An R-rated superhero film has always been seen as bit of a gamble: It means giving up on the huge teenage audience, but it also allows the film to tackle darker and more “adult” themes.
Amid a plethora of family-friendly superhero blockbusters, this was the road less traveled that “Deadpool” took in 2016, whose success inspired “Logan” to follow suit.
Why am I talking so much about R-rated superhero films when I’m about to review one that isn’t even one? Because Ruben Fleischer set out to make “Venom” as an R-rated affair, but cut 40 minutes for the final version after producers decided to go for the PG-13 rating in the US.
It still has some edge – it’s rated 15 in Korea – but it was the wrong decision, resulting in the cinematic version of the character taking on a far different feel then the original.
“Venom” (Sony Pictures Korea)
The film starts with a space shuttle team sent by genius inventor/entrepreneur Carlton Drake crashing to Earth. On the site, an unidentified black substance brought back from space latches itself onto people.
One of the substances -- which turn out to be symbiotic creatures -- eventually finds its way to Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy, an investigative reporter looking to get to the bottom of allegations that Drake is developing a new drug based on tests that kill his human subjects.
The design of the main character is easily the best one put on screen, as the only comparable figure is the scrawny and whiney Venom in “Spider-Man 3.” The bulky Hardy is also far more convincing than Topher Grace, who is not a bad actor but never looked like a menace.
The action is not that bad either, even though it’s nothing creative.
Outside of looking good, it is quite dull. It gets some laughs, but comedy has never been Hardy’s strong suit. The plot is forced and predictable and the characters are all one-dimensional and under-developed.
That is all good, but the biggest problem comes from the fact that it is a Venom film.
For those who do not know, Venom is a fictional character that started out as a villain in the Spider-Man comic book series. The alien symbiote gives him incredible strength while also making him susceptible its desires.
The relationship between the host human -- including Spider-Man at one point -- and the symbiote is comparable to drug addiction: They are tormented by it but cannot let go because they are hopelessly addicted to the power. This could have been a major storyline in a darker-themed R-rated “Venom.”
The version we got, however, is a traditional good vs. evil story. As a result, the hero is bland, the story is bland, the villain is bland, and the climax is bland.
This is not to say that a comic-based movie has to be exactly like the comics, but retaining the essence of that character is important. Wolverine is a badass, Deadpool is quippy and Venom is ... nasty.
Watching Venom, with his menacing voice and all his teeth, succumb to the will of Brock was like watching “Suicide Squad,” in the sense that these are not bad guys as advertised, just good guys pretending to be bad. As a result, the plot becomes dull.
Overall, the first act is somewhat promising, but the movie fails to take off in the second act and just falls flat in the third.
While its dry plot and fake picaresque may remind viewers of “Suicide Squad,” it doesn’t reach the same unwatchable depths. The action is not bad, and as rubber-stamp superhero films go, it’s adequate.
It’s also not as drawn out or over-complicated as the genre’s worst offenders. The flick is fairly short at only 107 minutes.
I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s not the worst thing when you have an hour and a half to kill. It can be somewhat fun, if you forget the fact that it’s a Venom film.
By Yoon Min-sik