In their first solo outing, Ruben Fleischer and company reimagine archvillain Venom and his host Eddie Brock as an anti-hero vigilante in Venom (2018), but the end result is a sadly uninspiring and tone-deaf spectacle barely saved by the dazzling visuals and Tom Hardy's performance. Spider-Man's greatest and most formidable nemesis plays host on Blu-ray with a near-reference video transfer, a satisfying DTS-HD MA soundtrack and an amusing set of supplements. The overall package is nonetheless Recommended for the curious and fans.
(We have also reviewed the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.)
Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer pulls off a stunning miracle in Venom (2018), and I'm not only talking about the comic-book villain achieving shocking box-office success. No, I'm referring to Fleischer making a superhero movie that's on par, if not worse, than Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3, and arguably one of the most average Marvel flicks of recent memory. That's right! For me, Venom (2018) ranks alongside the likes of Daredevil, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, X-Men: The Last Stand and the ridiculous X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Heck, even Howard the Duck musters some silly, entertaining fun with its badness, but Fleischer's vision of Spider-Man's formidable nemesis is a rather boisterously chaotic mess that only looks pretty on the surface. Like those aforementioned pedestrian efforts, the production is visually captivating and all spectacle, just enough to dazzle the senses while mesmerizing long-time fans with a live-action adaptation that ironically feels faithful to the comics.
However, for his first solo feature-length debut, the alien symbiote crash lands on Earth with a pretty banal and uninspired plot riddled with a series of clichéd archetypes, failing to really engage the audience in any meaningful way. Admittedly, Tom Hardy continues to be a pleasure to watch on screen, as he has been since Mad Max: Fury Road, and he makes the most of his time as investigative journalist Eddie Brock, naturally emanating a dark, brooding charisma as if he were taking a breath. This is perfect for a character whose life rapidly spirals to rock bottom and whose confident egotism suddenly changes to a twitchy, apprehensive and helpless cynic with signs of a raging fury slowly boiling underneath. His headbanging next-door neighbor interrupting his attempts to meditate is one particular moment of comedic annoyance while another scene of him witnessing a robbery from behind an aisle shows Brock as weak — or as Venom later calls him: a loser.
This is all well and good when establishing our protagonist's evolution into vigilante anti-heroism, which started after a confrontational interview with the powerful inventor and owner of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). But Brock is made to endure a series of humiliating defeats as though the filmmakers were relishing in kicking him to the ground. The stunt already caused a ripple effect that destroyed his life while also being dumped by his ex-fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams), and Fleischer continues to punish his hero for a while longer before finally uniting with the symbiote known as Venom. The first half of the movie digs itself into such a gloomy pessimistic hole, that it's difficult for Fleischer and his team to pull the film out, creating a weirdly internal battle between a serious dark comedy and various horror elements trapped in a story possibly about redemption or discovering the hero within. In either case, the movie left me feeling cold and indifferent, rather than satisfied.
Ultimately, the plot feels as though lazily assembled to justify the visuals — to give an excuse for a nighttime car chase through the streets of San Francisco with exploding drones without explaining their purpose. And the same thing can be said of Drake's questionably nefarious ambitions, which are somehow suddenly consumed by Riot's goal. And granted, the CG spectacle in Venom (2018) is certainly eye-popping sensational, serving as the production's greatest strength and selling point, along with Tom Hardy's performance. But without a stronger story and characters we genuinely care about — Drake is the archetypal corporate criminal we're meant to hiss and boo, and Anne's role is not entirely clear — all the action and CG wizardry feel like empty spectacle, failing to be the white-knuckle excitement the filmmakers were aspiring for. In the end, as a fan of the character since he was first introduced to the Marvel Universe, Venom (2018) is an odd mix of mildly-entertaining and dull.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Venom (2018) to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for a Digital Copy. The first is a Region Free, BD50 disc sitting comfortably on the panel opposite a DVD-9 copy and housed inside a blue, eco-elite keepcase. At startup, the disc commences with a series of skippable trailers before switching to an animated menu with music playing in the background and full-motion clips.
Eddie Brock makes his solo feature-length debut on Blu-ray with a frighteningly magnificent and often stunning 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The freshly-minted transfer shows sharp detailing in the clothes, buildings and the sterilized labs of the Life Foundation, and the fast-paced action sequences remain distinct, revealing the smallest object and feature of the San Francisco streets. Viewers can plainly make out every wrinkle, pore and negligible blemish in the faces of the cast while every crease and furrow in Riot and Venom are visible, even from a short distance. Notwithstanding, there are a few moments of minor softness here and there, but they appear related to the original photography and cameras used, not an issue with the encode.
Speaking of which, brightness levels can occasionally be a bit of a mixed bag, looking inky rich one minute, like when Brock is assigned an interview with Carlton Drake, and noticeably faded another, such as the restaurant date with Brock and Anne. For the most part, blacks are spot-on with excellent shadow detailing throughout, providing the action a lovely three-dimensional quality. Contrast, on the other hand, is more stable and consistent, keeping the presentation vibrant with crisp, brilliant whites and maintaining outstanding visibility in the far distance. Meanwhile, Matthew Libatique's cinematography is bathed in richly-saturated primaries, which really pop during the many nighttime action sequences, and secondary hues are full-bodied and varied, giving the movie a welcomed comic book feel. (Video Rating: 90/100)
The villain turned vigilante snivels and grumbles his way to heroism with a boisterously magnificent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that'll leave the house convulsing and trembling after a series of ear-splitting symbiote warfare.
Dominating the action is a commanding, wall-rattling low-end, providing each explosion, punch and some gunfire with striking impact and force. There are even several instances of bass digging into the sub-30Hz territory with some strong decibels, and a couple sequences push as low as 17Hz with a weighty wallop (bass chart). At the same time, the story is continuously kept busy with tons of background activity convincingly moving across the three front channels and into the off-screen space, generating a highly-engaging and spaciously broad soundstage. Imaging displays room-penetrating clarity and detailing during the loudest, ear-piercing moments, exhibiting superb distinction and separation in the mid-range, allowing every crunch of metal and plop during the symbiote fights to be perfectly heard. All the while, vocals are precise and crystal-clear with outstanding intonation for appreciating Hardy's performance.
The only area of complaint keeping this otherwise marvelous lossless mix from achieving reference quality is the noticeably sporadic use of the surround speakers. In fact, it's rather surprising for a modern superhero blockbuster that the spectacular visuals are somehow not busier and far more immersive. Don't get me wrong. The action sequences are littered with a good amount of activity, as debris from explosions and bullets fly across the room and other minor effects lightly bleed into the sides. This is especially true of the massive climactic battle, providing a much-welcomed sense of envelopment and presence. However, for the rest of the time, the rears are generally silent, making the many conversations throughout feel somewhat lacking with Ludwig Göransson's score picking up the slack. Nevertheless, with all things considered, the high-rez track is very satisfying and plenty of fun. (Audio Rating: 88/100)
Best known as Spider-Man's greatest and most formidable nemesis, archvillain Venom and his host Eddie Brock make their first solo outing in Ruben Fleischer's Venom (2018) where he is reimagined for moviegoers as anti-hero vigilante. Despite featuring a fantastic performance by Tom Hardy, the movie is ultimately uninspiring with a yawn-inducing first half that sadly leaves audiences moderately engaged for the remainder, making the large-scale, CG spectacle fall flat and somewhat uneventful. Nevertheless, the comic-book baddie plays host on Blu-ray with a near-reference HD video presentation and a satisfying DTS-HD MA audio mix. Featuring an amusing set of supplements, the overall package is nonetheless recommended for the curious and fans that are more than happy with the adaptation.