Ruben Fleischer’s Venom has many questions to answer. Can it do justice to one of Marvel’s most iconic antiheroes, an alien symbiote that can run, leap and swing like Spider-Man but likes to bite off people’s heads? Can it survive on its own merits and successfully launch its own franchise while Spidey is otherwise engaged in the MCU? Will it compromise 1993 source series Lethal Protector as the PG-13 certificate – 15 in the UK – suggests (Logan and Deadpool dared to go hard-R)? And the two biggies: might it, please God, erase memories of Tobey Maguire dancing in a jazz club, and can Tom Hardy muster up a villainous voice that is in some way intelligible.
The answers are sort of, just about, sadly yes, hmmm, and you betcha – with the help of an industrial sub-woofer. The plot is your standard origin story, as investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) aims to take down billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), whose Life Foundation has launched a space programme to find cures for the Earthly ills of overpopulation and climate change. As the film opens, we see a homeward-bound shuttle carrying four alien organisms that could possess the key to staving off humankind’s inevitable extinction. Only the ship crashes in East Malaysia and one of the ETs hotfoots it from the wreckage, working through various human hosts while the other three specimens are duly delivered to Drake at his foundation in San Francisco, ready for experimentation to begin.
It’s no spoiler to say that Brock, whose snooping into Drake’s affairs loses him his job and his fiancée (Michelle Williams), finds himself hosting a symbiote. “I am Venom,” it growls after revealing itself in its full seven-foot, toothy, Gene Simmons-tongued glory. Brock spends the rest of the movie engaged in bicker-banter with the voice in his head and fighting off Drake’s henchmen courtesy of all manner of CGI gymnastics.
Venom ending explained - everything you need to know after watching
Tonally, Venom leaps and stretches like the symbiote itself, hopping from ‘edgy’ character piece (shots of a hunch-shouldered Brock walking the San Francisco streets are Taxi Driver minus the porno theatres) to multiplex-friendly body horror, to riotous buddy-com. Hardy might have been joking (or not) when he said the best 40 minutes of Venom are on the cutting-room floor, but it certainly feels rushed and gutted. The action is solid at best, the computer effects very, well, computer-y, and Williams is granted a role so thankless it makes one of the world’s best actresses seem ordinary.
What saves Venom is Venom. And Brock. Meaning Hardy, who here exhibits a knack for physical comedy that anyone unfortunate enough to see McG’s This Means War could hardly credit. Throwing himself, literally, into the action, he also unleashes a series of yip, yowls and yelps that put Tom Cruise’s Mummy memes to shame. It’s a jerky, whiplash-inducing ride to get there, but come the final act, Venom and Brock have found the perfect symbiosis, and the movie’s found its tone.
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- Release date: October 3, 2018 (UK)/October 5, 2018 (US)
- Certificate: 15 (UK)/PG-13 (US)
- Running time: 112 mins