“Venom,” the first film in the brand-spanking-new Sony Marvel Universe, gives us not one but two Tom Hardy performances. In a dual role the Oscar nominee plays Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter with an aw-shucks accent and the title character, an amorphous sentient alien who requires a host, usually human, to bond with for its survival. It’s kind of an anti-superhero Jekyll and Hyde situation where Ed and Venom are a hybrid, two beings in one body.
If you are still reading and processing this, you might enjoy “Venom.” If not, you’ve probably already purchased tickets for “A Star is Born.”
When we first meet Brock he’s the host of a popular television show. When he is assigned to interview genius inventor Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), he goes off script, asking some difficult and embarrassing questions. His rogue behaviour costs him everything, his job, his girlfriend (Michelle Williams) and his house. To get revenge he breaks into Drake’s facility with an eye toward exposing Drake’s evil doings. Instead he ends up merged with the extraterrestrial symbiote Venom, becoming a toothy creature with a tongue that would make Gene Simmons envious.
Bestowed with superhuman strength and power, he must learn how to manage his not only his new gifts but also his rage. “The way I see it we can do what we want,” Venom says to his host.
“Venom’s” advertising tagline, “The world has enough Superheroes,” refers to the titular character’s anti-hero status but could also be a comment on the surplus of comic book characters seen on screens in recent years. So, is Venom one superhero too many? Maybe, depending on your level of fandom.
Comic book heads may complain about the absence of Spider-Man, the symbiote’s original host, and other deviations from the canon. But, on the flip side, the body-horror aspect of Venom’s metamorphosis coupled with the inherent humour of Eddie and Venom’s interactions are brought to vivid life by Hardy’s commitment.
Structurally, for fans, “Venom” offers something different from the Marvel formula. By the time Hardy is flailing around in a restaurant lobster tank there will be no mistaking this for anything that came before it.
Casual viewers may not be as interested. The first half, the origin story, gloomily drags on leading up to the Eddie’s transformation. Then it’s followed by a series of darkly lit chase scenes as Drake’s baddies try and stop Venom.
The there are the women. In the “Wonder Woman” world we live in it’s a disappointment that Williams, as Eddie’s girlfriend, and Jenny Slate, as a scientist working for Drake’s Life Foundation, are underwritten, acting as placeholders more than actual characters.
“Venom” has its moments, but it’s hard to tell whether we’re laughing with or at the movie. It feels unintentionally funny, as if all the actors except for Hardy understood they were acting in a generic comic book movie. He’s a hoot, the movie isn’t.