Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott

Director: Ruben Flesicher

Writers: Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel

It is just mindblowing that a movie as ridiculous as Venom exists today, never mind that it was this successful. In an age where superhero movies rule the box office and 90% of them share a certain samey quality (even when they’re good), Ruben Fleischer and Tom Hardy have stormed onto the scene with the force of a bloodthirsty, parasitic alien to deliver a film unlike anything else in Hollywood right now. Part derivative superhero origin story, part David Cronenberg split-personality body horror movie, part human/alien buddy slapstick comedy, and part Darren Aronofsky fever dream; Venom is a volatile clash of several disparate elements concocted by an illiterate mad scientist. Nothing about it should work, and indeed very little of it does, yet it is nonetheless an incredibly fascinating and tremendously entertaining movie. Venom is silly, baffling and almost completely incoherent and the only thing stopping it from being one of the year’s unmissable movies is its unwillingness to fully embrace its own looney tunes compulsions. The film has been edited right down to the barebones and is about 30% tamer, duller and more mediocre than the movie it clearly wants to be.

One of the most remarkable things about this movie is how totally unremarkable the first hour is. Much like Fantastic Four, Venom is one of those films that takes forever to get started. Before Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) gets anywhere near the symbiote, there’s a lot of tedious set-up and painful banality to get through. First there’s the spaceship from the Life Foundation which we see crash somewhere in Malaysia where its black, gooey cargo escapes. Then we meet hotshot reporter Eddie Brock, a San Francisco journalist tasked with interviewing Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the ingenious, trailblazing CEO of the Life Foundation. Eddie finds a scoop while snooping through the emails of his fiancé Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) which reveal that Drake is testing some lethal new drug on the city’s homeless population. Eddie confronts the smug scientist, who then proceeds to utterly destroy his life and reputation. Gone are Eddie Brock’s budding career, his beautiful fiancé and his good name. Now he’s nothing more than a loser; a washed up bum languishing in a rundown apartment. And yet there’s still a ways to go before he becomes Venom.

The particulars of how Eddie is eventually attached to Venom and gets the ball rolling (like a turd in the wind) isn’t really important and the movie would have been better had they cut half of it out. All that matters is that once Eddie and Venom become one, that’s when the magic starts to happen. Venom is a scary, slimy, many-fanged creature who fuses his consciousness with Eddie’s and starts to take control of his life. He operates Eddie’s body like an animated puppet whenever danger strikes, he compels his host to rabidly scrounge for food (preferably a chompable human head) and he speaks to Eddie both from within and outside his head in the form of a ghostly profile, oftentimes just to remind his new friend what a hopeless loser he is. Venom is essentially a warped cross between a superpowered antihero, an unwanted houseguest, a ravenous beast and an off-putting wingman. He doesn’t just protect Eddie when their accidental symbiosis places them both in danger, he also takes an interest in his life and even goes so far as to offer him dating advice. It is a strange, complicated, toxic, homoerotic relationship that they share (Venom and Eddie even kiss in one scene) and it never ceases to be fascinating or enormously entertaining. Venom could have been a supernatural rom-com completely void of fight scenes or an action-based plot and I would have watched it happily.

Tying all the madness together is Tom Hardy who delivers what can only be described as an otherworldly performance. The commitment he brings to this unbelievably unhinged performance is absolute, channelling both the intensity that Health Ledger brought to The Dark Knight and the complete lack of self-awareness that Jesse Eisenberg brought to Batman v. Superman. Whether he’s sweating profusely through night terrors, rummaging voraciously for food in the bin, screaming and flailing around on the floor or frantically climbing into a fancy restaurant’s lobster tank, Hardy brings 100% to every scenario the movie throws at him no matter how silly or random. There were moments when I actually felt concerned for his wellbeing, so convinced was I that he really did have some kind of alien parasite inflicting him all kinds of physical and mental anguish (which with Hardy is not a possibility I’m ready to discount). His is the only performance worthy of note; everybody else plays typically bland, underwritten characters who aren’t given enough material to compliment whatever kind of movie Hardy thought he was in save one scene where Michelle Williams is allowed to let loose for a little while.

Despite the movie’s enjoyability, whether inadvertent or not, there are far too many wasted opportunities holding it back from greatness. While they seem to understand that they struck some kind of comedy gold mine with Hardy’s dual performance, Venom is unprepared to commit itself to a comedic format and keeps things serious and boring for those scenes where he’s not around. Some action scenes such as a night-time motorcycle chase through San Francisco was rife for the kind of creativity and inventiveness that an indestructible shape-shifting alien could easily fulfil, but the movie never takes advantage of it. This scene instead trudges along without any sense of momentum and it is absolutely laughable how often they reuse the same locations throughout. The same goes for the climatic fight where Venom faces off against a bigger, stronger symbiote; a confused, unintelligible skirmish of dark slime shot at night where it’s just as impossible to make out what’s happening as it is to understand what Carlton Drake’s ultimate plan even is. Venom is in the wider scheme of things a mostly dull, self-serious film that would have little to no impressions had it not been for Hardy and the hilariously crazy movie he thinks he’s in. I wish everybody else had been on the same page as him.



Fifty Shades of Grey

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Writer: Kelly Marcel

What can I possibly say about Fifty Shades of Grey that hasn’t already been said? The discussion surrounding this film and the book it’s based on has been so heated and so scandalous that it has been pretty much unavoidable for the past couple of years. Much of the controversy surrounding the book is of course centred on the infamous sadomasochistic sex scenes, which are so explicitly and graphically detailed that the novel has often been described as pornography attempting to pass itself off as an erotic romance. Many readers have objected to the portrayal of BDSM and view the book as a disturbing account of sexual violence. Feminist critics have denounced the book for being misogynistic and for trying to romanticise an abusive relationship. Literary critics have also criticised the book for just being plain bad. In spite of these criticisms the books have proven to be wildly popular and successful, topping bestseller lists around the globe. It was only a matter of time until Hollywood would try to cash in on the books’ success.

I will say this for the film; it was always going to be an uphill battle for the filmmakers. Kelly Marcel and Sam Taylor-Johnson were faced with the task of taking a controversial, scandalous, often-ridiculed novel, and adapting it into a serious film. The subject matter alone is difficult to portray in a film without it coming across as awkward or silly (although Steven Shainberg and Erin Cressida Wilson proved that it could be done when they made Secretary). On top of that, this film bears the burden of being a widely released film that was directed by a woman, written by a woman, centred around a woman, starring a woman, based on a novel written by a woman, and targeted primarily at women. Such a thing is incredibly rare for the male-dominated industry that is Hollywood (Twilight is the only other recent film I can think of right now that was released under such circumstances) and so it is unusual, and perhaps even unnerving, to see a mainstream film with such a resounding female perspective. This film certainly deserves credit for that, if for nothing else. Unfortunately there really is nothing else.

Fifty Shades of Grey tells the story of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a shy, timid, young girl whose life changes when she meets the handsome, affluent, domineering Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The two become attracted to one another when the film follows the Twilight method for building chemistry by having the male love interest brood at the female. The attraction only grows as Christian doggedly pursues Ana by showing up unexpectedly at her job and giving her rare and expensive gifts. So overwhelming is their attraction to each other that Christian eventually invites Ana to share in his sexual appetites. He reveals that he has a taste for sadomasochism, in which he likes to assume the dominative role, and asks Ana to join him as his submissive partner. In exchange for her submission, he promises to be utterly devoted to her. The rest of the film is Anastasia trying to decide whether or not this is a life that she wants for herself.

This film is not as laughably bad as I was expecting it to be, but it is still bad. It’s probably unfair for me to say that I did not expect to like this film but, with all the publicity that the film has received, it was impossible for me to avoid any pre-conceived notions. However I was surprised to find that I did not dislike it for the reasons that I thought I would. Based on what others have told me about the books, I was expecting a film that would fail hilariously at being sexy through the use of corny dialogue and over-the-top sex scenes. However I did not end up finding the film’s awkwardness to be amusing. Nor was I unnerved by it. I was expecting this film to be quite uncomfortable to sit through as I anticipated graphic sex scenes like in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Instead the film’s sex scenes turned out to be (relatively) tame, opting for the eroticism rather than the shock-value. In the end what made this film so unenjoyable for me was that it was exceedingly dull. I was bored out of my mind by the one-dimensional characters, the bland dialogue and the tiresome story.

Anastasia is a very uninspired protagonist who barely exhibits a personality. Christian is the film’s attempt to create a Byronic romantic lead but whatever sort of hidden depth he might have possessed is glossed over. The film is trying to convince the audience that the two of them share a romantic bond, but there is nothing there. The film expects us to believe that Anastasia is enticed by Christian for the abusive behaviour he exhibits outside of the bedroom such as stalking her, showing up uninvited at her house, and selling her car without telling her. Meanwhile Christian is shown to be so devoted to Ana that he breaks rules that he has never broken with any other girl such as sleeping in the same bed as her and going out in public with her. Yet it is never made clear why he is so drawn towards her. He has apparently never felt as strongly for any of the fifteen women who came before as he does for her, but he never explains what it about Anastasia that he finds so special. The lack of any sort of chemistry between them means that the love story this film is trying to tell falls flat.

Having written all this I feel I should acknowledge that, as a man, I realise that I am not a member of this film’s target audience. I appreciate that a lot of the fans of the book and the film just enjoy it for the fantasy. I can sort of understand why and watching it for that reason is fair enough. That doesn’t make it a good film though.