‘Venom’ review [2 of 2]: Tom Hardy is a fantastic chameleon

Once you realize that Ruben Fleischer’s ‘Venom‘ functions more as a comedy, then good time is bound to follow.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 first introduced ‘Venom’ as an amorphous symbiote latching on Peter Parker’s suit, which causes him to have a radical change in his personality. And with that, we are served with an infamous scene that’ll be forever etched to our memory – a ‘so bad, it’s good’ clip of Tobey Maguire dancing in the street while ladies correspondingly roll their eyes in disgust. The stand-alone Venom movie has none of that storyline involving the beloved web swinger. Director Ruben Fleischer, along with his three screenwriters, cook up an alternate story and the result is a film with contradicting tones of serious stakes and black humor.

Sure, there’s a missed opportunity to do something groundbreaking here – a reimagined tale of Spider-Man vs. Venom, but in the latter’s point of view. However, Sony Pictures wants to make a statement that a Venom movie without Spider-Man is indeed possible. It’s time to take a jab at the term ‘superhero fatigue’ by spinning a former villain into an anti-hero. If only the trailer sets the expectation early on that this film won’t take itself seriously, then this would’ve been panned less by the critics. But guess what. Venom mostly worked for me.

Aches and pains. Tom Hardy delivers an unhinged performance in ‘Venom.’ Photo via Sony Pictures.

The unwilling host remains to be Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an intrepid TV journalist who contracts the symbiote upon breaking into Carlton Drake’s (Riz Ahmed) lab, in the hopes of exposing the latter’s unethical practice of human trials. Much of your enjoyment here will depend on whether you’ll dig Hardy’s unhinged performance as he bounces back and forth between two personalities. His voice manipulation skills are put into play (I did not realize he also voices Venom until the credits) but it is in his body movements where his full commitment is most evident. He’s sweats, yells, grunts, twitches, raises his hands, then pulls them back during a scene where he’s asked to surrender while Venom stubbornly takes over his body.

But none of that compares to an outrageous seafood restaurant scene where Eddie jumps inside an aquarium to eat a live lobster, with the actor bearing a ‘what the f— is going on’ look in his face. This is where the film’s tone gets really jarring that it took awhile for me to accept what’s happening on screen. In hindsight, I actually love it. I honestly feared for the actor’s well being at times – which is the goal considering he has an alien entity wriggling inside him.

Michelle Williams and Tom Hardy in ‘Venom.’ Photo via Sony Pictures.

Nevermind that Eddie has little chemistry with his supposed fiancee Anne (Michelle Williams in an underused role), the heart of this film has to be the bromance between Eddie and Venom who turns out to be a regular dude. “On my planet, I’m kind of a loser like you,” the symbiote says. The film succeeds in making it a character in itself – Venom is a drama queen who hates being called a ‘parasite’ and a third wheel who keeps on meddling with Eddie’s love life. Once the two are bonded, the film unexpectedly morphs into a delightful and riotous buddy comedy. Pacifist Eddie tries to control Venom’s ‘hangry’ outbursts and incessant desire to chomp off human heads. If this is a romcom, then they definitely complete each other. True enough, the two sort of make out at one point.

Towering built, vampiric teeth, milky eyes, booming Darth Vader voice – Venom’s design is on point with the comic illustration. But the decision to change the rating from R to PG-13 ultimately decreased the fear factor going on, with the film holding back on graphic violence. Personally, I’m fine with it if this means younger fans who have been acquainted with Venom through Spider-Man, get to enjoy this as well. Anyway, this minor tweak does not hinder the film to inject ingenuity in its action scenes – Venom’s shapeshifting and regenerative abilities are utilized for maximum cinematic effect. It all culminates in a vicious combat with another symbiote named Riot – at which point I heard Deadpool’s voice in my head saying, “Big CGI fight, coming up!” It’s not one of the most iconic battles in Marvel history, plus we miss Hardy when he’s disappeared inside the goo, but it’s whiplash fun nonetheless.

Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed in ‘Venom.’ Photo via Sony Pictures.

Venom has plenty of clunky dialogue which are intentionally funny, plot holes that are otherwise forgivable for the sake of enjoyment, and a bland supporting cast – Jenny Slate as a whistle-blowing scientist is merely a plot device and Ahmed’s Drake is a two-dimensional, megalomaniac villain with weak motivations. But amid its flaws, it would be unjust to put a low rating on something that I truly enjoyed.

This film could have fared better in a 2000 era where comic book films are not expected to have a deep level of profundity. It’s a bouncy film that knows how to amuse its viewers with a nonsensical plot. It does not care if you’re laughing with it or at it – what matters is that it keeps you engaged. The clashing tone is somehow alike to Eddie and Venom’s relationship and in the end, the film achieves its symbiosis. I stand by this when I say that, Venom is not a bad franchise starter for Sony’s Spider-verse. Grab a group of friends and enjoy this bizarre dark comedy.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Ruben Fleischer and written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel, ‘Venom‘ stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Michelle Lee, Mac Brandt, Jenny Slate, Sope Aluko, Wayne Péré, Woody Harrelson, Scott Deckert, Marcella Bragio, Christian Convery, Sam Medina and Ron Cephas Jones. Run time: 112 minutes.

‘Venom’ review [1 of 2]: A parasite that bites the dust

“Ruben Fleischer’s ‘Venom’ crafts a mediocre film without Spider-Man.”

For Marvel comic fans, the idea of ‘Venom’ starring in a stand-alone movie is a dream come true. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 may have relegated the character to a third wheel villain, but it nevertheless gave hope for the possibility of having its own spin-off. It is Ruben Fleischer, best known for his work in Zombieland, who confidently steps up in an attempt to bring the anti-hero to life. It has the strong potential to be one of the most MARVELous movies yet made in the superhero genre.

But Venom disappoints immediately with a dull first half. A spaceship crashes on earth, leaving an amorphous, liquid-like form symbiote (‘Venom’) that requires a host to bond for survival. Then it follows the introduction of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) who lives in San Francisco with his fiancée Annie Weying (Michelle Williams) whose work is connected to Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the founder of Life Foundation that specializes on symbiotes. Enter its lengthy setup where Eddie loses his reporting gig and his fiancée – his life going off the rails when he decides to confront Drake on his malicious practice of experimenting human test subjects. To cut the long story short, Venom ends up merging with Eddie and together they try to figure out how to work in a shared body, while being hunted by Drake’s henchmen.

Coming into the screening with the preconceived notion that Venom will be bad, I decided that it’s best to enjoy this film as a casual viewer than a critic. But with so many flaws, it’s hard not to be critical. Whatever success that Fleischer pulled in Zombieland, he didn’t quite find the correct, same angle for Venom. The bromance relationship, comedic banters, and personality clashes between Eddie and Venom are really fun to watch but it doesn’t fit on the serious tone that the movie demands. The action is thrilling – seeing Venom brutally taking off heads of an entire SWAT team gives a little verve, albeit the camera angles sometimes mess up. Most of the time, the movie sets up the action in night where the Venom’s features are begging to be highlighted. It’s quite hard to keep track of what the audience are supposed to see, save for an amazing final battle where Venom and another symbiote, Riot, have both discernible forms. Overall, the plot is decent enough – it’s easy to understand yet not too boring. I can pick several moments in the film genuinely enjoyed.

Hardy suits the character very well and it’s safe to say that he did a better job than Topher Grace, but the lack of chemistry between him and Williams make the performances unengaging. There’s no strong establishment of their relationship in the beginning, considering that Eddie’s personal goal here is to reconcile with her.

Venom squanders its potential to do more. The decision to cut 40 minutes of Hardy’s favorite scenes and to switch the rating from R to PG-13 ultimately lowered the film’s capacity to fully embrace its anti-hero side. Somewhere in Fleischer’s file is a R-rated director’s cut that is much worthy of viewing. But as far as I’m concerned, this theatrical version bites the dust. That is not to say that this film will flunk in the box office – films with negative reviews can still find commercial success, and Marvel still has the option to connect this to their cinematic universe.

P.S. There are two end credits scenes. One will give more hype and an unimaginable follow up, while the other will take you to ‘another universe.’

2.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, ‘Venom‘ stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, and Reid Scott. Run time: 140 minutes