REVIEW: Tom Hardy's Giddy VENOM Performance Is Wasted In Otherwise Lazy SONY Effort
SPOILER FREE: If you thought VENOM would never work in a Spider-Man-less film, prepare to be shocked as Hardy's Brock/Venom is the ONLY thing that works about this obviously-rushed Sony cash-in.
Trailers for Sony's VENOM have been divisive, to put it plainly. Much of what was shown played right into what we'd expect from Spider-Man's most beloved modern-era nemesis. Throughout something has felt... off, though, and it wasn't the obvious absence of Spider-Man.
From the get-go, VENOM's lack of craftsmanship becomes immediately apparent, and from this a lackluster, hodge-podge adventure spews forth. The opening sequence, specifically, consists of shockingly half-baked effects work, leading into a main plot of even lesser-baked dialogue and the usual over-explaining-of-sciencey-things such lazy scripts fall prey to.
Venom may not have his classic white spider insignia, but every other inch of the character is just as you'd want a live-action version to be. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Then we have Eddie Brock (presented by every weird tick and bead of sweat at Tom Hardy's disposal), a constantly-struggling journalist, becomes Venom, and the movie jumps into a fun place. It takes entirely too long to get to this point, but when Brock and his symbiotic parasite's duality do their thing - it works. How about that? There was no doubt in my mind from the trailers that it would be Venom himself that sunk his own movie; this coming from a massive fan of the character and comics. I was, in fact, absolutely wrong.
Once Venom enters the picture, Hardy's character work is a blast to watch, and we're treated to a hilarious one-man buddy comedy that shines amid a whole lotta' below-average fare.
Venom reveals himself to Eddie Brock. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
It is obvious that the film's $100 million dollar budget was spent entirely on Hardy, the supporting cast, and then every Venom-based effects sequence. The titular character looks surprisingly great, as do a handful of his action scenes. Everything else, however, belongs in the middle of the strikingly-similarly-executed SPAWN movie from 1997.
None of that money went to re-writes or editing, either. Brock is, as his ex-boss puts it "really smart for a dumbass". And this holds true for the entirety of his character's arc and his endearing performance as the San Francisco-based reporter. But this is the primary area where the laziness of the script and direction really kicks in, ruining any chance of the world surrounding Brock feeling real, lived-in, or of any consequence at all.
We're told Brock is an investigative reporter, and he himself states, on multiple occasions, that his job is to "blend in in plain sight" and "not to be seen" so he can "do his job". But his job, as the film also plainly shows us, is on a network show, reporting his findings, on-camera, as himself, with his face, daily. So, there's that.
The VENOM cast at Sony's very last-minute premiere this week. Courtesy of Getty Images.
Then, in a major plot point and even worse-off case of lazy execution, Eddie finds himself in a world-renowned scientific facility - illegally, of course - then escapes, but the owners of said facility have to employ help to find out who was in their facility for an entire night, because there are never cameras in giant google/NASA-esque campuses, right? I sincerely try not to nit-pick, and just enjoy movies for what they are, but this particular instance was so glaringly knock-you-over-the-head obvious that it inspired groans from the test audience surrounding us. Ouch.
The rest of the cast is, unfortunately, just as wasted as the potential of Hardy's great performance. The possible exception is Michelle Williams, as she's wonderful in everything she does, but poor Riz Ahmed, a terrific actor, is given the absolute worst dialogue and has no idea what to do with it. Others, such as the marvelous Jenny Slate and Reid Scott, do their best with what they're given, too, but that's where the cast stops. Which is, in my opinion, one strength the narrative holds firm on: The focus is 100% Eddie and the Venom symbiote, and his immediate surrounding world. The cast you see pictured above comprises 90% of the screen-time, which is an utter rarity in today's world of INFINITY WARs, where you're hard pressed to imagine how they afforded making a movie at all after paying 20 A-List actors to appear together in one two-hour movie.
Hardy poses with Venom fans at the premiere, courtesy of Getty Images.
At the end of the experience, I found myself smiling, though. I am, after all, a 80's-born comic-book nerd who grew up in love with everything the 90's had to offer, VENOM very much being one of those things. I even wrote and directed a fan film based on the Spider-Man/Venom story in college, which was a culmination of how much love I have for this particular character and his tale. To that end, there is a lot of what I've always wanted to see on the big screen of the villain, sometimes anti-hero in this effort.
The script even does its best to tip its hat to fans. VENOM pulls from the classic 90's Spider-Man cartoon for it's symbiote origin story in a Spider-Man-less tale, and does pepper in quite a few nods for fans who know their stuff. Fellow comic lovers will definitely want to stay after the credits, too. Yet all of these nods, tidbits, and after-credit glimpses are too little too late for a Sony flick that comes off as exactly what they themselves have called it: A way to use the characters they still have film rights to that aren't Spider-Man. Joy for us, right?
This isn't the first time SONY and exec. Avi Arad have rushed the Venom character to audiences (looking at you Spider-Man 3), but hopefully it will be the last, and someday we'll be treated to a fun flick that does the character's world justice.
All of the above makes VENOM sound like a Justice League-level mess, but it's not that level of awful. Granted, JL set the bar incredibly low, but when VENOM is funny it is genuinely so, and when Brock/Venom get going they really suck you in (pun intended). It just, unfortunately, makes me want to stress how great Hardy's Brock would be in Marvel Studio's hands far, far away from Arad & Sony, and as close to (Kevin) Feige & Spidey as possible. But that, unfortunately, would require a perfect world - and the one we live in, much like this film, is oh so very far from perfect.
Venom hits theaters Friday, October 5th, 2018.