“The great part of my job is that I get to be an ‘administrator of truth.’ Crime occurs every thirteen seconds in this city. You know how we have these statistics? Because guys like me are out on the streets, collecting these stories. We put the caution in cautionary tale, y’know? And being aware the crime out there, the people of this city can live their lives accordingly. In fact, I’m the one doing this city a public service. We’re the heroes out there….”
Though Spider-Man has always had one of the most imaginative rogues galleries in comics, there’s no Spidey villain with quite the same fan following as Venom. Though Venom’s character has, over the years, been abused, written incorrectly and reworked countless times, there’s something perfect about the original conception. Venom, more than Doc Ock, the goblins, Vulture or even the Scorpion, is truly the ultimate anti-Spidey. Doc Ock might be the one who parallels an older Peter Parker and sure, Green Goblin is the one who twists Spider-Man’s head around, but Venom is the alien menace that really makes Peter Parker shiver at night – the perfect portrait of an egotistical, greedy, immoral man accidentally given great power. A man who, in direct opposition to Peter’s obsessive doctrines about responsibility, uses that power only to hurt others and achieve his own ends.
Truth in Journalism – a short fan film produced by Adi Shankar, directed by Joe Lynch and available HERE – is an intriguing look at the character, a tribute that brings Venom back to his roots.
The film introduces us to Eddie Brock, scandalous news reporter, as he guides a Belgian film crew through New York City. As Eddie’s layers are slowly peeled back – as he starts progressively acting weirder and weirder, from talking to himself in the bathroom to stringing muggers up on balconies – the crew comes to find that the person they’re dealing with might be a far more disturbed individual than he initially appears.
The first thing that makes Truth in Journalism stand out is its commendably unique style. It’s a professionally made film with a clear aim in mind; instead of simply imitating the comic, it creates its own dark, horrifyingly realistic sandbox and then plays around in it. The grainy, black and white footage is gritty, uncomfortable, flawed. The characters seem like real people instead of actors, and thus their actions—played in a brilliantly subtle manner, instead of being over the top—are utterly disturbing, instead of being thrilling. While the clear inspiration is the 1992 French film Man Bites Dog, there’s also a touch of Pi in here, a bit of Eraserhead.
The other thing that makes this little adventure really click, though, is Ryan Kwanten’s performance as Eddie Brock. I don’t know Ryan from anything else (I’m not a True Blood viewer), but based on this short film, I’d be inclined to sign him up for any big budget version of Venom in a heartbeat. Kwanton totally encapsulates the twisted yet weirdly sympathetic character that David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane created. The character that later stories and writers all too often forget about, as they attempt to twist Eddie into being something he’s not.
This is the real Eddie Brock. He’s not a noble antihero, not a slobbering brain-eating beast, and certainly not a raving lunatic. Eddie Brock is a liar, a hypocrite who portrays himself as an idealist – I.E., “administrator of truth” – but in reality, is all too willing to sell out and betray those ideals the second that they get in the way of his goals. He constantly justifies his immoral actions with poor excuses, desperately tries to prove his importance, and refuses to accept responsibility. Eddie Brock is, at his core, a power hungry loser who really, really, really wants to be winner. His psyche is too fragile to accept his own failures – so instead, he blames Spider-Man. It’s Spider-Man’s fault for turning in the real Sin-Eater, Spider-Man’s fault that his reputation is in shambles, Spider-Man’s fault that his career and life are ruined.
No, this line of reasoning isn’t remotely logical, but Eddie Brock is not a logical man. He’s an emotional wreck, an impulsive opportunist with severe self-consciousness problems. That’s why Venom, when used correctly, is such a creepy enemy for Spider-Man. Whereas Peter Parker is all about responsibility, temperance and guilt, Eddie Brock is a small man who constantly justifies his actions as being for the “greater good,” but refuses to take responsibility when people get hurt.
The Eddie Brock in this short is totally believable. He’s a real, tragically flawed human being, a person who’s brought down not by terrible catastrophes but instead by his own ego, ambition and arrogance. The way that Kwanten plays Eddie is simply perfect; you can sense that Eddie is a likable guy, a talented guy with a lot of ambition, the kind of guy who is probably really fun to share a beer with…but at the same time, Kwanten deftly portrays the simmering rage and desperation beneath Eddie’s act; the more we find out about Eddie, the more we see how he’s simply a skilled performer with an obsessive need to prove himself.
He desperately needs to be somebody. He needs friendship, he needs respect, he needs affirmation. Notice how, throughout the short, Eddie slowly corrupts the entire film crew, even as he’s trying to prove his innocence to them. He’s the kind of guy who, if you met him on the street, you’d probably like him – and you’d even sympathize with him – but who would, if it suited his ends, double cross you in a heartbeat and say it was your fault.
In the the film’s dark denouncement, when Eddie finally gives up, gives in and releases his other side, we know that he’s not going to feel any guilt over his murderous actions. He’s going to tell himself that he “had to do it.” He’s going to justify that he had to kill those men “for the greater good.” And then, most likely, he’s going to continue to repeat the same pattern he’s previously demonstrated to us.
I’ll admit, I actually really liked Spider-Man 3 – though it certainly doesn’t hold even a candle to the absolute masterpiece that is Spider-Man 2 – and I actually thought Topher Grace did a good job as Eddie Brock. The problem wasn’t Eddie’s characterization; Eddie was suitable hypocritical, smarmy and egotistical, and the symbiote was as menacing as ever. The problem was simply that a complicated character like Venom simply can’t be crammed into an already overstuffed movie like that.
What could’ve been the biggest bad guy of the franchise was stuffed into the last half hour of an overcrowded movie, and the result felt predictably rushed. If Venom had been given time to breathe – say, in the potential Spider-Man 4 that never was – he could’ve been a cinematic villain on par with Doc Ock and the Goblins. As it was, we only got a intriguing glimpse at the most popular Spider-Man villain of all time…and then poof, he was gone.
Truth in Journalism, though it has a short running time of only seventeen inutes, truly excels in all the areas where Spider-Man 3 missed the mark. This is largely due to the fact that the people involved in this short film have a highly intuitive understanding of the character, and a fervent desire to flesh him out. Instead of rushing Eddie along his path, the film takes time to develop him, make him likable – and at the same time, make him scary. The Eddie Brock presented here is truly the comic book character brought to life.
But more importantly than that, Truth in Journalism is just a very cool little movie. Unlike other fan films – which often function more as extended fake trailers for nonexistent movies than anything else – Truth in Journalism is a terrific piece in its own right. It’s creepy, intriguing and wonderfully atmospheric. Truly, an excellent achievement.