Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Woody Harrelson, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Michelle Williams
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Sony Pictures
Opening Day: 4 October 2018
Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most enigmatic, complex and badass characters comes to the big screen, starring Academy Award® nominated actor Tom Hardy as the lethal protector Venom.
‘Venom’ may bear the Marvel logo, but it is a whole different breed apart from the Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings that most of us would be acquainted with. Intended as the first entry in the Sony Universe of Marvel Characters, this dark anti-hero tale features as its protagonist an unwieldy mess between a down-and-out investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and an ink-black alien parasite Venom (voiced by Hardy), both of whom share the former’s human body because the latter cannot survive without a respiratory host in our environment. Physiologically, as the movie tells us, both entities must find symbiosis; but psychologically, as the movie shows us, both are in a constant struggle to control the other, not least because Venom has a tendency to bite off heads to feed his thirst for human brains.
That tension between Eddie and Venom is and should rightfully be the highlight of Ruben Fleischer’s origin story, which was conceived in the comics as an evil analogue to Spider-Man and whose first big-screen incarnation was therefore as Spider-Man’s nemesis in ‘Spider-Man 3’. Together with his trio of writers, Fleischer finds much delight in what is pretty much a one-man buddy comedy; in fact, we would argue that the plot itself, which tells of how the alien lifeform had been unleashed on Earth’s populace through a space programme funded and run by the Elon Musk-like entrepreneur Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is just window dressing. Ditto the villainy of Carlton for that matter, which exists insofar as it is necessary for Eddie/ Venom to have a nemesis to show off the extent of their superhuman powers.
Otherwise, it is the clash of duelling personalities which really gives ‘Venom’ its bite. The banter between the two is consistently hilarious, revolving largely around Eddie trying to control Venom’s worse impulses. There is a running gag about Venom being labelled a parasite, whether by Eddie’s ex-fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) or by her new doctor-boyfriend Dan (Reid Scott); and another about whose heads Venom is allowed to chew off and whose heads Venom should strictly leave alone. There is a particularly funny scene where Eddie decides against Venom’s advice to simply jump off the high-rise building he had just broken into, and is scolded by his other half at the elevator lobby for being a ‘pussy’. As he demonstrated with ‘Zombieland’, Fleischer knows his way around such irreverent humour, and Hardy nails it with his spot-on delivery of punchlines and quirky asides.
But those who have followed Hardy’s career ascent will probably be most thrilled by his physical comedy here, especially in the earlier scenes where Eddie is still trying to come to terms with the foul-mouthed, foul-tempered voice he has been hearing inside his head. One of the best scenes in the movie has Eddie frantically dashing from table from table inside a fancy restaurant establishment, grabbing other diners’ food against his will, exclaiming at one point ‘this is dead’ while holding up a steak, before finally plunging himself into a lobster tank and tearing into a live crustacean with gleeful relief. Oh yes, we dare say that Hardy has never been in a comic role like this, and he channels that push-pull dynamic in physically expressive ways that ensure we’re constantly aware just how both personas are and aren’t in harmony.
Like we said, the rest of the movie pales in comparison. The fallout from one of Carlton’s rockets crash-landing in East Malaysia that lets loose an Alpha-type organism of similar alien origin named Riot, as well as Carlton’s subsequent displays of cruelty and egocentricity, are only meant to set up the two big action sequences in the movie: the first sees Eddie/ Venom on motorbike evading an army of weaponised drones along the roads of San Francisco, followed by a vehicular convoy of Carlton’s security personnel along its steep streets; while the second sees Eddie/ Venom race against time to stop Carlton/ Riot blast off into space to bring the rest of their alien kind back to Earth to overrun mankind. Both are impressive CGI-enhanced sequences in their own right, given how much effort it must take to animate the slimy alien lifeforms, but probably nothing to shout about in the larger Marvel scheme of things.
Ultimately, it is the Eddie/ Venom dynamic which is the centrepiece of the movie, and thankfully Hardy’s riveting performance makes it work beautifully. The very badass nature of the titular character makes ‘Venom’ a wholly separate species from the rest of them MCU movies, and both Hardy and Fleischer revel in the freedom given for their anti-hero to be bad and exuberant about it at the same time, without necessarily going to the sort of meta-lengths which ‘Deadpool’ went. Perhaps because all it aspires to is to be a fun popcorn-type summer blockbuster, critical reception towards ‘Venom’ hasn’t exactly been that welcoming, but we’d be lying if we didn’t say that we enjoyed it much, much more than we expected ourselves to, by simply soaking in the wacky, weird but oddly charming tone that ‘Venom’ aims at. As long as you’ve prepared to let loose and not expect some noble save-the-world-from-mass-destruction superhero movie, you’ll likely find ‘Venom’ just as cheeky, impudent, but undeniably hilarious as we did.
(A one-man buddy comedy between a foul-tempered sentinent alien being and its restrained human host that boasts a riveting performance by Tom Hardy, 'Venom' is wacky, weird but oddly charming)
Review by Gabriel Chong