I have to say the trailer for this film didn’t grab me. And although I try not to read other reviews before watching a film, I couldn’t escape the headlines, and those headlines told a sorry story about Venom, the latest take on a Marvel comics character.
So at first I thought I’d give Venom a miss. But see it I have, and the reason I changed my mind was because I wanted to see how Tom Hardy performed in the lead. I’ve enjoyed his work in several films. He’s struck me as an skilful actor committed to his role, unconcerned about being flashy, and quite happy, and able, to play a good guy (Dunkirk, Mad Max:Fury Road) or a bad one (The Dark Knight Rises, The Revenant). Perhaps more importantly, he’s demonstrated the ability to take a character you probably shouldn’t feel sympathy for, and turn him into someone you care about. This he did playing London criminal underworld kingpins the Kray twins in 2015’s Legend.
So Hardy seemed an interesting choice to play journalist Eddie Brock (himself not the most immediately likeable bloke) whose body is inhabited by an alien symbiote, turning him into a huge black grotesque Spider-Man figure (he was initially an enemy of Spider-Man in the comic books) who is nearly indestructible and who has a penchant for eating human beings. Yes, it’s an outlandish premise, but what superhero story isn’t? At least by telling a story of an anti-hero, it offers something a little different from the norm.
The bottom line is that Venom isn’t as bad as headlines say. Mainly because of Hardy’s work, it sits comfortably in the middle of the superhero pack. Bear in mind the film is not the work of Marvel Studios, who’ve churned out a decade’s worth of movies characterised with a canny blend of humour and action. No, this is one of those Sony Marvel films, of the same stable as the X-Men, Wolverine and early Spider-Man films. In the company of this lot, Venom is near the top of the bunch.
Venom is an origin story. Hardy plays journalist Eddie Brock, an egotistical, reckless type who upsets many in authority but who has a soft spot for the downtrodden. He’s engaged to lawyer Anne (Michelle Williams), has his own tv show, and has built a reputation as a crusading reporter. In covering a huge scientific corporate called the Life Foundation, he makes an enemy of its CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). It’s Drake who’s discovered the symbiotes and who wants to put human and alien together to construct something new. One of his scientists, Dr Skirth (Jenny Slate) has qualms about the morality of his plans, and draws Eddie deeper into the fray. And so off we go.
The arc of the film is all very familiar. You know there’ll be a sequence where our lead character has to adjust to his new powers, you know we’re building up to a big fight scene at the end, and you know the special effects will mean this confrontation will be visually spectacular. But maybe you’ve seen so many of these films now, that the finale may all seem rather predictable and not that thrilling.
For me the special effects and fights were the least interesting part of Venom. The action is well executed but really we’ve seen it all before. It’s the Eddie Brock character, and his interplay with Anne, that give this film something worth watching. Venom himself is coloured black and white, but Hardy’s Brock is not so clear cut. He gives us a character who is rough around the edges, at times devil-may-care and at other times deeply caring of others. He’s stubborn and sceptical. This makes for quirky and quite funny conversations with Venom, for once the alien symbiote inhabit’s Brock’s body the pair have a Jekyll and Hyde internal dialogue. A key dynamic of the film is not just how the evil symbiote influences Brock, but in turn how the human influences Venom. It’s through this tension that the anti-hero emerges.
The film’s palette and soundtrack are mostly dark and for the most part give proceedings a serious tone. When the humour comes, and it does, it’s welcome. The film is meant to be the first of a few, as a tantalising little cameo from Woody Harrelson sets up a second outing.
One British critic has lambasted this film and accused it of being dull. Hey we’re all entitled to our view. I do find the superhero fights rather tedious these days, but Tom Hardy has given us an interesting and not so straightforward character to munch on. For this reason, Venom is worth a look.