Mission Lab

REVIEW: ‘Venom’ is moral ambiguity wrapped in a coarse, average film

October 5th, 2018 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘Venom’ is moral ambiguity wrapped in a coarse, average film

Sony Credit

Eddie Brock is a well-known and talented investigative reporter who has made a name for himself by being aggressive. There’s not a person he won’t interview, nor a question he won’t ask.

But that can get him into trouble occasionally, like when he’s told to conduct a softball interview with crooked CEO Carlton Drake, who heads a pharmaceutical company—the Life Foundation—that’s exploring outer space for cures. Brock believes the company is responsible for several unsolved deaths, and so he asks Drake about them. Drake cuts the interview short, and hours later, Brock gets fired.

Blackballed and embarrassed, Brock seems finished as a journalist until a Life Foundation scientist secretly contacts him. What she reveals is shocking even to Brock: The company has discovered alien life in the form of a symbiotic living “goo.” Drake wants to join the alien life with a human life, thus forming a new hybrid species that can live on another planet. Even worse: This freakish symbiotic goo exists in a Life Foundation laboratory—and it’s trying to escape and find a host.

The superhero movie Venom (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as Brock, Riz Ahmed (Rogue One) as Drake, and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) as Brock’s girlfriend, Anne Weying.

It is based on the Marvel character and is a spinoff from the Spider-Man franchise, which had a villain of the same name.

In Venom, Brock infiltrates Life Foundation at night but is accidentally attacked by a blob (called a “symbiote”), which enters his body. He then becomes Venom—an ugly lizard-looking creature that can hide within his skin and that has only two weaknesses: fire and high-pitched noises. Otherwise, it’s indestructible.

The movie – as you might have guessed from the poster or trailer – isn’t a typical superhero film. For starters, the character is amoral (at best) and isn’t a superhero. That part will have to wait for the sequel. (More on that below.) Secondly, the movie is more coarse than the average superhero flick, with about 50 profanities/obscenities and a ton of violent and disturbing content not seen in most “good guy” movies.

It’s not a great movie, although it is better than the trailer.    

Warning: spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Extreme. Many children would have nightmares by simply watching Venom—a fanged, long-tongued creature that can’t be defeated. He bites heads off people. (It happens quick and we don’t see it in detail, but it’s discussed afterward. Also, it happens only to the bad guys.) He tosses the bodies of policeman as if they’re toothpicks. He crushes objects. He looks for people and animals to eat. He survives gunshots. And each time he enters or exits a person, it’s ultra-disturbing to watch, bringing to memory movies about demonic possession. Speaking of that, a young girl gets infiltrated by a symbiote, too. That spooked even me. We see people killed via spears. We see dead, lifeless bodies. In one of the film’s more violent scenes, we see a dead body pierced with a sharp object.   

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. Brock and his girlfriend live together, but there are no bedroom scenes. We see couples share brief kisses. We also see Venom, in a woman’s body, kiss a man. It looks as gross as it sounds.  

Coarse Language.

Extreme. Nearly 50 coarse words: S--t (20), h--l (9), a-- (4), Misuse of “Jesus” (4), GD (3), misuse of “God” (3), OMG (2), p---y (1), d—k (1), f-word (1).

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Brock, as Venom, eats food out of the garbage and lobster out of an aquarium. He vomits in the toilet. Brock also drinks at a bar.

Life Lessons

The ethical boundaries of medical research (or lack thereof) are at the forefront of the movie’s lessons.

Drake’s goals are horrific, and his standards are, too. After his hybrid experiment works on a rabbit, he immediately jumps to human trials, despite opposition from his employees. He then recruits clueless poor individuals to become the guinea pigs. Each one dies. He even references the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac and calls the human subjects heroes for sacrificing their lives. (Although they didn’t know they were in danger.) Pointing to war and poverty in the world, he declares: “I would argue God has abandoned us.” He wants to turn all humans into hybrids and move them to outer space. “I will not abandon us,” he says.

Another lesson involves Brock, whose dishonesty – he steals a digital file – leads to him becoming Venom.      

Worldview

Typically, superheroes have a “good guy” appearance. They don’t look like Venom. And they definitely don’t act like Venom.  

During the movie, I kept asking myself, Who am I supposed to root for? The evil CEO or the creature who eats people?

But as the movie progresses—spoiler alert!—he becomes tamer, and by the end of the film, he’s learning the difference between good and evil. That’s great news, because we don’t need another Deadpool-type antihero in the superhero realm. The best superheroes remind us of things God desires: honesty and justice, for examples. Antiheroes too often reflect everything that’s bad about our world—selfishness and moral ambiguity, among them. 

The Eddie Brock/Venom tandem is a bit like the Bruce Banner/Hulk combo. Only in this instance, the out-of-control guy (Venom) can be tamed. At least, I think and hope that’s where the story’s headed.

What Works

I enjoyed the movie a bit more when Brock was investigating Life Foundation and a bit less after he became Venom. Perhaps that’s because I prefer movies with clear moral lines. The good news is that the movie’s final 10 minutes cleared things up.  

What Doesn’t

The movie’s coarseness. It’s as if the writers were trying to push the boundaries beyond the typical Marvel movie. It’s distracting and over the top. An immature fifth-grade boy could have written it.  

Discussion Questions

1. Is Venom a good guy or a bad guy? Who did you cheer for?

2. Should Brock have stolen the file? Would his life have been different?

3. What lessons can we learn about ethics in research from the film?

4. What impact, if any, does movie violence have on us?

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.