Venom

 

            We begin with a space vehicle re-entry gone bad.  It's carrying a precious cargo of alien life-forms, but somewhere in the fiery crash one of the pods went missing.  The other three were recovered, even in Malaysia, by a privately-funded search-and-rescue team.  Yes, the days of business enterprises running the space program have already arrived.

            Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the head of the giant research corporation, tells whoever will listen that our planet is on the brink of collapse, that we're a generation away from extinction, and therefore a new race of beings is necessary.  Mr. Drake plans to combine the alien matter, which he calls symbiote, with a human, at first using volunteers, but so far the experiments have proved unsuccessful.  Until, that is, the unauthorized break-in of an investigative television journalist, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy).  And now, it seems, the black, gooey, but intelligent life-form has found a compatible host. 

            Eddie Brock needs for something to go right in his life right now.  He's gone a step too far in his aggressive reporting, where he viewed confidential legal files on his girlfriend's computer to serve as his “anonymous source” for an exposee of Carlton Drake.  This not only gets Brock fired, but also his former fiancee, Anne (Michelle Williams).  Yes, she breaks up with him over the breach of trust.  So now Eddie Brock is living in a beaten-down walk-up near 42nd Street, enduring the eardrum-splitting, teeth-grinding music from across the hall.  And now that he's unemployed, he takes more time to talk to the other invisbles in his path, like the homeless woman who sells the free community newspaper, or the clerk behind the counter of a struggling convenience store.  We like the guy because he's human.  He makes mistakes by being impulsive, and acting without thinking things through, but his heart's in the right place.  Even if he does try to cut a few corners occasionally.  Oh, and he's still in love with Anne, even though she has adamantly “moved on with her life.”

            Enter the symbiote into Eddie Brock, almost like a demon possession.  Or a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or maybe even Bruce Banner and The Incredible Hulk.  Within Eddie Brock is this monstrously strong alien being, who also talk to him inside his head (in a deep, booming, authoritative voice, of course).  The symbiote makes Eddie Brock ravenously hungry, making Eddie Brock jump into an aquarium filled with live lobsters and proceed to eat them all raw.  Like you would expect of co-habitating alter egos, they are often are at odds over what to do next, but somehow in all the push-pull of those exchanges, there's actually a kind of bonding taking place.  And when that happens, together, they become “Venom.” 

            Director Ruben Fleischer obviously enjoys using the CGI for the “superpowers” that Venom possesses, including during the chase scenes.  And it's a nice twist that Venom actually wants to stop the inhabitants of the other three modules from returning to space, because he knows of their invasion plans, and Venom has developed some affection for the world as it is.  So have some of the rest of us.

            Sure, it's comic-book stuff, but at least with a sense of humor, and a bit of vulnerable humanity for the viewers to identify with, not to mention rooting for a greedy corporate know-it-all to get his comeuppance.  And we've already set ourselves up with a sequel featuring Eddic Brock as a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, searching for truth, justice, and the American Way.  What could go wrong?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association