By Arnel Duracak
A film that will probably be remembered for, if anything, a sublime and committed performance by Tom Hardy, Venom once again shows the frailties of studio driven filmmaking. It is a film that is so caught up in the current influx of oversaturated Disney/Marvel flicks that it forgets the importance of creating a unique, exciting and worthwhile experience.
It’s dire from the outset: the opening sequence lends itself to the cliched crash-landing-from-space trope whereby, in this instance, precious alien-like cargo escapes from the clutches of a bioengineering corporation, the Life Foundation. The organisation’s chairman, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), wants to create a symbiotic link between this outlandish organism and mankind to transfer humans out onto this unknown asteroid/planet of theirs. When news circulates of the atrocities that Drake is causing behind closed doors, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a renowned San Franciscan investigative journalist with his own show, sets out to expose his and bring him down.
Coming into this film following a recent screening of The Predator (2018) – another incredibly underwhelming film – I was curious to see what Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) was going to bring to this highly anticipated release. Unfortunately, it seems that Sony has been taking notes from Disney and has – to use Venom’s own words – left a turd so foul that not even the wind could blow its stench away. From the lacklustre direction, to the blatantly uninspired writing, right through to the dreary display of vomited exposition in the first act and half of the second act; Venom is a trainwreck. Sony were so caught up in making a Marvel film that they completely forgot about making a good film. It’s so reliant on a solid, Oscar-nominated actor (who is, thankfully, wonderful) that it ends up out of touch with everything else.
Tom Hardy steals the show through a stellar display of intrapersonal conflict, menacing facial expressions and riveting gestures – a feat second only to the great Topher Grace’s rendition in Spider-Man 3 (2007). Unlike Grace however, Hardy is the star of his own film, bringing a new layer of complexity to the Eddie Brock character. He channels the insecurities of the subject matter, and his other half, his symbiote partner Venom, complements the rollercoaster of conflict through witty, quotable punchlines (“Food now!”, “Like a turd in the wind”). The comedy derived from this internal relationship is welcomed as it sheds light on an otherwise sour and bland first half.
Hardy carries an otherwise poor, unconvincing cast on his shoulders, though it really isn’t until his introduction to Venom that the film kicks into second gear. Playing Brock’s love interest, Michelle Williams simply lacks the screen time and thoughtful dialogue to breach the sub-par threshold the film sits in. Ahmed is solid, but when he goes toe-to-toe with Hardy, I start to get a little bit confused. Otherwise, it’s a film that hones in on its central performance and needs Hardy to be at his best.
With Venom, director Ruben Fleischer is a passenger in a rocket ship that fails to take off. In an epic spat between Venom and his beefed-up counterpart Riot (an infected Carlton Drake) at the film’s latter end, we get a scene that’s so awfully lit it just feels like two giant blobs are fighting. Sony seem to have known that the abruptness of that ending and sudden normality that followed was a risky move, therefore: cue a Woody Harrelson smirking post-credit scene to save the day. There are glimmers of Zombieland’s slapstick humour seeping in, however, Venom was heading only one way since being announced, and Fleischer was merely a pawn in this game of chess.
The closing sequence begs the question: what did happen to Tom Hardy’s favourite 40-minutes of cut footage? There’s certainly a plethora of unwarranted expository sequences that I would have liked substituted for those glorious 40 minutes of removed footage; I guess we’ll have to wait for the Hardy Cut. What’s certain is that Venom will work in appeasing its ready-made audience and will reap in large profits. It’ll do well because it’s an event (and nothing more); a film that plays second fiddle to Hardy’s performance but doesn’t even care about that because it’s built a following that is sure to defend its flaws no matter how poor the film actually is. It’s sure to get some Spidey senses tingling with a post-credits Into The Spider-verse teaser but Spider-Man’s overall omission here is felt, and as a result, Venom will sure enough be discarded into the dustbin of cinematic history.