DIR: Ruben Fleischer • WRI: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy • DES: Karen Murphy • PRO: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Matt Tolmach • CAST: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed
The titular creature in Venom is a lot like the film itself: it wants to have its liver and eat it too.
Tom Hardy stars as Tim Pool-esque journalist, Eddie Brock. His life is good. He hosts his own show and is engaged to high-profile lawyer, Anne (Michelle Williams, having thankfully more fun and stuff to do than the typical love interest). However, when told to shoot a puff piece on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the founder of the Life Foundation – rumoured to be testing illegally on humans and being represented in court by his fiancée – he instead makes a scene getting himself and Anne fired.
However, a few months later, Brock is approached by Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), a whistle-blower from Life who tells the journalist everything he accused Drake of is true. Breaking into the company’s property, he becomes infected with Venom – a malevolent alien goo which gives him super strength.
For the first forty minutes of the film, Venom is very entertaining. It takes its time establishing Brock as a lovable loser, someone who acts first and thinks later and can’t recognise how great things are until they slip away. It’s fun to see Hardy play a character who comes across like a drunker, more bumbling version of Mark Ruffalo’s Spotlight hero. Meanwhile, the relationships Brock has with the homeless woman on his street (PTA regular Melora Walters!) and the owner of grocery store he frequents often (Peggy Lu) are charming, feeling like the intimate small-scale world building one would see on Netflix’s Daredevil.
The pacing is strong during this section with the events leading Hardy to become infused with Venom ringing true. Meanwhile, the portion of the movie whereby Brock is sick but doesn’t realise he has an alien parasite in him are really strange and funny, feeling like the perversely entertaining creature flick Hardy and director Ruben Fleischer promised. He eats frozen chicken tenders and literal trash. Still not satisfied, he goes into the restaurant where his ex and her new boyfriend (Reid Scott) are dining and bites the heads off lobsters in a scene worthy of the price of admission.
However, whereas one wants the film to stay at this smaller, intimate level, with a budget of $100 million and pressure for this to be the first in Sony’s rival MCU, the movie succumbs to many of the problems with superhero flicks, most notably weightless CGI and a bland villain.
Fleischer just doesn’t have the directing chops to make two glops of black goo with teeth flicking at each other exciting or tangible in anyway – which unfortunately is much of the movie’s second half.
Also, Riz Ahmed in the stronger early portion of the movie comes across as a realistic, complex villain – who truly believes what he is doing is not only correct but has to be done. However, the plot mechanics to get him infected with other alien goo are very creaky. Meanwhile, once he does, viewers lose all interest in him as a character as he turns into a very generic baddie.
Instead of spending $100 million, one wishes Sony had given a promising filmmaker $10 million. That way they could make the weird creature movie Hardy is clearly interested in without having to homogenise and dull it in the way one must if they want to gross $300 million at the box-office. For example, look at Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, another sci-fi about a Tom Hardy lookalike who becomes infused with a villainous inner voice driving him to kill. It cost $4 million, is set in the future and is not only a better Venom movie, it looks better.
Still, Venom is not the failure people predicted. It’s nowhere near the level of 2015’s Fantastic Four or even 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and the bits that were cringey in the trailer play much better in the film with context. For the most part, Venom is very watchable and in some sections goddamn delightful. Yet, these moments make one wish the movie was better as a whole.