UK Release Date: 3rd October 2018
Runtime: 112 minutes
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott, Michelle Lee, Woody Harrelson
Synopsis: A washed-up investigative reporter becomes fused with an alien symbiote while looking into wrongdoing at a shady tech company working on space exploration.
Given the sheer staying power of the post-millennium superhero boom, it’s perhaps a surprise that Venom has slithered into cinemas with so little buzz or momentum behind it. The notion of Tom Hardy taking on one of the most beloved comic book characters of the 1990s in a big-budget throw of the dice from Sony should have been an extremely exciting one, but the malaise of low expectations has only intensified during the marketing campaign. So it’s with a sense of disbelief and joy that I can report the movie is an absolute blast, in all of its ugly glory.
Hardy deserves a lot of credit for the film’s misshapen charm. His central performance as investigative reporter Eddie Brock, left without a job after asking difficult questions of tech boss Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), is terrifically odd. Hardy commits fully to an arsenal of bodily tics and a pair of funny voices, as Brock and the demonic symbiote of the title that attaches to him. Soon, Brock is pitted against Drake in an attempt to bring him to justice as he engages in the obligatory villainous plan.
It’s a shamelessly mad performance from Hardy, who moves from the swaggering bravado of a righteous journalist to the sweaty, bedraggled look of a man being torn apart by something inside him. All of the dreary seriousness of Logan Marshall-Green‘s leading turn in the rather similar Upgrade is absent from Hardy, who knows exactly the tone that he and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer, whose comedy chops are utilised to great effect, are shooting towards.
Much has been made of the strange tone of Venom in the dozens of savage critical pastings it has received this week. But those reviews have failed to credit Fleischer for the consistency of that tone, which maintains a rollicking odyssey of oddity. With that said, there’s an admirable sense of control to the first act, patiently building Brock’s descent into bumdom and Riz Ahmed’s deliciously slimy businessman, who comes across like Mark Zuckerberg as written by Mary Shelley. As soon as the symbiote leaps down Hardy’s throat, though, everything tumbles into a bizarre rabbit hole deep enough to sustain the entire movie.
The comic set pieces that follow toggle between inventive, symbiote-assisted action – it’s a 15 rating here, so bones are snapped and heads consumed – and bizarro physical comedy from Hardy, including chucking himself into a tank of live lobsters for a relax and a snack. Fleischer’s pace never lets up even for a second and, although it doesn’t pause for a breath or a character beat, it’s delivering too much madcap energy for that to be a problem. There’s also a fair amount of room for Jenny Slate, as a morally conflicted scientist, to really shine and Michelle Williams does the best with what she’s given, as much as the film shunts her into the standard Superhero Girlfriend™ role.
The sidelining of Williams is perhaps the only instance in which Venom falls into the traps of the superhero format. Even the third act clash between two CGI beasties is an explosive and innovative take on the idea, punctuated by the surprising wit of the Venom character, who’s as comfortable rambling on about eating internal organs as he is dispensing relationship advice to his human host. A late in the day character turn isn’t entirely justified by the context of what we’ve seen, but in amongst this madness it works.
In an era in which even the best superhero movies have the whiff of homogeneity about them, Venom should be treasured for its gawky weirdness. It’s never cool and seldom clever, but it’s always entertaining and entirely comfortable in its own, slippery skin.
Pop or Poop?
With the oddball dream team of director Ruben Fleischer and a wildly committed Tom Hardy at the helm, Venom eschews the faux-cool of its 90s inspiration in the ‘Lethal Protector’ comic arc for something altogether more offbeat and unusual. This is not a film that ever abides by the restrictions of the superhero genre and instead exists as its own, utterly unique creation.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.