I’d like to start this short subject symposium with what the kids call a “shout out” to Ross, Official Tomb Club Member No. 326, who took the AT&T approach with my Upgrade particle (partial-article *wink*). He reached out and touched me about my thoughts on how my new favorite revenge-movie-of-the-week compared to the similarly schizophrenic big screen debut of one of Marvel’s most iconic ’90s “bad boys”. His actual words were “I got a heavy ‘What if Robocop was more like Venom’ vibe from the trailer? Is that accurate at all?”, but we’ll get to that. Rather than spoil the surprise, I apologize to Hard R for not responding, and here’s to hoping this makes up for it. And if not? Tough shit! All Tomb Club fees are contractually non-refundable! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!
Notorious for being a high ranking honcho of Spider-Man’s sinister super-powered scumbag stock, Venom’s solo silver screen sally forth not only ignores Eric Foreman’s role a la Spider-Man 3 eleven years earlier, but also ignores the friendliest of friendly neighborhood wall crawlers all together! Yep, thanks to Sony’s abysmal effort with Amazing Spider-Man 2, they were forced to share custody of Peter Parker’s proxy persona with Disney for some of that sweet sweet Marvel money. This deal allowed Mouse House to finally inject their single most popular character into the MCU and prevents Sony from making any more live-action Spidey clusterfucks for the time being without Marvel’s approval, while Spider-Man: Homecoming gave the character his first case of positive publicity since that time Doc Ock debuted his nipples on a global stage!
Since Hombre Arana’s MIA, out titular terror’s origin abandons everything from the funny pages and instead embraces the tale tabled in the Fox Kids ‘Spider-Man’ cartoon circa Season One. The alien lifeforms (to be known as “symbiotes”) are brought from their meteor tour bus to Earth from outer space courtesy of a research vessel piloted by space jockey John Jameson, none other than Daily Bugle butthole J. Jonah Jameson’s son and the man-who-would-be-Man-Wolf! Uhm, pardon me hanging my fanboy dong out like that. I didn’t realize my cosmic zipper was down. Speaking of, let’s get back to the celestial discharge!
Jameson’s journey wasn’t your basic NASA exploratory endeavor, however, but a private pursuit of the San Francisco based Life Foundation. Founded by a fountain of charisma named Carlton Drake, the overzealous philanthropist has put his vast resources into the LF to put horseshit like cancer back up the anal canal of the equine it came from! The safe bet is that Drake’s only into it for the profits rather than the aphrodisia of humanitarianism, but even if so, at least he’s giving sufferers a chance at a better, longer life. Sure, he’s doing so at the cost of potentially hundreds of homeless human guinea pigs’ lives, but without enough toxic waste to turn them into CHUDs employed by the city to keep down the sewer rat populace, what else are you gonna do to bring down their numbers? Exactly.
While the LF begins experimenting on abductees with their new intergalactic acquisition, mild-mannered reporter and self-appointed savior of society’s “little guy”, Eddie Brock, is determined to expose Drake and his brood for the murderous motherfuckers he knows they are. A transplant from NYC after an unspecified “incident” basically resulted in his ejection from the Big Apple like a figurative trespassing worm (finding a worm in your apple is better than finding half a worm in your apple…), things are going pretty good for Mr. B in the home of the Golden Gate. He’s engaged to Single Female Lawyer, has a successful investigative journalism show with his name plastered on it, and is loved by the downtrodden for whom he fights. And all of this despite his bizarre “where the fuck did you say you’re supposed to be from?!” accent. Seriously, Tom Hardy, are you auditioning for the lead in a Woody Allen biopic? I mean, sure, it isn’t nearly as jarring as it was hearing it for the first time in the reveal trailer(s), but I lived in Brooklyn for a decade and can’t place where you’re supposed to be from.
While snooping around Life’s labs courtesy of a rebellious employee who finally found their ethics (it probably fell behind the refrigerator), Brock runs afoul of one of the symbiotes, ends up ingesting it via osmosis, and has to escape the facility with an array of newly found strength and agility that he didn’t have previously. Now bonded with one of the entities (calling itself “Venom”, because they apparently speak the Edge Lord dialect of English on their home planet…), Eddie’s in for a wacky Odd Couple adventure as the pair learn from each other, grow with each other, and bite off a few heads along the way! It’s truly the Milo and Otis of our time.
My problems with this movie are few and far between, but they’re also significant enough to taint my overall experience with a modicum of “meh”. Design wise, I’m sad to see Venom without his big white arachnid-influenced insignia. It makes sense, given the absence of Spidey from his invocation, but why not slap it on anyway and pull some Man of Steel goofiness, like, “On my planet, this means ‘spleen eater’.” Or, if you’re allergic to corn (I’m allergic to Korn, myself), have Brock comment that it looks like a spider and Venom just blows it off as “I don’t know what that is…”. Either is better than just looking at a big black mass of nothing!
My other major qualms came in the guise of the carnage (*nerd wink*), the big baddie, and our (anti)hero’s subsequent battle against it at the finish. The acts of violence are still very R rated, especially regarding the symbiotes’ penchant for human organ meat and villain Riot’s excessive out lashings of hyper slaughter. The problem is that the resultant viscera is straight G, and it doesn’t stand for “gore”. The population of San Francisco are seemingly devoid of blood (presumably because their veins are full of juiced wheat grass?), as not a drop of the dark dark crimson splatters the screen in any instance. Good for laughs, bad for immersion. Speaking of Riot, the antagonist is so poorly built up that you almost expect him to collapse in on himself with the slightest sneeze. After spending the first two acts traveling across the planet to get to San Fran in little more than the briefest of segments to remind us that he’s still out there somewhere, there’s no characterization beyond “Riot’s a really bad ass super killer death machine that Venom has ZERO chance of stopping!” and I struggle to call it two-dimensional when I can barely warrant a single dimension to begin with.
Appropriately enough, my final gripe comes from the finale. The basis for the pair’s (well, quartet’s, technically) final showdown feels way too “superhero” after the lower-key, more morbid tone of what came before it. It’s a big deal action affair that plays out in a predictable step-by-step sequence that even gets so lazy as to throw in a “We’re not so different, you and I” speech, which was hard enough not to scream at the screen for during my pair of viewings of Upgrade, let alone the very next fucking day. Uggh.
Everything else? Liked-to-loved it! Though Brock isn’t the hard-ass vindictive psycho that he was in the comics and cartoons, nor is he the jealous little sociopath whiner that he was in Sam Raimi’s rendition, this new “social justice warrior” hero version that’s willing to risk his own happiness to advance his myopic crusade offers the type of redemption and growth storyline that Marvel’s characters are better known for. The banter between Eddie and Venom is fantastic, as the fish-monster-out-of-water alien gets to know his new host and vice versa, and carries a camaraderie that was lacking in the more teacher-and-student relationship between Upgrade‘s Grey and STEM. I do have to wonder, in both cases even, what story-based reason would make sense of both heroes conversing verbally with their guests when keeping it to a mental exchange would’ve saved them the trouble of looking like maniacs around others. But, I know it’s a “because, movies” thing, so I don’t need to harp.
The CGI is mostly fine, though shows its weakness at times, mostly in moments of Venom trying to jump out of Eddie’s face to scare people. Nothing that dragged me kicking and screaming out of the moment though, so no big deal. The action sequences were great, with the motorcycle chase sequence from the trailers being my personal highlight! Venom was a much needed success for the Sony camp and even if the man-spider and the space-ink never cross paths, I’m okay with that. Not something I’d give more than a rental or two, but far from being something I regret dropping a couple of dollars on. Hopefully next time they take the cue from Fox and go for that capital ‘R’ with the sequel though, because I have an unease in my internals at the idea of a PG-13 pairing of Venom and Carnage…
And so, to answer Ross’s query, Upgrade is kinda like RoboCop possessed by Venom, minus all of the super space mucus powers… meaning it’s more kinda not. I see it more along the lines of the Crow being resurrected inside of the Matrix to hunt down the replicants that killed his wife while the literal crow spirit Miyagis him telepathically… if that makes any sense.
Three Man-Wolfs out-of-Five
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