Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, and Jenny Slate
Venom is the n-tenth superhero film of 2018, this time from Sony Pictures, the previously sole owners of the Spider-Man IP. With their friendly neighborhood wall-crawler currently residing with Marvel Studios, Sony has taken up the task of bringing the renowned hero’s rogue gallery to life with its own parallel villains universe. As successful as that may or may not prove to be, we have the first entry in said universe, Venom. Set in San Francisco, CA, Venom follows guerilla reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) who, after uncovering the Life Foundation’s illegal human experiments on homeless people, loses his job, his fiancee (played by Michelle Williams), and his reputation. With nothing left to lose, Eddie elects to further investigate the Life Foundation by breaking into its secret test lab, where he accidentally contracts a “symbiote” – an otherworldly parasite that bonds with its host both physically and psychologically, granting them nigh-invulnerability and strength. It doesn’t take long before the appropriate parties realize Eddie has stolen the symbiote and goons are sent after him to retrieve it. Little do they realize, Eddie has successfully bonded with the symbiote (Venom), turning him into an unstoppable, shapeshifting monster. Eddie must learn to tame, or plea with, Venom so that together they can stop the Life Foundation as well as an even more dangerous symbiote named Riot, and their plot to bring a planet of unique symbiotes from their home planet to Earth to feed on the human population.
What do I want to say about this film?
- Tom Hardy puts in work. Perhaps the biggest draw to 2018’s Venom is leading man Tom Hardy, who fully commits to his interpretation of the Eddie Brock character. The film does an excellent job of conveying Eddie as a “live” character. There’s a number subtle naturalistic details in the first act that don’t really serve the plot, but are cool character-isms nonetheless; like how when Eddie goes home to his apartment he always takes exactly 2 beers out of the fridge and pops a handful of Ore Ida frozen tater tots into the toaster oven.
- Overall, Hardy’s Eddie Brock is a worthwhile protagonist to root for. While Eddie is the film’s singular protagonist, the real main, titular character is combined being of Eddie and the otherworldly symbiote that invades his person, whom Mr. Hardy also does the voice-acting for. Venom/Eddie Brock make for an extremely fun duo, and its in these scenes that Hardy’s expressive performance truly shines. I haven’t seen Tom Hardy this wacky since Bronson (2008).
- Venom‘s villain has gotten an unfairly bad rap. Riz Ahmed’s morally disinterested Carlton Drake is the CEO of the Life Foundation – a cold, dispassionate science-tech figurehead, à la an Elon Musk or a Mark Zuckerberg. Drake’s egotistical drive to “save humanity” self-justifies the atrocities he casually commits. Ahmed’s performance is intentionally subdued so to establish that meta context.
- The film’s journalistic depiction isn’t particularly sophisticated – about as shallow as The Daily Planet scenes in Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v. Superman (2016).
- Venom suffers from narrative stiffness, very much in the vain of a Ghost Rider (2007) or a Blade (1998), which may feel a little weird now in 2018, but at the same is oddly refreshing in the post-Iron Man era. Ironically, Venom is the professed start of a new cinematic universe.
Venom begged the question of whether or not non-superhero superhero movies could fair well in the presently saturated market, as I suppose Suicide Squad (2016) did as well. Could a franchise centered around a villain prove successful? Well, yes and no. Yes, movies with super-villain protagonists instead of a super-hero ones can, and have on multiple occasions, prove financially, if not critically successful: Megamind (2010), Despicable Me (2010), Suicide Squad are all super-villain IPs that tell stories of villains embarking on a traditional hero journey, emphasis on “hero.” If your idea of a super-villain movie is just a super-villain doing heroic things, then aren’t you really just making a super-hero movie? I wouldn’t categorize Venom as the super-villain film it promotes itself as; it’s much more akin to a Punisher or Ghost Rider than a Man Bites Dog (1992), but I did enjoy the film for what it was. And for that simple reason, I recommend any curious eye give it a watch.