Ever felt like you are a bit out of the loop? Sat there in the cinema about to watch a film people have called the worst of the worst and then, the lights go down, the titles go up and by the time the lights come back on you are left a tad puzzled. Not only is this film not the worst of the year but it’s actually really fun. We all know that, nowadays, ‘fun’ is film critic code for shallow, horrible and disastrous but what is wrong with enjoying yourself. Enter Venom, based on the comic book character that originated as a Spider-Man villain in the comics back in the late 1980s, this new film from Sony is the start of their own Marvel universe which, optimistically, they hope may at some point intertwine with Disney’s MCU.
Well after the scathing reviews, that outcome may be a long way off but despite being called 2018’s Fant4stic (it really isn’t), Venom is far better than people would have you believe. After scuppering the character back in Sam Raimi’s overstuffed Spider-Man 3 in 2007, this new take on the charismatic symbiote is more visually faithful and wins you over with its anarchical humour and the all in lead performance by Tom Hardy. Starting with a failed space mission that brings the symbiote alien life forms crashing to earth, Venom takes a surprising amount of time to reveal its title character, first focusing initially more on Eddie Brock and his determined pursuit of the truth behind the actions of Riz Ahmed’s slimy figurehead of the multi-billion dollar Life Foundation Carlton Drake.
It is at the point when one of the symbiotes bond with Eddie that Reuben Fleischer’s film comes well into its own and unleashes the dualistic excellence of its leading man. From crustacean crunching and unknown powers to internal bickering and symbiotic smooching, Venom and Eddie’s relationship is the core of the film. Offering sequences that are dotty, hilarious and bizarrely comforting. Allegedly Sony cut over 40 minutes of footage and likely lots of it was more scenes of Eddie’s deranged transition into playing host to his newfound alien buddy but while I can see why this could be viewed as surfeit, I could have happily watched 30 or more minutes of Hardy’s hyper madness (hopefully they’ll find their way onto home video releases). Incorporating body horror and dark comedy, Hardy sells us on the idea wholesale of an alien taking over his mind and body and is Nic Cage-esque in his concentrated madness.
It is a hoot seeing the two minds lock horns (or rather tongues) in one body, as Hardy’s deranged turn instils numerous barmy comedy moments amidst the film’s other thriller and horror inspired scenes. Some have called labelled this tonally uneven but I actually thought it was a quite coherent balance actually, being both very funny and serious at the correct times. It was certainly carried off in a much superior manner than the likes of Shane Black’s The Predator.
Venom in many senses harks back to the early 2000s of the superhero genre, but its simplistic origin plotting is not necessarily a bad thing just dated. Of course the movie suffers from flaws atypical of its genre, namely in the shape of lacking supporting characters and especially a disordered third act that crams in a bit too much all at once and becomes a big CGI smack down. No doubt the film prioritises the symbiote/man bond over the less strong love interest with Michelle Williams’ Anne Weying or later rushes developments of the villain (though Ahmed’s baddie still provides Eddie/Venom with a worthy opponent) but the film all the same entertains far more than it disappoints and in a satisfying first (of two) post-credits stinger shows that the best is to come.
For its faults, this is an enjoyable comic book caper that provides some memorable set pieces, backed by a score by Black Panther’s Ludwig Goranssön that has a multi-personality of style, matching the lead character. Hardy owns the show and he is Venom but Williams and Ahmed boast strong performances that make up for their characters shortcomings. Venom wraps you up in its crazy charm and messy marvel-ousness, and from the reveal of the tongue-tastic anti-hero himself to the Eminem backed inkblot styled closing credits I highly enjoyed the film for the whole duration.
Sony, whatever you have to say, pay or do, keep Hardy behind the alien exterior. Heads won’t bite themselves off and he is the best man for the job!