Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott. Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
Taking a supporting character in a big fantasy franchise and giving them their own spin-off movie is a risky thing to pitch. After all, Catwoman was supposed to follow Michelle Pfeiffer’s femme fatale, but failed after years of development hell. Elektra was also a flop of titanic proportions, and it took three solo outings for Wolverine to get his dues. A film about Venom has been suggested since his lacklustre film appearance in Sam Raimi’s disappointing third Spider-Man outing. Now two subsequent Spider-boots later, we finally get the Venom film we were promised.
Attempting to start a new Sony-verse of Marvel properties, Venom follows investigative reporter Eddie Brock who, having gotten on the wrong side of billionaire scientist Carlton Drake, finds himself melded with an alien symbiote that attempts to protect him, and stop a world destructing plan.
First of all, Venom might not be the oldest Spider-Man foe, but since his introduction in the late 80s he has become a raging fan favourite – with thanks to some computer games and Saturday morning cartoons in the 90s, he now has one of the more enduring images in the canon. Taking Venom out of connection to Spider-Man, and out of New York seems a strange move, but in a way, it might work in its favour.
Director Reuben Fleischer has not yet shown the ability to direct action or more horrific sequences in his films previous – though the likes of Zombieland, Gangster Squad and 30 Minutes or Less have all featured them. Venom is a departure in that, despite moments of comedy, it’s more a body horror film but without the teeth.
Fleischer doesn’t appear to fully understand how to direct action, relying on cutting way too much nor does he get a three-act structure to be honest, the film is very poorly paced, taking almost the entire running time before we get to meet the big bad of the movie, but what it does have is a killer double performance at it’s core.
In the central role, Tom Hardy gives a natural and charming performance as Brock and a menacing voice performance as Venom, but it’s nothing incredible. The problem comes with who Hardy is. Hardy is an actor that transforms himself, he’s an actor who –much like Christian Bale – becomes whatever the role needs him to be, be it a massive monster in Bronson, the discord between Bane’s voice and his physical manner, Hardy changes how he talks, and how he moves when he performs but here he looks, sounds, walks and dresses like Tom Hardy, and apart from his slightly American Accent, there’s nothing to really make him anything more than Hardy himself.
The supporting players are all serviceable but wasted – Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed and Jenny Slate all get roles that should possibly have been better fleshed out by more confident writers. That said one subversive bent is the fact that the new boyfriend of Brock’s flame Anne (a strong but lifeless Williams) doesn’t have the usual antagonistic relationship. Both Brock and he have a mutual respect for one another which nicely underplays the interplay between Brock and his inner voice.
What is also great is the stellar score by Ludwig Goransson who’s moody atmospheric score underpins what the film at it’s best might very well be aiming for, the film aims for a sort of Cronenberg horror film (not unlike next year’s The New Mutants aiming for the plastic reality horror) but it oddly feels toothless for a film that features so much teeth on display.
In many ways, the film bears a comparison to Iron Man, in that the main character and actor are essentially interchangeable and that the film works for a good two-thirds of the running time until the end. What fails the film is the villain and the climax. As the film goes on we are introduced to the big bad symbiote Riot who is body-hopping his way around the world as the film progresses slowly possessing people and heading to Venom like a sort of body-hopping version of Robert Patrick’s T-1000.
The climax is a mess of CGI with two super monsters punching each other in a boring dance that has none of the urgency of Black Panther or emotional heft of Infinity War; as far as end fights go it’s the same as the end fight from The Incredible Hulk, where computers do the work and emotion takes a back seat.
That said, it’s a promising start that could potentially lead to bigger and better things in this mini-Marvelverse. Perhaps a little too much on the side of forgettable, but there’s a lot to enjoy in a film that doesn’t go for brutal as much as it could or irreverent. But, in what it does it’s a good start and with a mid-credit scene that promises a franchise that could get nasty. The world has enough superheroes, maybe it’s time for a flawed character, and a flawed film.