By midlandsmovies, Dec 13 2018 03:28PM
Venom (2018) Dir. Ruben Fleischer
Upgrade (2018) Dir. Leigh Whannell
A two-for-one double review for films that have a two-for-one protagonist as we see Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy-lookalike Logan Marshall-Green both appearing in high-concept action films where they are fused with powers they end up speaking with.
First up, Venom sees Tom Hardy’s roving reporter Eddie Brock get ‘infected’ by an alien symbiote to create a powerful anti-hero who, violently, is trying to do the right thing against Riz Ahmed’s evil scientist. Broad strokes are the name of the game here as we get the superhero origin story with evil genius, concerned ex-girlfriend and transformation scenes so by-the-numbers the plot could have been designed on an abacus. Michelle Williams plays Brock’s girlfriend in a wasted role and the film is astonishing in how it can take three of the best actors working today and give them literally nothing to work with at all.
A selection of so-so action sequences are dotted throughout and the film improves immensely when Venom finally appears as a foul-mouthed monster that argues with his host Brock. But sadly this is far too late in the film and the CGI Venom design is only about 5% better than its 2007 iteration in Spider-Man 3. And, in all honesty, had me wishing I was watching that film at times instead. Sadly the director Fleischer has never been able to recreate that rush of fun and horror from his first film Zombieland, the tone of which is solely needed here in his latest film.
So moving on, earlier this year we also had another action body horror in the form of Upgrade. Logan Marshall-Green, who funnily enough is already in the MCU Spidey-verse with a brief appearance in Spider-Man: Home-Coming, stars as Grey Trace (which sounds a bit like Topher Grace who was Venom in Raimi's three-quel) who after being paralysed in a brutal attack – which also sees his girlfriend killed – is implanted with a bionic chip. This AI called STEM is designed by Elon Musk, no wait, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) and is surgically inserted into Trace’s body which allows him to regain control of his limbs.
STEM then “speaks” into his mind directly and the two (?) go on a revenge spree to serve justice to those who attacked him. The AI quickly learns vicious fighting techniques and before long, the duo are picking off the assailants. The film however takes its ridiculous premise far too serious at times. In the hands of a sci-fi auteur like Paul Verhoeven Upgrade could have mixed the balance better by giving the whole film a satirical bite. As it is, the fight scenes are fun but sparse and the dramatic sequences dull and bland. With the film spiralling into a confusing high-tech plot, the narrative “discoveries” can be seen from a mile away and frankly any time when the film begins its exploration into society/tech-fears it lost momentum.
So, with Venom’s (frankly unbelievable) $852.7 million box office takings and Upgrade’s innovative but flawed genre goals, somewhere between the two films a good movie may have emerged from the Hardy/Marshall-Green soup. If I was forced to pick I slightly preferred the originality of Upgrade’s idea but with that worldwide gross, I know which flick we’ll be seeing more of in the inevitable sequel which is a shame.