Venom review: Sony attempts to keep their claws in the Spider-Man universe by focusing on one of Spidey’s most infamous foes, but can Tom Hardy work his usual magic?
Sony have had the rights to the Spider-Man universe for years, with very mixed results. They started off strong with Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, but the wheels soon fell off during the third film. They then attempted to reboot the franchise with Andrew Garfield in the The Amazing Spider-Man movies, but once again something was off. By then, the Marvel cinematic universe was smashing it, and Sony agreed to share the web-slinger, cue Tom Holland. They did however, hold onto the rights for other characters and decided that, if they couldn’t make their hero work anymore, then why not try one of his most formidable foes – Venom?
We’ve seen Venom before of course in that ill-fated Spider-Man 3, but sadly Topher Grace just didn’t cut it as man-fused-with-symbiote Eddie Brock. Never one to be daunted by a role, Tom Hardy willingly steps into Brock’s shoes, but can he turn the spider universe around? The answer is not quite. Hardy is likeable enough as the investigative journalist, but be never quite feels at home in the role.
Venom opens in outer space as we follow the crash landing of John Jameson’s ill-fated space vessel. Stored on-board are samples of symbiotes, collected under the request of Dr Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). Drake wants to save mankind by moving out into the stars and believes this new alien species could be the key to survival. Cue nefarious procedures in hope of achieving this goal, procedures which Brock uncovers shortly before becoming the latest victim. As Brock struggles against his newly acquired ‘parasite’ he soon comes to realise he might just need it in order to save the human race.
As story-lines go, it’s a fairly standard origin tale, Brock even has the estranged love of his life Anne (a horribly miscast and underused Michelle Williams) to win back. The biggest thing to note is how Brock and Venom fuse. Given that within the lore he inherits the symbiote from Spider-Man, this new method feels exactly how you’d expect – convoluted and uninspired. So too does our villain, why does every scientist have to be a maniacal loon? Ahmed tries but fails to infuse any real malice into the character, the decision to play him as a soft spoken brain never grants an opportunity for his darker side to bloom.
The action sequences leave little impression. They are loud, really loud, but offer no genuine spectacle. It also takes almost half of the rather short ninety-five minute run-time to actually get to any real action. This will have some becoming bored and, given that the plot is rather thin on the ground, it’s frustrating for everyone to have to wait a good forty minutes for their first interaction with Venom. What action there is has all been seen before, director Ruben Fleischer not offering much in the way of originality. The first fight between Venom, Brock, and some henchmen feels like a cheap homage to Leigh Whannell’s vastly superior Upgrade. This also isn’t helped by the fact that Hardy could very well be Logan Marshall Green’s long lost brother.
Though not a criticism of the film itself, Venom suffers from the now all too familiar ‘spoiled in the trailer syndrome’. If you’ve caught any of the marketing materials you’ve seen most of the key scenes already, including one near the very end. It’s time studios learned that less in so much more; with films such as this it can ruin the viewing experience.
The strongest and most interesting component of Venom is the mid-credits sting. It sets up for what could be a very interesting sequel, but it does beg the question, why not have started with this story? By no means as bad as Spider-Man 3, Venom sadly fails to capitalise on its potential. We maintain high hopes for a sequel, although with an opening this lack-lustre, Sony might just hit the reset button once more.
Venom review by Kat Hughes, October 2018.
Venom opens across the UK on 3rd October 2018.