An unhinged Tom Hardy has staged an entertaining coup against big business filmmaking, his director, and all common sense. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one ordered by strict rules about the way things are done and Venom breaks all of them. It harkens back to a time where we would get one-off superhero action films that were every bit as disposable as they were chaotic and unforgiving to their source material. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. Tom Hardy is wholly committed to the bad hand he’s been dealt and he’s having a great time whether anyone is with him, or not.
When I read that Venom received “dramatically diverse” audiences through its opening weekend, it confirmed what I already believed to be true: this is not a film for critics, but it’s certainly for audiences. Anything that has the capacity to broaden the reach of filmmaking is inherently good for the movies. Venom isn’t holistically a very good film but begin to separate its parts and it is full of charms. This is body-horror by way of romantic-comedy paving the way for a different future of hero films.
Sony and Marvel have long been tied up over rights to Spiderman. Venom has long been Sony’s hopeful pillar of an expanded Spiderman universe. Ever since the early Sam Rami films, they’ve worked to set up the potential for this expansion. It’s so clear why Sony are hot about its potential, his slick design and antithetical spirit making him instantly marketable. There are a few missteps here, leading the symbiote down a more heroic and world-saving path as a means to spell out a direct motivation. It doesn’t truly capture the destructive and chaotic spirit of what we understand Venom to be. Mostly, however, this is a success story that could be the beginning of a very fun franchise.
We have Tom Hardy to thank for all of this and nobody else. Do not thank Director Ruben Fleischer, who has unsuccessfully tried to shoot a conventional and by-the-numbers superhero story around him. Do not thank multiple-Academy Award nominated co-star Michelle Williams, who seems positively baffled by the film unfolding before her. Do not thank the very good Riz Ahmed, who plays a fun caricature of Elon Musk but does not develop very much. Do not thank Woody Harrelson, who makes a fantastic appearance not worth spoiling. Do not thank Spiderman, who does not show up at all. Do not thank Eminem, for a title track that left the theater splitting in laughter. Thank Tom Hardy for his unwavering commitment to taking a bad project and making it an absolutely hilarious body-horror & rom-com vehicle.
This is only the second best Tom Hardy-esque body-horror of 2018. Upgrade found the director of Saw turning his chops toward augmented body-horror in a really slick way, where Fake Tom Hardy (Logan Marshall-Green) over performed and carried the film. With the present competition, Tom Hardy’s vying for the most Tom Hardy role of the year, and while losing the edge, makes a trying effort. He does so by adopting a looney Queens accent from who knows where, adding to his ever-growing collection of voices. He plays jittery investigative journalist Eddie Brock who’s down on his luck after exposing Riz Ahmed’s character for bad practices. His life falls apart, losing his girl and his career, and his faith in his relationship with the truth.
By a strange series of turns, he encounters some symbiotic fluid and becomes one with Venom and then the movie gets super fun. The best way to describe it is as a bromance between Eddie and Venom. They even get a scene where they make out. Hardy acts out both characters, alternating between a cartoon New York accent and a horrific growl as Venom. The alternation proves out to be a lot of fun. Within moments, Venom has Tom Hardy dumping frozen tater tots into his mouth, digging through the garbage for old chicken meat, jumping into a lobster tank at a nice restaurant, and taking a bite of a live lobster. Venom is full of the entertaining stuff we rarely get from comic book films, Tom Hardy clearly loses himself and everyone around him in the role, but shows such great humanity in the process, it feels like a certain kind of success.
The audience during Venom is the best I experienced all of last year. It got more laughs than any comedy I had seen, provoking so much reaction and involvement that it bested even my audiences for Black Panther and Infinity War. This is all to say that it requires a sequel. There is so much left to do and if Hardy is game for more, it’s best to stand aside and let him work his inexplicable magic. While markedly not a great movie, Venom is a fantastic theater-going experience and one of the year’s finer comedies. Bless Tom Hardy.