Film Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

I really tried with this film, but in the end, I just couldn’t get onboard with the fantasy adventure it was trying to be. The problems I had with it were numerous, but mainly boiled down to the fact that the filmmakers spent so much time on the visuals that they neglected character, plot and substance. It was like the very worst of Tim Burton’s Alice movies, lacking even that sense of an individual voice behind it.

nutcracker

Mackenzie Foy does her best as our heroine Clara, but the script lets her down. Set in the Victorian period, Clara is a bright young girl who is struggling in the wake of her mother’s death. On Christmas Eve, her father (Matthew Macfayden) gives her a gift from her mother, an ornate egg that is locked. There is no key, only a note stating that all she need inside, at this point if you don’t realise the note is referring to Clara as much as the egg then frankly, you’ve got rocks in your head.

At a party thrown by her godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman, looking like a steampunk Nick Fury) she takes part in the present hunt, following a string which takes her from his manor house to a fantasy world. There she finds the key for the egg, but it is stolen by a mouse. Giving chase, she encounters Captain Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a nutcracker soldier who accompanies her into the dangerous Fourth Realm, where the mouse joins it’s fellows in making a giant mouse swarm which defeats them and they flee.

They go to the palace where Clara learns that her mother crafted the fantasy world and was their queen. The regents of the other three realms welcome her warmly and tell her they are at war with the Fourth Realm, formerly known as the Land of Amusements, as their regent Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) has gone rogue and wants to rule.

This is another sticking point for me, I get that this is fantasy but it’s hard to really lose yourself in a world where there are characters called Mother Ginger and Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley). It lurches into silliness territory early on, and suffers because the movie doesn’t embrace the ridiculousness and plays it all far too seriously. Knightley is infuriating as Sugar Plum, affecting French words and a high pitched voice which grate and almost instantly I suspected that the fairy wasn’t to be trusted.

It turns out this is true, and it’s actually Sugar Plum who wants to rule, after the key so she can create an army of tin soldiers to crush Mother Ginger and the other regents, and become Queen. She feels that she is owed this and that Clara’s mother abandoned them. Clara realises she must stop Sugar Plum to protect the world, her mother’s legacy while also learning some important lessons about the strength within, looking at things from new perspectives and other lame platitudes.

Urgh.

This whole movie just felt like a mash up of elements of films I didn’t like. I’ve already mentioned there’s the style over substance of Burton’s Alice films, the garish visuals of Pan, the inane and “quirky” characters of A Wrinkle in Time complete with actors giving infuriating performances and there’s the preachy and heavy handed tone of Narnia as well. Woeful.

Foy and Fowora-Knight do their best but each suffers thanks to their poorly written parts. Fowora-Knight is likeable enough, but his character has no depth or real development beyond realising he’s lonely, and even this is only referenced in a couple of lines. The fact the film tells us this so bluntly is a recurring failing, with the film not showing us enough. Lacking nuance we instead get everything spelt out plainly.

We’re told Clara is bright repeatedly, but we only see brief moments of ingenuity, where she fixes machines with ease and no explanation. The other problem is that given her intelligence it takes an age for the penny to drop over the egg.

The rest of the cast in the fantasy world give the kind of painfully self aware showy performances which never feel like anything resembling real people, instead smacking of actors really trying to be quirky and weird. This self conscious weirdness is just off putting and quality actors like Mirren and Richard E. Grant are better than this.

Morgan Freeman’s role is so brief he’s clearly picking up a check and Macfayden’s understated performance as the dad includes more depth than anything else in the film, capturing a sense of a man lost in grief and unsure of his role as sole parent. It’s a shame that it’s wasted in a film this dire.

I appreciate that this has been quite negative, so I should include mentions of the things I did like about this film. There are a couple of laughs and nice little gags, and I did chuckle a couple of times, but not enough to keep me happy and these dry up long before the end.

While the visuals are often Burton-lite, there are a couple of nice touches. I particularly liked the Mouse King, the swirling, man shaped swarm of mice. That was kinda cool, visually and an interesting foe/ally. The ballet sequence is alright, I guess? And the use of Tchaikovsky’s music from the ballet is done well.

That’s about it.

In most years this would be the worst film of the year, but at least it wasn’t quite as awful as A Wrinkle in Time. I’m still mad about that, dammit.

Verdict: Showy in an irritating way, simplistic in plot, dull. A few nice visual touches and brief flickers of charm aren’t enough to save this film. 2.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but I added it to my wishlist and friend came through and got me a copy. It had been reviewed favourably and it sounded like my kind of thing. And when I finally sat down to read it I instantly fell in love with Eames’ writing style and characters.

kingsofthewyld eames

The book is set in a fantasy world filled with magic and monsters, but steps away from the usual traps of sword and sorcery by injecting a hefty dose of humour and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. In this world the heroes are mercenaries who take care of monster problems, these mercs often work in groups called bands, and they are the rock stars of the world, with excess, showmanship and groupies all thrown in.

Nineteen years ago one of the greatest bands was Saga, known as the Kings of the Wyld for their heroics within the Wyld, a dense, dangerous forest filled with beasts, plants and weather that can kill. But eventually the group went their separate ways and grew old. Clay Cooper, one of the band lives a simple life as a city watchman with his family and hopes to open an inn, having put aside his violent past. One day his former bandmate Gabriel arrives at his door pleading for help, his daughter, Rose, has followed in his footsteps and has become a mercenary, but is now in grave danger. Having signed up to fight a monstrous horde she is now one of the survivors besieged in a far off city, Outside the gates is gathered the largest monster army ever seen, and between them and the rest of the world is the Wyld. Sooner or later food will run out, or the enemy will breach the walls. There is no escape from death.

Reluctantly Clay joins Gabriel and they set off, hoping to get the band back together and go rescue Rose. But the band are scattered and living different lives. Their wizard is obsessed with finding a cure for the disease that killed his husband, one of their group has gone from thief to warrior to king, having married a princess they rescued on an earlier adventure, and the final, and deadliest, member is imprisoned and may be harbouring a grudge against his old friends.

Can they reunite Saga? If they do can five ageing fighters really hope to cross the peril filled woods? And what difference can five make against an army?

This book is amazing, with Eames having a real knack for creating a collection of charming rogues and a vibrant, interesting world for them to live in. Told from the perspective of Clay we see the world through the eyes of a minor player, a regular guy swept up into a greater event and forced to return to the violence he struggled to leave behind. Clay is the sensible heart of the group, violent but fiercely loyal and stubborn. Often equipped with nothing more than his trusty shield he relies on a combination of brute force, dumb luck and his wits in the face of constant peril.

The fight scenes have a real sense of adventure and fun, often accompanied by Clay’s humorous observations. And there’s a nice subversion of some of the genre conventions, with the fights being chaotic, haphazard affairs and a distinct lack of noble posturing.

The beasts are savage, the enemies menacing and the whole book fizzes with energy, I flew through the pages and Eames never lets the pace sag. That’s not to say that he doesn’t inject emotions into the mix, with there being a touching side to the group, an old school, unspoken bond between them. Clay is shown to have greater depths than his stoic exterior suggests, and a keen observer of those around him. There’s also his fear of losing himself to his own inner monster and urge to do good, which make him a likeable and identifiable character, as surely everyone has negative aspects and urges they have to fight against.

The rock and roll aspect allows for plenty of little nods and gags. I liked that Clay is given the same nickname as Eric Clapton, although he is dubbed Slowhand because he never seems to land the first punch in any fight. And there’s a nice running gag about Saga’s ill-fated bards which reminded me of Spinal Tap’s poor luck with drummers.

The sword and sorcery genre can take itself too seriously at times, but Eames’ use of humour and fast paced action makes this a great entry to the genre and a hugely entertaining read. There are similarities with the works of other writers (George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett), but this is it’s own book and I really hope that we get more from him, especially if they feature more of Saga’s adventures.

Verdict: Eames creates a really involving world and group of characters, and tells a simple story in a hugely entertaining way. It’s rare for an author to nail humour, action and emotion quite so well, and I recommend this to anyone who likes their fantasy with a bit of humanity. Great fun. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Sponsor me?

Sorry to bother you, reader, but I’m taking part in Children in Need’s Countryfile Ramble and I just wanted to ask if you could sponsor me.

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Children in Need is the BBC’s charity that raises money for, well, the name kinda explains it all. The charity does great work helping thousands of disadvantaged kids all over the country, and this year I’m trying to do my bit to help.

The challenge involves trying to get people to walk as much as they can so that combined it equals having covered the circumference of the UK. The target I’ve given myself is to walk 75 miles between the 29th of October and November 16th, which is the day of the Children in Need television event. At the time of writing, I’m doing pretty good and think I’ll reach it, so I may up my target if I get there early.

My original goal was £100 and I hit that yesterday, so my new target is to raise £150. If you want to help me hit that goal, and all those kids, you can sponsor me here, and the good news is that the minimum donation is £1, so you can help out for less than the cost of a coffee.

I don’t want to lie and appear like I’m just being selflessly altruistic, because there are definitely some things I get out of doing this:

  1. It helps me towards my Race at Your Pace target
  2. Helps me with my goal to get fit
  3. Helps chip away at my bucket list item to raise £1m for charity
  4. Makes me feel good, and you can get that charitable buzz too!

So, if you have a spare quid, please sponsor me.

Thanks, and I’ll update you as to how I do.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Medal, Medal, Medal!

On Monday, a much anticipated package arrived at my house. It was something I’d been waiting for since the week before and straight away I tore it open.

Inside was a shiny medal, awarded to me for walking over 100 miles during the month of October. I am incredibly proud of this medal, here’s a picture of me smugly showing it off;

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The medal is from this pretty ace website, Race at Your Pace, the idea of which is pretty simple. You pick a challenge distance on their site and then keep track of how many miles you do a month, using your fitness app or whatever. They also have challenges for running, cycling and swimming. At the end of the month, you send them your information, and if you’ve achieved your goal you get sent a medal.

It costs £10 a month, but I think this is an acceptable amount.

I already have targets provided for me by the fitness app on my phone, but that’s done in terms of steps, and there’s something more tangible about measuring it by the mile. I can compare how far I’ve walked to real world distances.

Also, there’s the bonus of getting an actual medal. I really want medals.

medal medal medal

Who doesn’t want a trophy or something to show off? I’m 33 and my haul so far is pretty weak, I have a couple of swimming badges (10m and 25m) and my medal from doing the Sport Relief run back in 2012 (where has the time gone?). So, I’m pretty keen to add a few more.

I originally signed up for the 50 mile challenge, but having smashed this early on I decided to up my total, and added another 50 on. I ended up completing this quite comfortably, but it definitely pushed me to get out and walk more, rather than spending my days off camped out on the couch. Hopefully, this can help in my campaign to get fit and should pay off as long as I can resist my urge to eat rubbish more.

And I think the extra exercise, and sense of achievement is definitely helping me mentally and stopping Dark Chris from getting me down.

Going forward, I’ve decided to keep doing these challenges and in November I’m doing a 125 mile challenge, which works out as doing a little over 4 miles a day. I’m pretty confident I can do it, and if I can, I may go for bigger targets in the future.

If you’re inspired to join up for the next challenge, let me know how you do.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Slaughterhouse Rulez

I had high hopes for this movie going in because of the presence of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Michael Sheen and the fact that I love horror comedies. The problem is that this film, despite a few nice touches, is a big old mess.

slaughterhouserulez

The plot is simple, working class lad Don (Finn Cole), starts at the exclusive public school Slaughterhouse, renowned for producing leaders and famous figures. When he gets there he has to deal with rigid social hierarchies which keep him from being able to talk to Clemsie (Hermione Corfield), the object of his affection, and the sadistic prefect Clegg (Tom Rhys-Harries). His guide into this world is sarky misfit Willoughby (Asa Butterfield), who is an outsider at the school, bullied by Clegg and his goons, and still grieving the suicide of his former roommate.

The headmaster, nicknamed The Bat (Sheen) has done a deal with a fracking company to mine in the woods, and this drilling soon unleashes long dormant creatures. Can Don and Willoughby survive? Will Don get his girl?

Here’s the thing about this movie, there are a few good laughs along the way. There are some choice insults thrown around, a bit of slapstick, some ghoulishly gory deaths and some genuinely funny lines. The problem is that the film doesn’t quite get the horror part right, the creatures aren’t that scary when we see them and the film delays their arrival a bit too long. Perhaps having them pick off one or two minor players in the early stages would have worked better. As it is, the whole pacing of the movie is off and it could have done with an extra death near the end.

This death would have been easily slotted into the film as there are a couple of characters who contribute very little. Our heroic band near the end numbers seven, but they are far from magnificent. Finn Cole’s Don is our entrance into the world and rather likeable as the fish out of water and props to the film for making it’s female lead, Clemsie, confident and useful. The star amongst the kids is Butterfield, who injects genuine pathos into the character of Willoughby, and imbues the character with a louche charm.

The others however, are rather underdone, Clemsie’s best friend Kay, played by Isabella Laughland, is introduced as the clever character and is likeable enough, but doesn’t bring much to the table. Even villainous Clegg, despite being highly detestable feels like the actor doing an impression of Draco Malfoy crossed with Patrick Bateman.

That’s one issue, but there’s also the fact that several plot points are easy to spot from a mile away, and there are no real surprises along the way. This is a major problem for a horror comedy, as you despite the comedy aspect you still need a bit of suspense, and this doesn’t really build that well enough, preferring to go for gory gags instead. It does these rather well, but with the poorly rendered characters there’s not much to really hook you in.

The adult performers are far from their best, and while Sheen and Pegg deliver quite a few laughs along the way, Frost’s anti-fracking character is rather poorly done. It’s the actor, rather than the role that carries it off. There’s also a subplot about Pegg’s cricket obsessed teacher and his lover (Margot Robbie), which has no weight and goes nowhere.

Basically, this is a bit of a mediocre movie. There are just about enough laughs and OTT gory moments to carry it off, but it lacks a real cutting edge and goes for lazy gags far too often. Decidedly average.

Verdict: Butterfield is the standout amongst the kids, but doesn’t get much competition. The script has a few nice lines, but the plot is formulaic and some of the gags are a bit easy. It passes the time, but won’t stay with you. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

By the end of this film I had tears streaming down my cheeks, and when the climactic sequence, a recreation of Queen’s iconic Live Aid performance, ended I almost joined in with the onscreen applause.

Basically, I loved this movie, as did WoM, who also got pretty emotional during the viewing, but as she cries over adverts that’s less impressive.

I’ve been a fan of Queen since before I was properly interested in music, having listened to a mate’s cassette of Live Magic and falling in love with it. Over the years I’ve maintained a solid love for their band and their back catalogue which contains several absolute classics. I also grew in appreciation for Freddie Mercury, their legendary lead singer. Mercury, who combined humour, swagger and theatrics on stage left behind some pretty big shoes to fill, but thankfully Rami Malek gives a superb performance here.

bohrap poster

The movie starts and ends at the same point, the Live Aid concert in 1985 where Mercury and Co knocked it out of the park. We get brief glimpses of Mercury as he makes his way to Wembley and then walks from the dressing room to the stage, before the movie jumps back to 1970, where Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara works as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and, according to his father, wastes his time going out going to see bands.

At a gig he approaches Brian May and Roger Taylor (Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy, respectively), who have just lost their lead singer and bassist. After impressing them Freddie joins and adding bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), the band becomes Queen and soon find success.

bohrap queen

While the band go from strength to strength, Freddie struggles to come to terms with his sexuality and disappears into a whirlwind of excess, manipulated by Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), his manager who isolates Mercury and uses booze and drugs to keep him out of it. Freddie leaves Queen to go solo, but struggles with the recording of his solo albums and descends into depression, while Prenter reaps the rewards. Finally, after a visit from an old friend, Mercury begins to pull himself together, reuniting the group with the hopes of performing at Live Aid. However, in the run up to the gig, Prenter goes public with damning criticisms and stories, and Mercury learns that he has AIDS.

Of course, the band performs sensationally and Queen were reunited to continue together until Mercury’s death in 1991. That’s the problem with biopics, you know how the story ends.

The movie does really well in charting the fifteen year period from Mercury joining May and Taylor to their Live Aid performance. There are a few sequences based around specific songs (the eponymous epic, “We Will Rock You”, “Love of my Life” and “Another One Bites the Dust”) and it just highlights how many kickass songs the band had, the recording studio sequences are fun, with bickering band mates and unusual recording sessions providing great entertainment. Praise has to go to the three actors playing the rest of the band as they are all solid support, and capture brief impressions of each member- the fiery Taylor, dry witted May and the likeable Deacon.

One of the elements throughout the film is Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), which may seem unusual for a film about a gay man, but it works. Austin was Mercury’s girlfriend before fame, and the growing distance and Mercury’s concealed homosexuality are key points here, and the scene where they break up is heartbreaking. We see that Mercury does love her, that she is his support and rock, the first person to really believe in and accept him, but there is no sexual aspect by the end. Boynton gives a quiet performance that nonetheless captures her character’s sadness in losing her love and her distress at what he briefly becomes.

The film is really about Mercury’s journey towards some form of self acceptance, and feeling comfortable with himself. The swaggering bravado he shows in the early stages of the movie is clearly a mask, and it’s only when he faces up to who he has become and who he wants to be that he approaches happiness, making peace not only with his family and band mates, but also with himself. The movie ends, despite his AIDS diagnosis, on a positive note, with Mercury having reunited with Queen, rekindled his friendship with Mary and beginning a new romantic relationship.

In every stage of this progression Malek delivers a towering performance. He captures the on screen pomp beautifully, the dramatic poses and campy theatrics that made Mercury such a compelling performer. In fact, I can’t think of a movie which has so perfectly captured a band’s on stage energy, and there are several strong concert sequences, particularly the Live Aid section, which is magnificent.

bohrap liveaid

Off stage he captures the humour and swagger, but there’s always a sense of a hidden fragility behind the pretence, and Malek wonderfully conveys the inner turmoil with subtle changes in expression. He captures the insecurity and loneliness of Mercury, especially as the rest of the band’s lives diverge towards family and he finds himself alone, throwing parties for people he doesn’t really know.

Several times Malek’s performance moved me profoundly, quiet moments throughout that reduced me to tears in places, which is odd for a film which also made me laugh aloud and is inspiring. In the end Mercury stood before the world, boldly saying “This is who I am” and that’s wonderful, a man who forged a place for himself in the nation’s hearts despite growing up in a time when his ethnicity and sexuality meant he would encounter prejudice. Despite this he would become a rock legend and beloved figure.

I know some have said the movie is a bit neat, but it tells the story it wants excellently, in a captivating and moving way. Carrying this film are Malek’s performance, the band’s music and Mercury’s charismatic character.

Like Garth says in Wayne’s World (which gets a nice nod here), Bohemian Rhapsody is a good call.

Verdict: Funny, moving, utterly compelling. Malek is superb. The songs are belters. Film of the year? Probably. 10/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Menagerie Manor by Gerald Durrell

Having really enjoyed Encounters With Animals, I was eager to read more of Durrell’s work and they were added to my mental wish list, and in a happy coincidence I discovered this book on a charity shop shelf and had to buy it.

The book concerns Durrell’s observations and misadventures while running his zoo in Jersey. I’ve actually been to this zoo, many years ago and I remember it being fantastic, with a real emphasis on conservation and breeding, it’s still in my top 3 zoos (along with Longleat and Disney’s Animal Kingdom).

durrell menagerie

Durrell captures the challenges and difficulties of keeping animals, but there seems to be very little regret and, just as some books get the feet itching, this book made me long for a menagerie of my own. Durrell’s humour, warmth and obvious affection for the animals in his care remains utterly charming and his descriptions of various creatures and the problems they cause are entertaining and lively. He gives the animals character and captures their idiosyncrasies well, giving a sense of each beast and their stories are uniformly endearing.

Originally published in 1964 it shows Durrell’s forward thinking, his desire that zoos should serve to create breeding colonies to protect endangered species is a practice that continues today and has helped keep some species going where otherwise they would have joined the dodo.

For anyone with a love of animals this is a joyous read, as we get to see an insight into animal behaviour and habits, but in a light and amusing manner. While his writing fosters admiration for the animals, it also does the same for our narrator, and I found myself liking Durrell even more. His writing is thoroughly charming and captivating, and it made me want to quit my job and get a gig as a wildlife ranger or something.

Wonderful.

Verdict: Funny, warm and delightful. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: October Update: Falling Short, Feeling Fine

So, the new “2 lbs a week regime” didn’t work out that great, and while I was aiming to be 8 lbs lighter I’m actually only 1.5 lbs down on where I was at the end of September. Bad times.

I suspect part of this is down to the fact that I was off work for a week and as we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary, WoM and I indulged quite a lot.

While the numbers might not be that big, I have to admit that I’m feeling a lot better in myself. I’ve been more active, walking whenever I can and smashing the 10,000 step target quite a few times. I’ve got more motivation towards this recently (more on that at a later day) and if I can just stop giving in to temptation and make a few small changes, then I should be able to get back on track in November.

I want the numbers to come down, but I’m starting to realise that more important than the numbers is how I feel about myself. And I’m definitely in a more positive place than I was a few months back.

Mind you, I’ve been saying that for a while, and some of you may be thinking that I’m all talk, but I figure you gotta stay positive and you’ve got to keep trying.

Either way, see you in a month!

  1. Oct 4th-  Down 1.5 lbs
  2. Oct 11th- Down 0.5 lbs
  3. Oct 18th- No weighing
  4. Oct 25th- Up 0.5 lbs

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

I’m not entirely sure what I make of this book, aside from the fact that it’s rather dark. I remember Nesbo was a big deal during the Scandi-noir boom a few years ago, and he’s been on my radar for a while, but this tome has sat on my shelf for months. I finally got it down, and it was very much a mixed bag.

nesbo snowman

Full disclosure, however, I didn’t know when I started that this is the seventh in a series, so it is possible that my issues with the protagonist may be because Nesbo is writing assuming that readers are familiar with Harry Hole, his alcoholic copper. The problem is that Hole is never that engaging, he’s clever and I didn’t want him to fall off the wagon, but I couldn’t say much more about him and the alkie cop seems a bit cliche.

This novel follows Hole having to deal with several issues, a new junior officer, the fact his lover is moving on and the fact that a serial killer is on the prowl, this killer named the Snowman has been kidnapping women for years, every time the first snow falls. The pattern has previously gone unnoticed, but now Hole is on the case. Can he uncover the identity of the Snowman? Who can he trust? And can he defeat his inner demons?

We’ll start with the good news, in places this is an intensely gripping and tense thriller, with the case slowly revealing itself and some nerve jangling moments as our killer stalks his victims. The last hundred or so pages are fantastic, the tension building and all the pieces falling into place transforms this section into a sprint, and I devoured page after page as I wanted to see what happened.

The problem is that this is the opposite of the early stages, where Nesbo shuffles different time periods to establish the different strands of the book. Admittedly, it didn’t help that I didn’t pay enough attention to the chapter headings and confused myself, but it still feels a little stilted. Similarly, while a red herring is always welcome, Nesbo throws far too much in the mix and there are a few too many connections for it to hang together comfortably. One coincidence or secret link springing up is one thing, having them blossom all around is something else.

That being said, he does tie up a lot of the little clues he drops in well enough and, after a slow start, it did hold my attention, but his hero feels a little weak, his alcoholism standing in for actual personality.

Verdict: A solid enough thriller, but there’s a bit too much going on and the protagonist isn’t that interesting. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Film Review: Venom

I didn’t have high hopes going into this movie, despite being a fan of Tom Hardy and the Marvel character he was playing. The reasons for my doubts were that this movie had been mauled by the critics and the idea of making a film about Venom that is separate from Spider-Man doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, given the history of the character. Hell, his whole look is based on the wallcrawler, so how would they explain that here.

The answer is, they don’t and, frankly, it doesn’t come up as they ditch the spider on his chest and so the only real Spidey influence is the eyes.

venom pos

The film is fun, with a lot of decent action sequences and plenty of humour wrung out of the internal bickering between Hardy’s Eddie Brock and the symbiote which infects him. The bloodthirsty alien clashing with Brock’s morality is handled well, with the two slowly starting to warm to each other and eventually becoming more like one entity. It’s almost a buddy movie played out within one body, and props to Hardy for making it entertaining while also giving a sense of Brock’s panic and unease.

Plot wise the film keeps things simple, dodgy science guy Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is looking for ways to save mankind from the world they have bled dry and overpopulated. His idea is space, where he looks for possible new homes, and on one of his missions his team retrieve some symbiotes, alien beings that need hosts to live. Unfortunately, one gets loose and causes a crash on re-entry, possessing the sole survivor before moving on to another host and deciding to track down Drake’s Life Foundation in San Francisco.

Needing to do damage limitation on the accident Drake decides to do an interview with investigative reporter Eddie Brock. However, Brock discovers some dodgy human testing information which he only knows about because he snoops on his fiance Anne’s (Michelle Williams) computer. Anne working as a lawyer for the Life Foundation. When Brock raises this allegation at the interview it throws his life into chaos. He is fired and blacklisted, and Anne, hurt by the betrayal, dumps him.

Six months pass and Brock is struggling, but one of the scientists who works for Drake approaches him, no longer able to keep quiet on the human trials they are doing which kill the hosts. Brock investigates and discovers a homeless woman he knows as one of the test subjects, letting her out he is then attacked and the symbiote transfers to him.

Unlike other subjects, Brock and the symbiote, named Venom, bond successfully and flourish. Drake is interested in finding out more and sends goons after Brock, but the symbiote grants him new powers which help him to evade capture, although the symbiote’s fighting style is extremely vicious, which Brock is horrified by.

Can they stay out of Drake’s clutches? Will Brock be able to curtail Venom’s aggression? Or will the symbiote gain the upper hand? What is the plan of the other symbiote that is making it’s way to San Francisco? How much can Brock trust the alien within and what is it doing to his body?

Like I said at the top, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, which I think injected some much needed dark humour to proceedings and didn’t water down Venom’s darker aspects. That being said, I felt the 15 rating was a bit harsh, while it was definitely too creepy for younger audiences and there were a few swears, the violence is surprisingly bloodless and I’ve definitely seen more at this level.

Hardy is, as ever, superb in the lead role, making Brock a likeable loser type, who’s own obsession ruins him and leaves him a broken man. There’s humour in the portrayal, especially in the panicky, bewildered way Hardy plays some of the scenes and his disbelief at what’s going on.

The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, although Ahmed’s Drake is a little bit bland as a villain. His coldness works, but there’s just something missing from taking him to that next level.

The action sequences are pretty cool and the way the symbiote moves and shifts shape during combat is impressive, as is the final reveal when Eddie goes full Venom.

It’s not brilliant, and it lacks a major emotional punch, but it’s perfectly fine viewing, even if it does make you regret that they didn’t introduce this character into the MCU as there doesn’t seem to be any real threat for Venom to face off against here. Potential sequels may change this, but it’s hard to see how they’ll manage this without it seeming shoehorned in.

Also, there’s the villain problem. Ahmed’s performance is solid, but the character is bloodless and the other symbiote, while impressive, doesn’t quite work. The film also suffers from the fact that it and Venom look too similar, meaning during their big showdown it’s hard to tell who’s who.

Enough of it works to make it fun, but this is definitely a lower tier comic book movie.

Verdict: Fun if a bit average. Hardy is good as the lead, but he’s good in everything. The supporting cast are underwritten and it could do with a better villain, but these quibbles aside it has a few laughs, solid action and some pretty cool effects. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.