I went to this film in an attempt to stave off jet-lag (another two hours before I can sleep), and because I thought it would have lots of pretty shots of San Francisco. Vague thoughts below.
1. Riz Ahmed is the best thing in the film by some distance – he managed to make his paper-thin mad environmentalist/social Darwinist caricature into something that almost felt like a character (but only almost) (with writing this thin there really is only so much even the most talented actor can do).
2. Michelle Williams’ wig makes me tired. Michelle Williams is easily the second best part of the film, but her wig is incredibly distracting and obviously ‘wiggy’ all the way through. And the only reason to force her to wear it is a depressing assumption that she will not be ‘hot’ enough for the presumed male audience with her normal short hair. (If I remember her comments in interviews correctly, Heath Ledger should disagree). I wish more film-makers could get this into their heads – if your hero is a thoughtful, intelligent, decent man, he is not going to be attracted to his love interest primarily based on her looks. That doesn’t mean she can’t be beautiful, but that force of personality counts for an awful lot (see Peggy Carter or Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel Dawes, or, going further back, Marion Rawenwood). If the love interest is vapid or primarily decorative, it winds up undermining the hero as a character quite severely.
3. I’m not sure Venom is the potential franchise the producers clearly think he is. The special effects are really pretty damn gross, and the script never actually manages to dig into the aspects that could make the character compelling – Venom as a power fantasy for a supposedly disenfranchised media personality whose woman done left him could be quite a cutting concept in the right hands, but I don’t think they do anything interesting with it.
4. The central love triangle is dumb, Dumb, DUMB. Who does Michelle Williams choose? The questionably-stable ex who indulges in cannibalism, lives in a mancave, ruined her career, and dresses like a teenage boy with a limited understanding of personal hygiene – or the talk, dark and handsome doctor who is so faultlessly selfless he would never even dream of questioning whether she has feelings for the ex she just spent six hours chasing around town. (That said, I don’t think Michelle Williams had much in the way of chemistry with either Tom Hardy or Reid Scott, which doesn’t help).
5. Nitpicks: if Reid Scott’s character is a surgeon, why does he spend all his time in the MRI room / doing pastoral care? Why does he share Eddie’s private medical information with his ex-girlfriend (ETHICS)? If carrying the symbiote had such terrible effects on the carriers, why didn’t Michelle Williams or Riz Ahmed’s characters show any symptoms of illness whatsoever? Why are we supposed to think Tom Hardy is a great journalist when he barely seems to understand how sources work or the concept of deep background? Also, Riz Ahmed’s character started off as a cancer researcher and then got to work on space exploration? Scientists don’t change fields like that, no matter how brilliant they are.
6. I feel like somewhere there is a dark, smoke-filled bar where scientists go to weep and drown their sorrows over the repeated abuses of evolution as a concept in popular fiction. This film repeats a popular garbling – that a well-educated scientist would imagine it humanly possible for one individual to redirect the course of human evolution (it isn’t).
7. In some ways I think Tom Hardy was the perfect choice for the part – he’s always been a very physical actor, and there’s a looseness to his performance as Eddie in the action scenes that works really well. But good lord his American accent is TERRIBLE.
8. The whole thing is weirdly emotionally…flat. Part of that is the love triangle that isn’t really (which, again, if Williams and Hardy had blazing chemistry wouldn’t be such a problem), and part of it is…we get no explanation for why Venom decides to save the Earth after all. He just…does. There’s vague threads indicating some fondness for Eddie – and more suggesting that Venom too is in love with the Michelle Williams character – but they don’t go anywhere dramatically. As a result the finale is at best inert.
9. It’s worth mentioning, the three characters we’re meant to on some level like (Hardy, Williams, and Reid Scott) are a journalist, a lawyer and a doctor respectively. Those are elite professions, requiring many, many years of expensive education and/or access to the right contacts to build a career (the attempt to imply Tom Hardy’s Eddie is blue-collar doesn’t really work). Class analysis is something that fandom is not, as a whole, terribly good at, and in American context class and race are often treated as though they are synonymous, which can have a distorting affect. Which is why I point this out – white characters are vastly overrepresented in popular culture, that’s obvious. But so many of them are placed in these kind of backgrounds, with huge cultural and economic capital, that they may well feel completely alien to someone who’s working three jobs just to cover rent and health care.
On the most basic level, Tom Hardy’s character is unemployed for sixth months, in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities on earth, and can still afford his own apartment (albeit a pretty crappy one). When vast proportions of the population lack anything in the way of savings, his lifestyle represents a kind of privilege that is completely unattainable for most people.
10. It was just plain weird watching Reid Scott playing a character named ‘Dan’ who was genuinely and consistently kind! In some ways he provided more emotional comfort to our hero than his supposed love interest. (I feel like the writers must have had the first Ant-Man film in mind when they wrote the character). (Also the shot where Tom Hardy – who is very handsome, but not especially tall – lifts Scott up by his neck must have involved some interesting camera trickery to make work).