VENOM (2018), the latest Marvel superhero movie, stars Tom Hardy and is a fairly entertaining superhero flick even if it doesn’t always play out like one.
It’s not for a lack of trying, with its witty one-liners and slick action scenes, but at the end of the day this tale of a man dealing with a symbiotic alien life form known as Venom feels more like a 1980s John Carpenter or David Cronenberg movie, only not as dark.
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative TV news reporter, and for his latest assignment he’s been asked to interview the controversial scientist and businessman Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) but it’s supposed to be a soft interview. No difficult questions. But Eddie isn’t having it, because he believes Drake is a bad man, and so he takes off the kids’ gloves and asks Drake the tough questions. As a result, Drake cuts the interview short.
Not only that, but the next thing he knows, Eddie is fired, his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams) breaks off their engagement and leaves him, and he pretty much hits rock bottom. But his instincts about Drake were right. He is a bad man. He’s been conducting experiments with alien life forms that need human hosts to survive. Trouble is, the human hosts keep dying, and Drake keeps bringing in more and more unknowing “host” people who continue to die.
When Eddie decides to investigate Drake’s lab, he finds himself face to face with one of these life forms, and for reasons not clearly explained, when it enters Eddie’s body, unlike so many other hosts, he doesn’t die.
This life form is Venom, and it turns out he doesn’t like Drake all that much either, and so he and Eddie work together to take down the villainous scientist.
Yup, it’s all kinda stupid when you think about it, so don’t think about it too much.
The best part of VENOM is clearly Tom Hardy. He pretty much carries the first half of the movie, which can be slow at times, and he does this by making Eddie less a jerk and more a lovable loser. Hardy also provides the voice of Venom, and when the two join forces in the film’s second half, things are far more entertaining.
Where does this stack up among Tom Hardy performances? Well, truth be told, I liked Hardy better as Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) and as Max in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015). And I enjoyed him more in THE REVENANT (2015) and DUNKIRK (2017), so it’s not the most amazing role he’s ever taken, but that doesn’t mean he’s not very good here. He is.
I’m also a big fan of Michelle Williams, but sadly her role here as Eddie’s love interest Anne isn’t much of a role.
Riz Ahmed is okay as the villainous Carlton Drake, but like so many other Marvel movie villains before him, he’s rather boring. As good as these Marvel movies have been, the majority of them haven’t had villains who have been on par with the heroes. Ahmed was much more memorable as Bodhi Rook in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).
I did enjoy Reid Scott as Anne’s new boyfriend Dr. Dan Lewis. He wasn’t the typical cliché annoying new boyfriend. In fact, he likes Eddie a lot, having been a fan of his TV work.
And Jenny Slate is also up to par as Dr. Dora Skirth, one of Drake’s scientists who develops a conscience.
VENOM was directed by Ruben Fleischer, and he does an okay job. The look of the film is dark and edgy, yet the tone and the script are light and funny. It’s an odd mixture at times.
Part of this, I think, is that VENOM was originally going to be an R rated superhero movie, but plans changed and it was released as a PG-13 vehicle. It may have worked better as more of an adult tale.
The action scenes are okay, but none of them blew me away, and the special effects which created Venom were also just okay. Nothing here really stood out, other than Hardy’s performance.
Fleischer also directed ZOMBIELAND (2009), a zombie horror comedy that had more bite— heh heh— than VENOM, as well as GANGSTER SQUAD 2013), a good-looking gangster film which ultimately didn’t have much of an impact.
The screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel mixes goofy humor with its darker tale and the result as you might expect is a mixed bag. It also leaves some key points unexplained, like why Eddie doesn’t die once Venom enters his body. Also, Venom says he likes Eddie because back on his home planet he was kind of a loser as well, which is a funny line, but the trouble is Venom doesn’t really act like much of a loser here, so that revelation didn’t exactly ring true for me.
All this being said, I had fun watching VENOM and was glad I went to see it.
Where does it rank with the recent Marvel films? Well, clearly it’s not as good as the Marvel heavyweights which came out earlier this year, BLACK PANTHER (2018) and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018). Nor is it on the same level as DEADPOOL (2016).
But for what it is, a lighthearted superhero caper starring Tom Hardy, it does what it sets out to do. It entertains.
As long as you’re not expecting comic book genius, you should enjoy it just fine.