Cinematic Essence: Venom

Welcome to Cinematic Essence, where I discuss the ways in which cinematic language evokes, exposes and elevates cultural ideologies. I critique both past and present films and explain how they utilize mise-en-scène elements to facilitate unique experiences.

On Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, Sony Pictures’ “Venom” splattered onto cinema screens like a fly on a windshield. The Ruben Fleischer—helmed project stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze and Reid Scott, and depicts lovable, headstrong reporter Eddie Brock fusing with a slimy alien entity (or “symbiote”) to combat a corporate villain.

I am a lifelong Spiderman fan, and Venom has always been my favorite character in Spider Man’s rogues’ gallery. Thus, I love how accurately Venom is designed in this film. Broad shoulders, razor-edged teeth, long white eyes that stretch around the skull and an extended tongue with a life of its own—it’s all there.

Unfortunately, the design is not suitably rendered. The constant, obvious CGI usage cheapens the film, and consequently makes this $100 million project look like fanfiction on YouTube. Scenes where symbiotes fight are a mass of wet, fuzzy nonsense, and each time humans and symbiotes are shown side-by-side, the distinction is painfully clear. Naturally, then, it is unsurprising that my favorite action scene is a chase sequence that barely features Venom.

Overall, the scenes without Venom are aesthetically pleasing. Although the lighting, cinematography and editing are rather conventional, they are completely serviceable and seamless. Lighting especially is used  well and is always appropriate to each scene—I especially enjoyed the horror-esque nighttime sequence in the laboratory.

The film’s sound design is hardly worth mentioning, however. The soundtrack is up to the Hollywood standard and generally fitting to any given scene but just didn’t seem to stand out, save for the one or two awkward choices that I felt broke the immersion of the film.

Perhaps the film’s greatest redeeming feature is Hardy’s relentless charismatic performance. He makes even the most absurd scenes appear believable. If you even plan to see this film, look out for the restaurant scene.

The narrative, although easy to follow, is uneven and uninspired. In the first 15 minutes, I counted about 10 cliché characters or lines—even several stock phrases that I have probably heard before word-for-word in other films. A pointless side-story burdens the film—seemingly a last-minute decision—which could have easily been replaced by a 15-second scene. Additionally, there is  too much exposition.

The villain is another profound shortcoming. Although I have no complaints about Ahmed’s performance, his character is nothing more than the generic corporate boss who seems friendly and altruistic on the surface but is really a lunatic with a God complex. The only aspect of the narrative that I find compelling is the Eddie-Venom character dynamic. Throughout most of the film, Venom is in Eddie’s mind and they often converse. This premise provides numerous charming and funny moments. Unfortunately, it also serves as an all too-convenient plot device.

In terms of tone, the film is a jumbled mess; it is uncertain about what it wants to be and never commits to a particular mood. Slapstick comedy is constantly intercut with witty comedy—then the film is serious for a bit, and suddenly, it is quasi-horror. Once, I think I counted four tonal shifts within a minute. Moreover, the humor is a mixed bag. I personally find a few of the movie’s jokes funny, but most feel out of place, tone-deaf or vapid. “Venom” tries too hard to appeal to “Deadpool” fans, while maintaining its PG-13 rating.

The film’s rating is, in fact, one of its largest drawbacks. Venom eats several people’s faces, yet the film insists on dancing around a PG-13 rating. Action sequences remain in the strange limbo of alluding to gore but shying just enough away from actually showing anything remotely unpleasant. Because of this problem, the protagonist never feels vulnerable. Each time  anything threatens Eddie, the magic fix-everything-Venom-goop swoops in and saves him. Even when we are explicitly warned that Venom is outmatched, the film continues to feel completely safe and toothless.

In my column’s description, I use the words “evoke, expose and elevate” to define cinematic form. Well, I painted myself into a corner by commencing this column with a review of “Venom” because this film exposes nothing, elevates to nowhere and evokes only flash and noise. However, I can confidently state that Venom is not quite as terrible as the critic consensus would have you believe. Sure, it’s bad—but not 31-percent-on-Rotten-Tomatoes-bad. I am an opponent to rating films with a numeric score, but if I must “score” “Venom”, this is my rating: if I was in an airplane and my only entertainment option was a copy of Venom on the seat’s built-in screen, I guess I wouldn’t suffer for the next two hours.

Oh, and stick around after the credits if you ever watch this film.

Christoforos Sassaris is as student studying at West Chester University. PS868710@wcupa.edu.

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