Venom movie review: 'Flashy, vacuous bid to give Spider-Man's slimiest foe his own franchise'
Tom Hardy has claimed his favourite 40 minutes of Venom ended on the cutting-room floor. But who aside from its star would wish for an even longer version of this flashy, vacuous bid to give Spider-Man's slimiest foe his own franchise. ?
Venom, it should be said, isn't the box-office poison hinted by its early trailers. It moves briskly – all that ruthless editing surely helped – and is intermittently funny. But it's a narrative mess, with terrible CGI and a "dark" look that recalls the moody teenager chic of Nineties super-hero movies such as The Crow and Spawn (likewise created by cult comic book artist and writer Todd McFarlane).
Hardy is both the most riveting presence in Venom and it's biggest distraction. He plays Eddie Brock, an annoying Vice News-style journalist who torpedoes his career by lobbing one pesky question too many at Elon Musk-esque Silicon Valley megalomaniac Carlton Drake (a madly disinterested Riz Ahmed).
Eddie suspects Drake is a nasty piece of business but really he has no idea. Not content with curing cancer and advancing space travel, the malevolent mogul plans to conquer space by enslaving alien "symbiont" life-forms and fusing them with humans. Inevitably, things don't work out as planned and, through a series of wild contrivances, one of the symbionts ends up bonding intimately with Brock.
Despite comprising of pure evil and hailing from deepest space, the interstellar parasite turns out to be both a regular dude and to have a natty moniker. The name's Venom and, aside from a predilection for munching the heads of his victims, he's a stand-up guy. He even offers his new best pal tips on reconciling with ex-fiancé Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), who ditched Eddie when his quizzing of Drake inadvertently led to her getting fired (unlike their hazily-sketched relationship, it's complicated).
Venom starts too slowly and it's difficult to see what Hardy is trying to achieve by playing Brock as a schlub with chronic ADD and voicing Venom as Darth Vader with laryngitis. Considering that his previous super-hero appearance was as the genuinely unnerving Bane in the Dark Knight Rises, this is the slightest of returns.
Still, director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) does well building the film into a solid buddy picture. It's a pity it doesn't stay in this groove longer – here you suspect is where all Hardy's favourite bits were supposed to go – and instead culminates in a stodgy CGI slug-fest.
However, the biggest missed opportunity of all is hinted in a scene in which Anne fuses briefly with Venom and is far more interesting in her 30 seconds as a space-monster hybrid than Hardy is through the entire movie (in the comic books She-Venom is an actual thing).
With its head-munching and several gross-out scenes of Hardy trying to sate Venom's bottomless hunger, the movie is in a hurry to prove its edginess. But the really brave decision would have been to cast Williams in the lead and relegate Hardy to romantic light-relief.