Venom movie review: Tom Hardy is the antidote poisonously dull Marvel rip-off
Director - Ruben Fleischer
Cast - Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed
Rating - 2.5/5
They say superhero movies have a disregard for the laws of physics, but Venom has a disregard for the laws of human behaviour. In any given scene, its characters are prone to making such shoddy decisions that they barely resemble real people at all. Would you, for example, willingly allow an alien symbiote that looks like a sentient booger to latch itself onto you?
You could expect Eddie Brock to make dumb decisions – especially since Tom Hardy is playing him like a man-child doofus – but not Michelle Williams’ responsible district attorney. However, a point could be made that the entire project was ill-conceived from the very beginning and Hardy and Williams’ objectively bad decision to star in the damn thing just got the ball rolling.
Watch the Venom trailer here
Venom tries too hard to be edgy, but ends up feeling rather flat – like a Marvel Cinematic Universe rip-off complete with the same villain tropes and intermittent humour. It’s a classic example of a film’s tone being drastically altered after poor test screenings – by now we’ve seen this happen way too often to not spot the tell-tale signs, the most obvious of which is Hardy’s unhinged performance.
He plays Brock like a VICE bro, out to take down evil corporations and expose government scams, like a mid-2000s version of Shane Smith, all tattoos and aw-shucks. When Brock is given the opportunity to interview billionaire Carlton Drake (a surprisingly mellow Riz Ahmed channelling an evil Elon Musk), accused of shady business, he blows the chance to actually make a difference by making yet another dumb decision and confronting him on camera. Brock ends up losing his job, his apartment, and for some reason, also his girlfriend.
The problems with this character are easily identified – and Venom has only one character, really; the rest just hover in the background, occasionally making a noise. He’s passivity is debilitating. Not once does he take the charge – stuff’s always happening to him. He’s the one who gets dumped, he’s the one who chooses not to interfere in a mugging, and he’s the one who gets infected by the symbiote and then basically assumes a submissive position in their co-dependent relationship.
Understandably, the film’s first half is heavy on the horror – an alien eats several human heads, after all – but if only the movie had the self-awareness to know that it’s simply wasting its time with all the bloodless gore. If only it knew that beneath all the ickiness, it is a comedy at heart. Perhaps that is why they hired Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer to direct the film in the first place, which suggests that at least initially there was a somewhat clear vision of where to take this thing.
Hardy is clearly in a different movie altogether, having brushed the characters’ inherent Jekyll and Hyde elements in favour of a one-man buddy comedy. Venom would instantly earn an extra star if it were to just add another 15 or so minutes of Hardy slouching around town, mumbling to himself. Unfortunately, as the charismatic star himself has admitted, around half-an-hour of footage of him doing exactly that was, in fact, removed from the final cut.
It would make all the difference, I promise. We wouldn’t have this faux gritty tone – because Hardy isn’t in sync with the rest of the picture – and visuals that appear to have been shot with inky black goo smeared across the cameras’ lens. It’s going to be difficult to find a 2D screening – certainly, the film has only been released in variations of 3D in New Delhi, at least – but watching it with the added dimension adds an extra layer of murkiness to what I’m sure was perfectly fine work by the phenomenal DP, Matty Libatique.
And yet, despite all its failings, if this is all the Venom we’re going to get, it’ll be very disappointing indeed. Now that they’ve got this routine origin story out of the way, and perhaps with enough time to hear what the fans would have to say about it, the stage is set for a braver follow-up, and perhaps even a Spider-Man cameo.
It’s baffling that even in this era of Logans and Deadpools, they didn’t have the courage to go all-out with a character that positively demands a film as bonkers as Hardy’s performance. But there you have it, in the end he’s the antidote to this poisonously mediocre film.