Dir: Ruben Fleischer
Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott
4 STARS (out of 5)
Surprises come in two flavours, generally – good and bad – and while most critics appear to be tearing into Ruben Fleischer’s take on Spider-Man’s most famous villain with some abandon, this is movie that needs to be looked at with a slightly different focus. In a world where we are spoilt for choice with the likes of what’s available in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as well as everything DC and Warner Bros are attempting to cast out in rivalry), our expectations have spiked dramatically. Fifteen years ago and beyond, we were regularly treated to the likes of Sam Raimi’s take on the Spider-Man series – before superhero and comic book movies came of age, these standards were cheesy to the extreme. A focus on fun, special effects and hammy acting was par for the course – and in some ways, I’m thankful Venom has taken us back to these glory years. This is bound to be a controversial review, given that the movie has been torn to shreds by almost every other media outlet on the planet – but I hope to put across why I’m choosing to go against the grain.
Venom, in the comics, is a famous adversary of Spider-Man – this time around, however, Peter Parker is nowhere to be found (for obvious copyright-related reasons). Eddie Brock (Hardy) is a maverick journalist and reporter who makes a career decision that plummets his life into chaos. After losing his fiancée, his home and his job, Brock chooses to investigate shady goings-on at the Life Foundation – where it seems that extra-terrestrial life forms are being tested and analysed extensively. Brock, however, finds himself in too deep – once a ‘symbiote’ absorbs itself into his body. That symbiote – Venom – has a taste for anything living – and Brock now has to deal with both a dual personality as well as chaos unfolding at the Life Foundation and beyond.
Venom (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
One of the main criticisms facing Venom as a movie is the fact that it’s fairly clumsy. Certainly, if you’ve come for the story and for a movie that makes you think – and one which even lines itself up against the intricacies of the MCU’s best – you’re going to have a hard time. It’s received an incredible backlash, too, for being amateurish and for being sluggish at times. I have to agree that there is far too much time spent setting up the scene in the first 45 minutes – but beyond that, I don’t see much of a reason as to why critics are calling this a boring movie.
Unlike absolute cinematic disasters in Justice League and Suicide Squad, Venom is big, daft, and absolutely knows it. The relationship between Venom and Brock is hilarious – there are some genuinely funny pieces of dialogue and moments scattered throughout the film – and what’s more, while the visual effects used here are perhaps more 2008 than 2018, they suit the movie’s purpose perfectly. Anyone expecting the tonality and fluidity of something you may otherwise find in Disney’s MCU outfit will be sorely disappointed – this is a film which is more along the lines of the original X-Men trilogy, albeit with an anarchic sense of humour, which means that for many people, it will be a real trip back into the not-so distant past.
Hardy should be praised outright for his take on the Brock character and the balance between Brock and Venom throughout the movie – he does well to carry what can be an often lacklustre script – and while his choice of accent may be a little suspect at times, he bumbles through the picture with willing abandon. The ensemble cast do seem a little bored – the movie could have benefitted from a better villain, perhaps – but for Hardy’s performance alone, this movie deserves more than the stream of negativity it is currently receiving.
Many people who have come away from seeing Venom have said that – while it is far from perfect – it’s fast-paced (eventually), has a good sense of humour, and more or less does what you want a Venom movie to do (unless you’re an ardent fan of the comics, in which case, you may feel let down by how much ‘nicer’ the symbiote’s cinematic equivalent is as opposed to his paper equivalent). This movie would have gone down a storm in 2003, and I genuinely feel that we’ve been spoilt by the array of comic book action on the big screen we’ve been treated to over the years. Boring? Hardly – at worst, it’s so daft, you can hardly pull your eyes away – Venom’s audacity and its breakneck approach are addictive at best. It could have benefited from an R rating – I genuinely believe it would have changed a few minds in the process.
For once, I say – don’t believe the backlash – if you’re up for big, daft fun – and aren’t particularly bothered about the intricacies of plot and character development – you’ll likely have a ball.