien sym­biote with chill­ing su­per­pow­ers.

The char­ac­ter has its own fan base be­cause of its in­ter­est­ing traits and per­son­al­ity as a multi-faceted and quirky be­ing who goes against the flow. Un­for­tu­nately, Venom’s badass charisma in the comic book has not been trans­planted well onto the sil­ver screen.

No doubt the CGI char­ac­ter’s per­son­i­fi­ca­tion with ten­drils, webs, sheets, and ten­ta­cles shoot­ing out of its body looks im­pres­sive. But there is a feel­ing of un­nec­es­sary re­straint when it comes to the de­pic­tion of the char­ac­ter Venom at this junc­ture — which leaves us to won­der if this is an in­ten­tional move by the pro­duc­ers to give more room for a Venom 2 in the off­ing? And it does not help ei­ther that the film’s first act is spent mostly on the un­rav­el­ling of Brock’s life from a re­spected in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist to a loser, sim­ply be­cause of his own un­eth­i­cal man­ner of snoop­ing on girl­friend Anne Wey­ing’s (Michelle Wil­liams) work and us­ing the clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion to his own ad­van­tage.

More than the first act, the nar­ra­tive it­self feels lost in its own blob of an in­co­her­ent mess. The script lacks depth and some scenes look rather con­trived. It takes too long for Venom to ac­tu­ally make his pres­ence felt and start ter­ror­is­ing on­screen. Even then, it is a tame ap­pear­ance, to say the least — lost are the grue­some head-chomp­ing ac­tion by those gnarly gnash­ing alien teeth that one is so fa­mil­iar with in the comic books.

To la­bel the film as for­mu­laic would be too ob­vi­ous. Even the char­ac­ters ap­pear flat and un­re­lat­able. Given that Hardy and Wil­liams are two of the most recog­nised tal­ents in Hol­ly­wood, it is down­right per­plex­ing to see no chem­istry what­so­ever be­tween Brock and Wey­ing.

And what a waste of Hardy’s act­ing chops too. The ac­tor has so much po­ten­tial to bring to life the com­plex­ity of Brock­Venom and yet he is left to ex­hibit fa­cial con­tor­tion­ist acts and sub-par per­for­mance for most of the time.

Truth be told, al­though I am not a Hardy fan, I had some hopes that Venom could be an in­ter­est­ing watch due to him tak­ing on the lead role. It could have been like how Dead­pool had worked so well, thanks to Ryan Reynolds’ zany ways. Alas, this is not the case at all.

And don’t get me started on the vil­lain. A text­book evil neme­sis, Drake is dull and un­con­vinc­ing as the vi­sion­ary ge­nius sci­en­tist hell-bent on tak­ing hu­man evo­lu­tion to the next level. Again, an­other ex­am­ple of wast­ing good tal­ent. Look­ing back at his pre­vi­ous films, you know that Riz Ahmed is ca­pa­ble of so much more.

Nonethe­less, if you are go­ing to watch this, please stay in your seat af­ter the end be­cause there are two post-credit scenes you won’t want to miss. Un­less, of course, you wish to give the film a miss al­to­gether.

No­body can stand in Venom’s way. Venom is all ra­zor-sharp fangs and an in­cred­i­bly long tongue.

Carl­ton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is Ed­die Brock’s arch­neme­sis.

Tom Hardy por­trays in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Ed­die Brock in Venom.

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