Do you ever get a feeling of film déjà vu? Where you start watching a film and suddenly find yourself thinking, ”Wait, haven’t I seen this before?” This has happened a few times to me this year. And I am not talking about watching remakes of films such as Robin Hood, A Star is Born or Death Wish.
This year, I suffered major déjà vu while watching Venom. The story-line of a man suffering from an identity crisis after losing his job and his love, suddenly becoming super human with heightened abilities via the use of an ‘alien’ being becoming part of his body: sounded a little similar. In fact, the plot of Venom and the character of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy); reminded me of Upgrade. If you aren’t aware of Upgrade, the film is set in the near future where our main character is a quadriplegic man called Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), who is implanted an experimental medical chip called STEM which allows him to utilize his limbs again.
Examining these two films, we can see striking similarities. Both these films are different in their own right, (this isn’t a simple cut, copy and paste job). In both Upgrade and Venom, the main character’s mind begins the crack under the strain of having the alien invader part of their psyche.
At first both STEM and the symbiote seem to be the answer to our main characters’ problems, allowing them to take on the world. By allowing the ‘alien’ to become part of them; the men become more alert and aware of their surroundings, gain immense psychical abilities, and feel this sense of purpose in their lives. Both STEM and the symboite seems to be a guide for Grey and Eddie, offering these men a ‘friendship/mentorship’ but the motives of STEM and the symbiote seem unclear. In fact, when attacked by Life Force security and later a SWAT team, Venom takes complete control of Eddie to defend the two, without the need of permission.
STEM also takes over Grey’s body without permission, and is revealed to be playing a bigger role in the death of Grey’s wife. This ultimately proposes the question of how dependent are we on technology and how willing we are to allow someone else to take over responsibility of our actions whether it be future technology or an alien being.
Upgrade ends with the human succumbing to the far more superior and powerful outsider. However, in Venom, Eddie and the symbiote reach a compromise and learn to share Eddie’s body. This ‘friendship’ between Eddie and Venom seems forced, and are we suppose to believe that a powerful being like venom would be happy being the passenger in a weak, fragile human body?
Of course, when we realise that the ending of Venom is setting up a sequel, this forced friendship makes sense. Upgrade‘s ending remains the strongest between the two pictures, it is a gut punch and a betrayal that the viewer wasn’t quite expecting. In the world of Upgrade, the humans are the losers, and not the allies.
Upgrade’s ending offers the viewer very little reassurance, technology can’t be trusted, but Venom‘s ending suggests that the outsider and the host can reach a compromise. Call me a cynic if you must, but the ending to Upgrade seems more realistic in my opinion.
Both these films deal with the concept of sharing a body and mind with an outside force. This isn’t something that is new, and perhaps the most well-known and earliest example of two beings sharing on body is seen in Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The duality of human nature seems to be a theme that continues to fascinate audiences.
In Venom and Upgrade; the two men seem to lose their sense of identity as STEM and the symbiote become stronger and takeover their bodies. This is tackled with amusement in Venom with Eddie scolding venom for biting someone’s head off, and venom replying back that it’s ”fuel in the tank.” This comedy feels a little out-of-place, and as a result we never really believe that venom could be a real threat.
Upgrade is a stronger film in regards to its central performance by Logan Marshall Green, who really becomes lost in this physical role. So much so that the viewer genuinely believes his body has indeed been taken over. Tom Hardy’s over-the-top performance as Eddie Brock / Venom is highly enjoyable, but we are never really invested in him.
The lack of character development of Eddie makes it difficult to root for him when he takes on the bad guy towards the end of the film. Eddie’s motives seem unclear, but Grey’s motivations are very clear (he wants to find his wife’s killers) and as a result we become fully invested in this character. Marshall Green manages to contain his character’s inner turmoil, but Hardy’s struggles to find his footing as Eddie.
It is also worth mentioning that the reason why Upgrade is the far more superior film is that it doesn’t shy away from showing on-screen violence. Despite Venom biting heads off people, there is a distinct lack of blood shown on screen. The PG-13 content of Venom makes the film feel even more unrealistic and cartoonish, and it becomes a distraction. Of course, Sony would have gone this route in order to market the film to a wider audience but it just doesn’t work.
Upgrade‘s violence is far more infrequent, but when the action does take place on-screen, we hear every bone crunch and see how superior Grey has become with the use of STEM. The violence in Upgrade is used to great effect, to show just how dark this world is and what is at stake for Grey.
In terms of box-office numbers, there really is only one clear winner – and that is Venom. It is a shame that Upgrade didn’t make more of an impact and grossed just over $14 million at the world wide box office compared to Venom‘s $822 million. Many anticipated on Venom being the flopped, but there was something about the film which connected with cinema attendees.
Venom was a major hit in China and has become the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time. Sony certainly needed a hit after a number of box office bombs and this has helped the struggling studio (who recently sort of sold the rights to spider-man to Disney’s marvel studio in order to stay afloat). Only time will tell whether the sequel to Venom will be better, but the filmmakers may want to take note of what Upgrade did so well and apply it to their own film, if they want to achieve critical praise as well.