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‘Venom’ is a Mess of a Disappointment

I don’t know what else I expected from a studio like Sony…

“Venom” is the second film to feature the titular antihero (following 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”), and follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he is exposed to the alien symbiote and gains superpowers. Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze and Reid Scott also star as Ruben Fleischer directs.

A Venom film had been in the talks for years, both before and after his appearance in “Spider-Man 3,” and this rendition was finally confirmed in March 2017 as part of Sony’s new “Marvel Universe” (different than Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that is an entire different can of worms). It was promised to be rated R, sticking to the dark and violent nature of the character, but just a few weeks before its release Sony announced that it would be rated PG-13 in order to possibly accompany a cross-over with Spider-Man in future films (something Marvel and Disney have strongly implied they won’t allow). Combine this with the fact star Tom Hardy went on record (before backtracking) that his favorite 40 minutes of the film were cut and there were alarms going off all over the place. And where there is smoke there is fire, and it turns out to be of the dumpster variety.

I am a fan of Venom. I never read many of his comics but growing up I always liked it when he showed up in a Spider-Man show, and didn’t hate Topher Grace’s portrayal of Eddie Brock in “Spider-Man 3.” So when it was announced Hardy, fresh off an Oscar nomination for “The Revenant,” would play the character I got excited. And Hardy is (mostly) the only thing in the film that actually works.

His dynamic with the Venom character is often fun, as it is a voice in his head that only he can hear. Much like this summer’s “Upgrade” (one of the year’s better films, please seek it out!), Eddie is hesitant to hurt people so when Venom takes control of his body and begins to use humans as a baseball bat on others he is confused and outwardly apologizes to his victims. There are some laughs and some creative fight sequences, although you can tell some of the Venom kills (namely when he goes to bite off a character’s head) were cut and clipped to get that bloodless PG-13 rating. And the fact Sony made this PG-13 (especially after saying it would be R) is almost infuriating since it was done simply with the dollar sign in mind, yet we’ve seen the R-rated “Deadpool” films each make over $700 million.

Every other actor here is either wasted and/or trying their best, but the script is so clunky and reliant on exposition that they feel like cardboard cutouts. The evil head of a sketchy corporation? Check. The ex-girlfriend who comes back into the frame when her new boyfriend tries to help our main character? You know it. The member of the bad guy’s staff who has a sudden change of heart? Oh you know she’s in here. But none of the dialogue is engaging and the narrative just jumps from plot point to plot point with little flow (Venom doesn’t even appear for the first hour of this hour-42 minute film).

The special effects are mostly not all that special, with some of them actually looking straight-up like a PlayStation 3 cutscene. This was made on a “modest” $100 million budget (the average superhero film costs between $150-200 million nowadays) but this film really does look and play like it should have come out in 2007, before “The Dark Knight” and Marvel changed the superhero game.

“Venom” has occasional moments of intrigue or amusement, and Hardy and Venom’s dynamic and interactions are just good enough to make me want to see more of these “Marvel Universe” if they can get a script (and tone) that fits the character. But much like Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy” last year, a film that was supposed to kick off the “Dark Universe” for Universal, “Venom” just feels uninspired, bland and all-too-often is ugly to look at. The tagline for this film is “the world has enough superheroes” and after seeing this I think we have enough antiheros, too.

Critic’s Grade: C–


‘I Feel Pretty’ has Its Heart in the Right Place

It’s ironic that this film’s message is all about not judging a book by its cover and many people (myself included) wrote it off before seeing it simply because of its trailer…

“I Feel Pretty” is the third film to star Amy Schumer, and follows her journey as an insecure everyday woman who gets bumped in the head and suddenly believes she is the most beautiful and confident person on the planet. Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Rory Scovel, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps and Tom Hopper as Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein write and make their directorial debuts.

I really wasn’t looking forward to this film. I used to be a big fan of Amy Schumer and her standup, as well as her early days on the Comedy Central Roasts, but recently her bits have gotten lazy and repetitive (not to mention possibly stolen). The trailer to this film looked absolutely dreadful and nonsensical, leading my friend (who never judges a film before he sees it or off a commercial) to constantly comment how dumb it looked and for certain groups on Twitter to label the film as “fat shaming.” But much like all the shallow people in the film, I have to eat my words and say I judged this too soon because while it has its share of flaws, “I Feel Pretty” has some decent heart and chuckles, too.

I enjoyed Schumer’s performances in “Trainwreck” (for which she also wrote the script) and last year’s “Snatched,” although she isn’t really given much true acting to do, meaning she basically just plays a caricature of her on-stage persona. Here she has some actual emotional scenes and I think she sticks the landing, even if some of the sequences where she appears super confident come across as a little goofy.

The cast as a whole is well put together and all play their typical roles (Emily Ratajkowski is the hot friend, Aidy Bryant is the nice, “looks don’t matter, let me knit you a sweater” friend, etc). The true standout, however, is Michelle Williams as Schumer’s boss, the high-pitched voice CEO of a large cosmetics company. A four-time Oscar nominee, Williams won a Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical Golden Globe for technically (as Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon have joked) being a comedian in “My Week with Marilyn” but she really has never starred in an actual comedy before. A lot like LeBron James in “Trainwreck” Williams steals every scene she is in simply because it is such a delight watching a traditional serious person be able to let loose and enjoy a role.

The film has a good message at its center about how it is important for women of all ages, shapes, colors and sizes to love themselves and treat one another with respect and for that it deserves commendation. It could be argued that they only skim the surface of the “problem” and don’t really get into the stem of the issue but this is an Amy Schumer comedy, not a middle school PSA.

The film flows nicely in the first two acts but then slows down in the beginning of the third, when we have to get the inevitable character arguments and eventual efforts to win everyone back. I really wish this was either trimmed down or edited better because it did affect my overall thoughts on the film.

“I Feel Pretty” isn’t Schumer’s funniest effort, nor is it directors/writers Kohn and Silverstein (check out their 2016 film “How to Be Single,” now that’s a breezy comedy). However despite its lack of laugh-out-loud moments I still was digging the energy and message that is was putting out for a majority of the runtime, and that isn’t nothing.

Critic’s Grade: B