Reports of Venom being worse than the likes of Catwoman and Fantastic Four (2015) are wildly inaccurate. A raging disaster this is not.
The critical hit squads have been out for Sony’s big screen version of the classic Spider-Man villain from the get-go it seems. Not entirely without foundation, in fairness. This is a flawed first outing for Tom Hardy’s take on the character, one that feels stuck in the early era of comic book movies, striving to be “edgy”, yet stubbornly following a structure we’ve seen countless times by now. Its biggest issues lie with the script, an unfocused origin story chock full of hit and miss one-liners, unmemorable supporting characters and unwieldy exposition. Even the reliably decent Riz Ahmed suffers as the one-dimensional chief antagonist Carlton Drake, no surprise when he’s having to spout the likes of this: “Look around at the world. What do you see? A planet on the brink of collapse. Human beings are disposable. But man and symbiote combined, this is a new race, a new species… a higher lifeform.”
As the head of the Life Foundation, Drake pushes bioengineering into the realms of science fiction; curing cancer and, erm, trying to physically combine recently discovered alien life forms known as Symbiotes with human test subjects. Just because, alright! Essentially he’s an evil Elon Musk. And those unfortunate enough to wrong Mr
Musk Drake are quickly put in their place, as reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) soon discovers. After his failed interview sting on the leader of the Life Foundation leads to him losing his fiancée, career and home he hits rock bottom. It’s not until near the halfway point of the film however that Venom finally turns up to deliver some retribution for him. Less villain, more anti-hero, the bug-eyed, murderous Symbiote can’t inhabit Eddie Brock fast enough.
Not for the first time in his career Tom Hardy pulls double duty. As Eddie Brock he’s off-kilter, yet with a certain amount of charm; even if he does insist on using a bizarre accent (as he’s inclined to do). It’s while voicing the titular inhabitant of Brock’s body that Hardy is at his best though, lending funny and fierce line delivery to the horrifyingly designed alien form of Venom. There seemed a reluctance in the movie’s marketing to actually show Venom, and the same appears to apply here for the first half, his big reveal teased out endlessly. Unnecessarily so, as well, as the dynamic between Brock and his violent counterpart is the film’s highlight by a country mile. If anything I would have appreciated the push and pull between the light and dark sides of the Brock/Venom split personality to have been explored deeper. As it is, Venom all too quickly sacrifices his own sense of agency to help his new host. Not that the plan which drives him makes a great deal of sense in the first place; I can’t quite decide whether it’s convoluted, a bit daft, or maybe a little of both. But his winningly gruesome personality is sufficiently unique to give him a pass. Venom’s nothing if not entertaining, and the same can be said of his debut…just about.
Rating (out of 5):