After four days straight of writing about tragic romance, Venom, the new superhero adventure from Sony’s bargain bin of Marvel oddities, is not a bad palette cleanser. While I enjoyed much of my time spent in tragic romance-land, getting a big, silly CGI gutbuster is just the way to give me a little distance from that world. Nothing could be more disposable and usefully vacant than Venom, a movie where the hero is subsumed by an alien parasite and fights other alien parasites.
Tom Hardy stars in Venom as Eddie Brock, a crusading reporter in Silicon Valley who exposes corruption in government and industry. Eddie gets himself into hot water when he begins investigating a supposedly benevolent billionaire mogul named Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). First, Eddie steals information from his girlfriend Anne’s (Mchelle Williams) computer, her law firm works for Drake’s company. Then, on live TV he uses the information to attack Carlton Drake mid-interview.
As should happen, Eddie is fired from his TV gig for his unsubstantiated claims and Anne dumps him for getting her fired along with him. Cut to 6 months later and Eddie’s finances are running low as no one will hire a disgrace. This is when Eddie gets the biggest scoop of his career. A doctor at Drake’s company, Dr. Scurth (Jenny Slate) decides to tell Eddie that what he reported initially was true, that Drake is experimenting on homeless people.
It’s way worse than that though, homeless people are being killed in this experiment by an alien lifeform that Drake’s people retrieved from space during a private space exploration project. Scurth is able to sneak Eddie into the facility and while there, Eddie gets attacked by the alien and infected. Lucky for him, the experiment works, the alien Symbiote, as it is called, bonds to Eddie. Eventually, the alien reveals itself to be named Venom and it has plans for Eddie.
Venom is a seriously crazy movie. The tone of the film is all over the place as it struggles with wanting to be very violent and very broad while staying in the lines of a PG-13 movie. Venom eats people, specifically their heads, but we can’t see that in a PG-13 movie so director Ruben Fleischer has to do a lot of tap dancing to show how fearsome Venom is while not crossing the line into R-rated territory. Strangely, this approach worked for me.
Unable to be as nasty as it wants to be, Venom is essentially forced to be funny. Director Fleischer and star Tom Hardy work hard to amp up the comedy with Hardy throwing his full body into the performance as he slowly discovers what Venom can do. The comedy moves to the fore when Venom starts talking inside Eddie’s head and mocking him for the most part. Tom Hardy is a total pro and he throws full crazy into his performance and damned if it isn’t hilarious at times.
That’s not to say that Venom is a laugh riot, or that it is even a really good. It’s not bad, it’s strange and I rather enjoyed this strange approach to a superhero movie. One of the things that all superhero movies struggle with in the glut of their own film genre is finding their own unique voice. Fleischer and Hardy found Venom’s unique voice rather quickly. This feels completely different and fresh from every other superhero movie in the genre.
It’s not without flaws, the weird can go too far and Riz Ahmed’s performance is a tad too bland for someone of his talents, but for just being different and for Tom Hardy’s singularly unique and committed performance, I enjoyed Venom a great deal more than I expected to. That’s also a function of lowered expectations as my critical brethren really set out against this movie but nevertheless, I found Venom odd but entertainingly so.