Tom Hardy is an actor’s actor. You know, that amorphic artist who can immerse himself into a character and commit with every facet the role requires. We’ve seen him play against himself as gangster twins in Legend; contort himself into a lone wolf turned hero in Mad Max Fury Road, and lets not forget his beefy, maniacal villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. He is not afraid of the mental and physical demands of his characters, in fact, I’d postulate the more physical the transformation the better he gets. So a role like Marvel Comics’ web-slinging anti-hero Venom is a natural fit for Hardy. Unfortunately as Sony’s introduction of their Spider Verse cinematic roster, Hardy is the only good thing about Venom.
In Venom, Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a disgraced investigative journalist on the rebound with his career and his relationship. He’s passionate and charismatic but suffers from an inflated sense of self importance and lacks scruples. This personality cocktail is Brock’s own black cat of sorts making him make one bad decision after the other. In short Brock is a loser and Venom goes to great lengths to illustrate this. The entire first act of the film is devoted to the many sides of Hardy’s character. He’s wavers between being a douchebag and being an asshole.
Meanwhile billionaire technocrat Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) continues his experiments with gelatinous alien lifeforms known as symbiotes trying to find suitable human hosts for the creatures. Ahmed’s Drake is the yin to Brock’s yang as a driven ideologue who seeks his own solution to the worlds ills by any means necessary.
Its here, about 30 minutes in the story ramps up when Brock comes in contact with the symbiote named Venom. Hardy who also voices the alien slips into the duality of human and extraterrestrial with relative ease. The film morphs into an action buddy comedy as Brock learns more about Venom and his abilities through paranoid mishaps as the symbiote begins to verbally communicate with Brock and aid him through a collection of skirmishes, and chases. Hardy’s troubled and scared Brock against his domineering wise-cracking Venom shows he was meant for this characters nuances. Over time the two become bros with two goals in mind: stop Drake immoral plans, and reconnect with his ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams).
This is the crux and curse of Venom. It becomes abundantly clear director Ruben Fleischer chose to keep story of his hero and villain at such a distance their eventual reunion becomes an uninteresting climax and you realize you would be happier just watching Brock pal around San Francisco with his new parasite BFF going from one misadventure to next.
The lack of integration of the hero and villain keeps the story from gelling which leaves you with fragments with some excitement and laughs but not enough plot to keep the story together. By recent Marvel Cinematic Universe standards Venom is a far cry from what you’d expect from Sony’s initial venture, but thanks to Hardy, we at least have a film that holds up just enough to have some hope for Sony’s Spider Verse.
Venom, 2.5 out of 5 stars. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed. In theaters October 5, 2018. Rated PG-13