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Once upon a time hollywood press conf.

The Joker Coming October.

Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Venom, Review: High-breed Hannibal lecture

Venom, Review: High-breed Hannibal lecture

Alien organisms are brought to earth by a mad industrialist who experiments by hosting them in human bodies, to form hybrid beings. These high-breeds feed on living humans, possess immense strength and can take over the human host at will, both in mind and body. What’s more, they can, and do, talk to the hosts in English, most of the conversations being lectures. Alien organisms inspired by Hannibal Lecter, a Hollywood cannibal who has been eating our brethren since 1991, and had his last meal in 2007? Well, if a human can do it, what is so surprising if an alien indulges in his favourite repast?

While ostensibly exploring space for new, habitable worlds, a space probe belonging to bio-engineering company Life Foundation discovers four symbiotic life-forms and brings them back to Earth. One escapes in transit, causing the ship to crash in Malaysia, but the Life Foundation recovers the other three and transports them to their research facility in San Francisco. Its CEO, Carlton Drake, becomes obsessed with bonding ‘symbiotes’ to humans, to prepare humanity for Earth's inevitable ecological collapse, and begins illegally experimenting on vagrants, resulting in numerous deaths – including one of the remaining symbiotes – and attracting the attention of investigative journalist Eddie Brock, who fixes an interview with Drake through his girlfriend Anne Weying, a lawyer affiliated with the Life Foundation. Against instructions of his superiors, who do not want to rub the billionaire the wrong way, Brock confronts Drake with confidential materials accessed on Anne’s laptop, leading to both of them being fired from their respective jobs, and the end of their relationship.

Six months later, Brock is approached by one of Drake's leading scientists, Dr. Dora Skirth, who disagrees with Drake's methods that are causing the deaths of the ‘volunteers’, and wants to help Brock expose him. With her complicity, Brock is smuggled into Drake's research facility to acquire evidence of his crimes, in the process learning that an acquaintance of his, Donna Diego, a street-dweller, has become one of Drake's subjects. Brock attempts to rescue her, but Donna attacks him, and the symbiote possessing her transfers from her body to his, killing her in the process. Brock manages to escape, but soon begins displaying strange symptoms and reaches out to Weying for help. Her new boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis, examines Brock, discovering the symbiote through an MRI scan, and learning that it is vulnerable to high-frequency noise. Meanwhile, Drake kills Skirth for her betrayal by exposing her to the remaining symbiote, leaving Brock's symbiote as the sole surviving specimen.

Basis of the story is Venom by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane. Story is credited to Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg while the screenplay is written by the trio of Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spiderman 2, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Con Air, Gone in 60 Seconds) and Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Fifty Shades of Grey). For such credentials, the outcome is disappointing. Everything is explained and that does not happen too often in a super-hero/alien film. But then there is very little that is happening. Humour is laboured and unfunny. The villain’s motivations ring hollow. The Eastern Malaysia track is pointless, as is the track of the little girl host who travels great distances to reach her destination. Dora Skirth is like the average, gullible soul, not quite the sharp-brained scientist that she is supposed to play. And howsoever anti-social an element the protection extortionist might be, that entire track is haywire, culminating in something which the writers might have found funny but most audiences, with consciences, will find nauseating.          

Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Thirty Minutes or Less, Gangster Squad) gets it wrong in so many ways. Having a villain aged 24 is a good deviation from the norm, but there is little that is venomous in the characterisation. Playing it super-cool is not enough to make a villain hit the arch-villainy bull’s-eye. The action in the entire pre-climax footage is not exactly earth-shaking, though it is admittedly hideous on several occasions. Teeth gnashing and licking by a never-ending tongue is not exactly terrorising.

Fleischer leaves too much for the climax, and then does a five minute count-down that is as old a ploy as Dr. No., almost 60 years ago. The scenes where the symbiote battles a symbiote are terribly confusing, because you can barely tell them apart, and the ambience is so dark. Also, there is very little to demand the use of the Real 3D format, which, in any case, means that glassy burden on the eyes. Naturally, those who already wear spectacles are the worst affected, yours truly included.

Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Eddie Brock/Venom is good in the action scenes, and not so comfortable in romantic and funny situations. His voice as Venom has been made to sound like a black man’s, more specifically, James Brownish. Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, The Greatest Showman, All the Money in the World) as Anne Weying is not conventionally beautiful but has more chemistry than her screen beau. Rizwan Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Jason Bourne, Night-crawler) as Carlton Drake / Riot is a good piece of casting. However, he is not half as menacing as he could have been.

He’s 35 but can pass off as the 24 year-old he is made to play. However, he cannot get as menacing as one would expect him to be. Scott Haze as Roland Treece: Drake's head of security looks the mean-machine that he is supposed to be. Reid Scott is passable as Dr. Dan Lewis: Anne's new boyfriend who tries to help Eddie. Jenny Slate as Dr. Dora Skirth has a poorly written role and fails to impress. Michelle Lee as Donna Diego does a fair job. Woody Harrelson appears in a post-credits scene as Cletus Kasady, an incarcerated serial killer whom Brock comes to interview.

The fag end of the credits have a comics caper out of the Spiderman saga. Neither ‘wait and watch’ scenes made sense and our patience was unnecessarily tested. That, however, is not the main issue—after all, these are teasers, and need not make too much sense as end-credit fillers—the main issue is the rest of the film which lacks in EQ (entertainment quotient). It gives an entirely new meaning to the term hybrid, but the breed, which does offer some terrific car chases, turns out to be anything but high-breed. Low-breed? Excuse me, what about the dog Marvel's Stan Lee walks in his walk-on cameo? That surely looked high-breed.

Rating: **



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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