Technology gone wrong spawns Marvel’s “Venom”
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 2018, PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language; Streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: A three-and-a-half minute 4K/HDR excerpt from Sony’s highly praised “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
IT'S ONE of Hollywood’s biggest inconsistencies of the year.
Audiences clearly liked “Venom,” scoring an astonishing 85 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes site for the Marvel Universe antihero, and a B+ with CinemaScore. It’s the tale of San Francisco TV investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who becomes the host of an alien symbiote with supersized-fangs and a long, prehensile retractable tongue.
Critics, on the other hand, panned “Venom” for what many considered an uneven tone and sloppy script. Top critics on the RT site gave it a disappointing 18 percent, and the Hollywood Reporter selected it as one of the top 10 worst films of the year.
Honestly, this action/comedy adventure is not that bad.
Males under 25 led “Venom’s” worldwide box office charge to $854 million. It was good enough to make it the No. 5 money-maker of the year, landing just behind “Incredibles 2,” “Jurassic World 2,” “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” which topped at $2 billion. Its success guarantees a franchise for Sony, for at least two more films, if everybody is agreeable.
We meet Brock, who lives with his lawyer fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), and has his own highly-rated local news TV show. He’s assigned to profile high-tech billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who recently financed a Life Foundation space exploration mission. Drake believes space is crucial to curing everything that ails us on Earth. During reentry, the spacecraft goes haywire and crashes into east Malaysia. Five canisters of highly intelligent symbiotic organisms are on board, and during the recovery efforts one of the life forms implants itself into a surviving astronaut. Rushed to a hospital, the symbiote then slides into a first responder. Three others end up at Drake’s headquarters overlooking San Francisco Bay, where Brock becomes infected himself.
The interview, in which Drake was only to be asked questions related to his space missions, quickly veers off topic. When asked about human test subjects – now dead – Drake shrugs it off as “fake news” and ends the discussion. Eventually, Brock is fired. So is Anne, whose law firm had been representing the Life Foundation, and she returns Brock’s engagement ring.
During the featurette “From Symbiote to Screen,” included on the enclosed Blu-ray, Venom’s late 1980s origins are revealed. During Marvel’s “Secret Wars” storyline, a crossover event in which all characters – super heroes and villains – were forced to fight each other, says comic book expert Kevin Smith. While Spider-Man/Peter Parker was up in space, he receives a black, symbiotic costume that he soon discovers has its own mind. Parker knows he must separate himself from it, because “its influence is not positive,” Smith says.
The symbiote ends up inside Brock, who takes on an entirely different personality, becoming something of a vigilante. One reason Brock is such a fan favorite is because he’s always been a mix of “horror, action, and comedy,” says director Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland"). In the comics, Brock was a top reporter, an “advocate for the underdog,” producer Matt Tolmach says. “But he cut a lot of corners and had a lot of bad habits, so he got slapped by life.”
Venom is the perfect villain for Spider-Man, but for the movie, “he’s really functioning completely on his own,” Fleischer says. “We had to get creative and figure out a new way for the alien to come to Earth.”
Drake is also a carryover character; a genius and scientist who runs Life Foundation. He created life-extending technologies for cancer patients, but also performed a lot of secret tests that weren’t as benevolent. “Marvel comics were built on the terror of technology” and how it could go wrong, Smith says.
Additional extras include deleted scenes, and “Venom Mode,” with pop-up factoids throughout the film. For example: Stuntman Jimmy Roberts, as Brock, performed all the motorcycle riding on a Ducati Scrambler, through the streets of Atlanta subbing for San Francisco. “The Lethal Protector of Action” goes behind the scenes with the stunt crew and second unit; “Venom Vision” highlights Fleischer’s project with interviews from the director, cast and crew; “Designing Venom” looks at the creation of the visual effects; and “Symbiote Secrets” spotlights hidden Easter Eggs implanted throughout the film.
“Venom” was captured on 2.8K with anamorphic lens and select scenes on 8K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio). There’s some indication it was mastered in 4K because added sharpness and clarity are quite evident over the HD versions (disc or streaming), while the HDR10 and Dolby Vision contrast spectrum extract a much deeper black level and brighter highlights. Facial toning of the diverse cast is natural and balanced, while colors are slightly richer, although the overall palette is mostly monochromic and darker.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is only featured on the 4K disc, while the Blu-ray gets the standard DTS-HD. Both are extremely active with effects, deep bass response from music cues of Ludwig Göransson’s (“Black Panther”) score. Atmos height speakers are used sparingly for ambient sounds, gunfire, and explosions.
There’s no doubt Sony’s “Venom” is a worthy rental and a sure bet as a 4K purchase when it drops below $20.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer