Ruben Fleischer's Venom is an interesting mess, anchored by Tom Hardy's darkly comedic performance that's weirdly likable, but held back by a story that skips too many important plot moments. It's not a complete failure, but boy did Sony butcher what could've been something much more special.
Sony’s latest Marvel spinoff Venom is an interesting mess that’s part dark comedy and part generic comic book movie, roughly welded together by Ruben Fleischer‘s point-and-shoot direction, but truly held together by Tom Hardy‘s performance. It’s hard to write this one off completely, because there’s a lot to like about a film where Tom Hardy runs around San Francisco, craving tater tots and chocolate.
More on that in a minute.
Venom follows truth-seeking reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he “asks the hard questions” and never takes no for an answer. He’s beyond stubborn, to the point of ruining his career and relationship over one story.
But that’s also part of what makes Eddie a likable doofus. His heart is always in the right place, but his brain is often wondering around, looking for something to cling onto and call his.
Enter Venom, an alien parasite that requires a host body to live off of. Talk about a match made in heaven.
Eddie encounters Venom while trying to unwrap an unethical science experiment gone oh so wrong.
Now, Eddie is on the run from the shady billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) as he attempts to understand what Venom is, while also trying to prevent Carlton from doing any worse to the world.
Venom is both an origins story and a “not superhero” movie. Sony has marketed the film hard with an antihero in the lead, despite there being worse creatures to fear than Venom. See, Venom simply wants to eat people and cause terror on the world, but when paired with Eddie, he only wants to do those things to the bad guys.
And that’s where Venom absolutely clicks as a film. Tom Hardy‘s performance is so downright weird and entertaining. One minute, he’s scaling the walls and beating up thugs in expert fashion, while the other sees him diving into a lobster tank and eating raw chicken from the garbage.
Hardy goes all-in on the film and it benefits highly from his level of engagement that the rest of the cast just doesn’t seem to get on board with.
Riz Ahmed is one of the most one-dimensional villains. His sole purpose is to “advance” the world by running experiments on people for the greater good of science. He’s an A-class nut that has no real traits, aside from being bad for the sake of it.
Michelle Williams some how got roped into playing Eddie’s love interest, despite wanting nothing to do with him and rightfully so. Hardy might make Eddie likable and an honest to god doofus, but he’s also a self-centered asshole that deserves to be alone. Heck, Venom agrees that they are both losers. Williams simply does her best showing sympathy for a man that’s clearly in need of some medical attention. Why she sticks around is beyond me.
The most interesting relationship of the film is between Eddie and Venom. Their back-and-forth banter both inside and outside of Eddie’s brain is hilarious and hints at a much darker (and probably more enjoyable) film. I read news stories involving Tom Hardy saying that Sony cut his best scenes from the film, which roughly add up to 40 minutes of footage that is presumably R-rated. I’m not sure how true that is, but Venom definitely feels like a film holding something back.
Surprisingly, the violence is still there, with only a few head rips missing from the frame. It’s mostly the tone of the film and the progression of the dialogue that I feel could’ve been darker and more on-board with what the character of Venom is all about.
Unfortunately, the story is missing some major plot points towards the last quarter of the film that muddy the motives of Venom and never really explain how Eddie and Venom live as one. One minute, Eddie is trying desperately to rid himself of Venom and the next minute they’re best friends saving the world. It doesn’t really add up.
Ruben Fleischer‘s direction is fine. He doesn’t leave any sort of stamp or mark that would remind you that Venom is his movie and I’m not sure how much of that is because he might just be another journeymen director or because Sony had specific instructions of what he can and cannot do to their Marvel shared universe.
Venom teases a character that will absolutely need to push a few boundaries and I worry that Sony is going to get the wrong message from the audiences this weekend, regardless if the film does big money or bombs completely.
Those asking me if Venom is worth the trip to the cinema should know that it most definitely is. I went in expecting something awful, based on the negative word-of-mouth, the backstage politics and the mostly lukewarm trailers. The film is much better than all of that noise, mostly because of Tom Hardy‘s bonkers performance that borderlines insanity. He’s clearly having an absolute blast and some of that pushes through the dull stuff and makes for a vigilante film that’s unafraid to be a little weird and funny when most are so worried about being serious and straight-forward.
The rest of Venom is a mixed bag. The film could’ve been so much worse, but it also had the potential to be so much better. I worry that hearing so much about the cuts and changes makes me think the “original” cut is better when it could have always been garbage. Perhaps someday we will find out.
Until then, this version of Venom is fine. Just don’t go expecting anything more than a middle-of-the-road adaptation of a middle-of-the-road character. This isn’t the next Deadpool, but it’s also no Jonah Hex.