A film about Eddie Brock/Venom, Spider-Man’s famous foe, has been in the works ever since his appearance in Spider-Man 3. Whilst Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios decided to share the Spider-Man rights in 2015, that has not prevented Sony from making their Venom film, this time into a stand-alone without any relation to the Spider-Man property and the results are so wildly off the mark that I am glad that Sony made it without possibly tainting the MCU’s Spider-Man.
Tom Hardy is one of the best lead actors around and he has proven that he can make the most out of any role or script, but this is easily his worst performance. His awkward voice and accent, over the top mannerisms and strange characterisation are impossible to take seriously. His performance is comparable to Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man (2006) as an example of how a lead actor can make silly material so much more ridiculous. Hardy also lacks chemistry with co-stars Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, who are average at best and look like they are just here for the money.
As for the story, it feels too long and too short all at once. The prologue rushes through character relationships and plotting, with the rest of the first half being tediously stretched out, taking forever to get to Brock’s superhero transformation. The second half is thinly plotted, action heavy and introduces a conflict so awkwardly foreshadowed and ultimately pointless that it should have been removed. To make matters worse, the film ends before it can get interesting.
To give credit to the script, there are some scenes that show potential and the main relationship between Eddie Brock and Venom is weirdly endearing, but the film barely grapples with any complex ideas and instead focuses on being brainless, with clichés and logic gaps aplenty. The film wants to be funny and scary, but it fails to balance horror and comedy properly, resulting in both being so awkward that it is almost charming. For every minor chuckle, there are about two scenes that are so unintentionally hilarious that they have probably already become internet memes.
The direction is also competent but weak, with a dull grey look and a lack of personality. Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer feels like a hired gun and whilst the action and special effects are decent, the final battle is a generic visual dud that is hard to follow. The musical score is effective, but the brief uses of a soundtrack (especially in the credits) is awful, trying too hard to be cool and edgy. Finally, the violence is far too tame and restricted, with some moments being obviously censored.
Venom is a fight between a cynical product, an average blockbuster and a hilarious train wreck that ends up being a mix of all three. Despite this, it is the kind of bad film that is worth recommending. I honestly found it entertaining to watch and so will you if you can tolerate all the problems.
A Star is Born
Whilst remakes are common, what is surprising about A Star is Born (1937) is how many times (4, to be exact) it has been given the remake treatment. The people behind this newest version are actor turned director Bradley Cooper and pop idol Lady Gaga, making her big-screen acting debut. And both manage to prove why this story is still worth telling, because A Star is Born (2018) is fantastic.
The script finds the right balance between the focus on the two lead characters and between telling a formulaic story and a real one. Despite having the standard structure of a rise and fall musical, the terrific screenplay purges all the cliched melodrama that could come with that story. The dialogue, characters and drama are genuine rather than over the top and the plotting feels so unpredictable that you barely notice any of the beats it hits. The themes of fame, companionship, addiction, regret and love enrich the story and give it so much emotional weight that I cried more than once.
The acting is wonderful from both parties. Bradley Cooper is unrecognisable and brings humanity to his troubled character. Lady Gaga sheds her pop-star image and is incredibly believable as Ally, especially when she must play up moments of anxiety and sadness. Both have terrific chemistry and are incredibly convincing as partners. Sam Elliot is also fantastic in a supporting role, showing up at the perfect moments to add pathos.
The direction is restrained and realistic, as the use of handheld gives a sense of grit and authenticity, which contrast with the smoother shots. There is a strong sense of detail in Cooper’s scenes, whether it be in the lack of a musical score, the naturalistic dialogue or some moments of foreshadowing. The direction soars during the concert sequences, which are some of the best put to film, because of the brilliant sound design and camerawork that make them feel more immersive than any other film. Finally, no scene runs too long, making the long running time easy to digest.
A Star is Born is a triumph. Cooper and Gaga make this retelling a success, with both destined for careers as a director and actress respectively, though the script is just as vital. That 8-minute applause at the Venice Film Festival is apt because this is certainly an applause worthy film.