Producer Adi Shankar (The Grey, Dredd) has followed up on his “Punisher film that wasn’t a Punisher film,” Dirty Laundry. Shankar uploaded another bootleg Marvel film to his official YouTube account last week. The film essentially inserts Spider-Man’s evil counterpart Venom into the cult mockumentary Man Bites Dog, and is written and directed by Joe Lynch off an idea by Shankar.
True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten plays rogue journalist Eddie Brock, who so visibly wants to project a James Dean rebel cool that his facade is not so much cracked as dripping off before it dries. With his tie tucked into his shirt, it almost resembles the Venom logo (or maybe that’s too much fan-geek projection, but screw you, it totally does). Followed around by a Belgian documentary team in the gritty ’80s of New York, Kwanten crawls headfirst into the sleaze and blood of a huge, wild city to get the story any which way he can…even if that means changing the details to make it more exciting.
Along the way, we get sly allusions to Venom’s usual tricks–terrorizing Spider-Man’s family, muttering to the symbiote, and swapping appearances in a blink. There’s even a weightlifting scene that alludes to an old issue in which the Venom suit augments Brock’s exercise gains. And yes, there appears to be some brain-eating.
But while that’s fun fanbait, what’s really interesting is how glibly Brock manages to disregard any obstacle to what he wants: plowing through police lines, greasing a cop’s palm, ignoring a dying man’s need for help, and destroying evidence if it makes for a better story.
It’s a lot of character establishment for a short film: Brock wants to clear his professional name, Brock wants to be liked, Brock wants to be hailed as a great journalist…but he doesn’t want to adhere to the principles of journalism, he has little regard for other people, and he flagrantly smears his own reputation by violating ethical considerations on camera. What you’re left with is a portrait of someone who has a lot of ego and not a lot of attention span, feckless about his mistakes, and willing to react disproportionately to cover them up–he may not be a psychopath, but he’s certainly the exact opposite of a young man who believes with great power comes great responsibility.
It all culminates in an extremely intense scene, as no one’s sure what’s about to happen, but Brock keeps smiling and explaining away the alarm felt by the filmmaking crew. It’s a good payoff after watching him try (and fail) to mollify the concerns of everyone he encounters throughout the documentary. He throws all of his energy into convincing people no harm, no foul, when he could so much more easily stop causing harm. Even his over-the-top New York accent gradually appears to be more of an affectation by a man who changes identities and priorities even faster than he changes clothes.
Shankar describes himself as an “unrepentantly” R-rating focused filmmaker, so these “Bootleg Universe” fan films flesh out Marvel’s darker side with a competence lacking from the entertainment studio’s for-profit efforts (Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and their Punisher films). Plus there’s a cameo scene post-credits from another hyperviolent Marvel character.
Kwanten deserves praise for this build-up, keeping Brock moving (and shaking) forward so fast through a city boiling with violence. It’s smarter to follow him and hope everything will work out than to stand still and question what’s wrong with him long enough for some other predator to assert itself. In just a few minutes it becomes apparent that, in a true New York story, Venom is an alien, but he’s also a hustler with a dream of making it big.