There’s a scene in 'Venom' in which Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, a hapless investigative reporter, enters a high-end restaurant looking for his ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams). He’s recently bonded with the titular symbiote after some espionage gone wrong and he thinks he is going insane.
His hulking frame is soaked in sweat and the brash misguided swagger we were first introduced is replaced by the twitches of a junkie being starved of a fix. Aside from the voices in his head and the junkie-like symptoms, Brock is also seemingly cursed by an insatiable hunger.
Hardy revs up the hilarity like only he can. Fighting the urge to chomp at the delicious brains of patrons. He picks at the culinary delights on plates but they are not alive enough to satisfy him. Director Ruben Fleischer the rips the leash of Hardy’s neck as he engages routines of slapstick that most definitely had Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers applauding in their graves. I’ll leave the rest of this laughter inducing sequence to you to discover.
Two things happened here for me. One: I wished I had opted for a later more populated screening of 'Venom', where I could feed off the energy hundreds of other patrons. I had to settle with sharing these joyous moments with about seven other people. Secondly, when this sequence ended, I realized nothing else this film had to offer mattered. Not the formulaic insipid plot, not the labored setups, not the lackluster villain, not the meh dynamic between Hardy and William’s characters. This was the Tom Hardy show and I was loving it.
A number of films ran through my head as absorbed hardy’s performance with glee. The restaurant scene brought to mind Terry Notary’s masterclass in the year’s funniest film, ‘The Square.’ It was hard to ignore the parallels with the beloved ‘The Mask’.
Even harder to miss was Tom Hardy’s uncanny resemblance with the Logan Marshal Green, the lead in the terrific Sci-Fi actioner ‘Upgrade’. In another dimension, critics are raving over an ultra-violent comic book adaptation where a paralysed man wreaks havoc on this enemies in search of revenge after achieving symbiosis with an alien parasite - like in 'Upgrade'.
The mechanics of 'Venom' and 'Upgrade' are so painfully similar. We were jagged tooth away from a clever adaptation, or maybe not. But with a sequel to this standalone Spider-Man spin-off on the way, it’s not too late. Whilst I believe there is a sliver of a method to the rushed madness of Venom, it would have done well to just settle on a tone. Go full out PG-13 slapstick or all out ultraviolent instead of teasing us with the symbiote’s morbid desire to chomp of heads.
My expectations were so low going in into 'Venom' I honestly found little to gripe about. Aside from the tone issues, am I really going to complain that the ruthless corrupt scientist played by Riz Ahmed, that Eddie Brock seeks to expose, wasn’t Heath Ledger’s Joker or Erik Kilmonger? There is a simple charm to the B-Movie plot that I wasn’t expecting. Michelle Williams is probably taking home a fat cheque, but she sure didn’t look it. She actually put in work, within the paper-thin confines of her character, that is.
Character-wise, the script doesn’t totally drop the ball. The twist is that the symbiote parasite has a personality. Venom is a screw up on his home planet, like the Brock we spend time with. Eddy is actually in search of redemption after losing his job, apartment and his girl when symbiosis first occurs. It’s the beginning of lovely twisted split-personality bromance as Venom bullies the bewildered Brock but summons some restraint because he catches feelings. Aww.
I was sold on the competent CGI and by the time that final promotional clip dropped. The tactile and vicious nature of fully manifested Venom is quite original and plays well even though we are only graced with his full form mostly in nighttime scenes.
In a weird way, the scattershot nature of this is almost a call for visions for the sequel. There is enough here that a psychological body horror film could work (I am in dire need of some Cronenberg in my life) or a full out buddy comedy showcase. One thing is certain though. Tom Hardy will be right at the center of affairs turning up the absurdist intensity to 11.