Venom

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.

★★

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Jason Bourne

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse


There is hardly an action movie today that doesn’t owe some kind of debt to the Bourne trilogy. After the slick, stylised action of Cold War cinema, Bourne pioneered a brutally intense style befitting the post-9/11 age we live in. Through narrow framing, camera shakes and sporadic editing these three films developed a style of action that feels more energetic and severe than those before it. It is a style that has since been widely adopted, emulated, misused, parodied and developed throughout the last decade. With all the time that has gone by since the trilogy ended, Jason Bourne is faced with the task of recapturing that same feeling without simply feeling like yet another imitation, something that The Bourne Legacy was unable to do. Given how Matt Damon long proclaimed that he would not reprise Bourne unless Paul Greengrass was on board and the script felt right, there was reason to be optimistic about this possibility. Sadly, the movie did not live up to the promise.

A decade after recovering from his amnesia and exposing Operation Blackbriar, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) been living in exile. He is found in Greece by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who informs him of a discovery she’s made regarding Bourne’s recruitment into Blackbriar and how his father might have been involved. Her intrusion into the CIA’s mainframe was detected by the head of the cyber ops division Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and reported to the CIA’s Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). To stop her, the CIA dispatches an operative known as the Asset (Vincent Cassel), who then proceeds to disrupt Nicky’s meeting with Bourne in Athens. From there Bourne must go on the run once again, must learn the truth of a mystery from his past, and must discover whatever secret it is the CIA is trying to cover up.

Jason Bourne is essentially more of the same and that is both a strength and a weakness. The action is technically still phenomenal. The scene where the Asset chases Bourne and Nicky through the streets of Athens while a riot takes place is a stunning sequence. The fistfights are as intense and energetic as ever. The impact however is somewhat lulled due to the widespread adoption of the trilogy’s style. This type of action is no longer unique to Bourne, therefore it doesn’t really stand out amongst all the other action-thrillers being made today. A compelling story with interesting characters would have been extremely helpful in this regard, but Jason Bourne failed to deliver on that front. Whereas the government agents in the first three movies were intently focused on finding Bourne and stopping him from exposing Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, the main antagonist of this movie concerns himself with a subplot that is wholly immaterial to Bourne’s story. This subplot, which deals with issues of privacy and surveillance, is the movie’s attempt to be socially relevant, but in execution it steals away from the central narrative and does not affect the plot in any meaningful way.

The disparity in story made it difficult to become engaged with the characters. Tommy Lee Jones dedicated so much of his screen-time to a story irrelevant to Bourne’s that the link between them was not nearly as strong as it was with Brian Cox, Joan Allen and David Strathairn. Some viewers might appreciate the movie’s attempt to tackle such a critical political and social issue, but for me the central conflict of Jason Bourne just wasn’t personal enough. Vikander, who is plays more of a role in the hunt for Bourne than Jones, does a little better here. Damon himself is sufficiently tough and intense and Bourne, who has never been a particularly complex or emotive character, but does feel a bit like he’s on autopilot at points. This wasn’t as glaring as it was with Stiles though who was practically asleep in all of her scenes. Cassel I think was the one performer who really came through as a highly trained assassin with a personal vendetta against Bourne.

Sadly Jason Bourne is fated to join the line of unnecessary and underwhelming sequels in great franchises that should have left well enough alone, along with The Godfather: Part III and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While by no means bad, it wasn’t worth the wait and did not live up to the promise. After years of waiting for the right script to come along, I wonder what it was about this offering that convinced Damon and Greengrass that this movie just had to be made. Jason Bourne is a solid enough movie in its own right but under the shadow of its franchise it isn’t up to par. If all you want from a Bourne sequel is more of Matt Damon kicking ass and taking names, then this movie is just fine. If you want a movie that brings the Bourne franchise to new heights and inspires the same level of intrigue and captivation as the original Bourne movies, you will be sorely disappointed.

★★★