I write this as someone who actually quite enjoyed Sony Picture’s Amazing Spider-Man films with Andy Garfield, so much that I was genuinely surprised and disappointed by the backlash it received that led to Sony ending their plan for the Spiderverse and doing a deal with Disney/MARVEL to loan Spider-Man to the MCU. One of the reasons for my disappointment was that Sony had planned the Amazing Spider-Man to be an actual trilogy with a spin off Sinister Six film to set up the final and ending chapter Spidey film. Rumours of a Venom standalone film were also running around at the time, but my concerns were raised when indeed this film was confirmed for after Spider-Man joined the MCU making it a real standalone Venom film which would not feature anything Spider-Man related at all. Still at least Sony cast Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock so there was some hope at least.
I am going to start by saying I really liked Venom whilst it is not a great superhero film, it is certainly a fun film to watch and very surprising at what it does well but not so surprising at the parts that are not so well done. The biggest and best aspect to Venom is Tom Hardy and his performance as both Eddie Brock and Venom, he simply gives so much of himself into these roles in every scene that it holds the rest of the film together so brilliantly. As someone who knows the Spider-Verse well from comic books and animation, I was intrigued to see what kind of Eddie Brock we would get in Venom but pleased to say that this version, which is very different from the one fans may visualize in their heads, works on so many levels that stop Venom from being the terrible film many may have already judged it to be.
This version of Eddie Brock still has him as a journalist but now he is a rebellious does what ever it takes to get the truth rather than the Eddie Brock would do whatever it took just to get the story. Having his own internet news report show keeps the character fresh and current but there are some lovely little story details as well to set up Eddie in this film which I really appreciated. We learn that he was a reporter based in New York for the Daily Globe newspaper but events lead to him leaving that city and coming to San Francisco where he meets and becomes engaged to Anne Weying, played by Michelle Williams, who is an attorney at a high profile law firm The first third of the film is essentially setting up Eddie’s rather happy life in with everything going so well until he is given the job of interviewing self-made billionaire Carlton Drake about his LIFE Foundation which he is forced to do by his boss. A bad judgement call ultimately leads to Eddie going to far in his questioning which costs him his job and his happy life and him spiralling to rock bottom.
Exposition is a real issue in Venom and whilst it does not quite kill the pace, it is rather used far too clumsily when offering a convenient plot explanation for events to keep the audience in the know of what is happening. For example, Anne just happens to work for a law firm which represents the LIFE Foundation and Drake and she just casually leaves her laptop switched on at home to receive a very confidential email which Eddie then stupidly reads which prompts him to ask the questions which lead to him losing his job as well as having Anne leave him. The way in which Drake is set up as the big bad is also very clumsy as his unlimited wealth has him launching his own private NASA operations in space which leads to the discovery of a comet which has a bunch of Symbiotes which he then brings to earth in order to conduct scientific research. His whole aim is to create a way for humanity to live in space as he believes that resources on Earth will be used up in the next generation so aims to be the first to establish mankind moving to the stars to survive. The worst instance however is easily midway through the film just as Eddie has come into contact with the Venom Symbiote and is desperate to expose what Drake is really doing and seeks out Anne who after six months has started a new relationship with Dan who just happens to be a Doctor and Surgeon who can perform tests on Eddie leading to them discovering the symbiote.
Perhaps it was more glaringly painful to see such exposition as a fan of the Spider-Verse but there is so much hand holding in getting the audience to see and know exactly what is happening without leaving any room for happenstance in the story just grated on me a little too much such as seeing during testing just how many failed attempts at finding successful hosts for the remaining symbiotes yet the key Symbiotes in the story manage to find ones almost without issue which again is just convenient for the story to progress. It also did not help that the supporting cast were not as great on screen as Tom Hardy’s performance. Michelle Williams came across quite dead pan which helped in some of the humour, and this is actually quite a funny film, but in scenes where Anne was supposed to be emotional with Eddie it really only worked because Hardy was so good. Riz Ahmed as Drake simply delivered the stand rich douchebag cliché big bad performance but never felt threatening or imposing a character but someone who simply relied on having as much money as Tony Stark but just happened to be more of a dick about it.
Speaking of other MARVEL characters, what was interesting was that this film made no references to anything else in the MARVEL universe and instead completely stuck to the Symbiote section of the spider-Verse. Even in the use of Venom’s powers it was clear that a deliberate decision was made not to have him suddenly start web-slinging or wall crawling but instead just using tendrils and brute strength in combat and action sequences. In fact, the only real comic book reference comes when Venom is explaining to Eddie what his weakness are such as loud sound vibrations and fire, and Anne makes the reference of “so sound is like your Kryptonite”, which at first was funny but also a little on the nose, something which came around yet again in a post credit scene but will come to that later. This is truly a standalone film and story, not set in or trying to be part of the large MCU which is interesting considering the Spider-Man deal between MARVEL and Sony, but even its own previous Amazing Spider-Man films. It does work though, there is more than enough content and story here that it really does not rely on other films to justify it.
The action sequences are fine but most of which have already been shown in trailers such as the motorcycle chase but the physical side just blend in well with the heavy CGI moments when Venom is on screen doing his thing. I would say there is little point in seeing this in either IMAX or 3D as the big set pieces were not all that special and also happen at night making it very dark which would only be darker when wearing the 3D shades in most cinemas. The special effects were good, I did like the almost Hulk like size when Venom fully takes over Eddie and unlike others, the fact he doesn’t have the traditional white Spider logo on his chest was never an issue for me because Spider-Man is not part of this origin story. But the use of real-world stunts and those of CGI fight scenes for me was nice to see and were executed really well.
Coming back to Tom Hardy’s performance and again, it is his performance in bringing both Venom and Eddie to life that stands out the most. This is mainly because he actually is performing two separate characters and knowing that Tom recording his lines as Venom and then had an ear piece so he could react to those lines as Eddie really helped bring both to life. The power in seeing Eddie struggle with Venom for control and then to see an almost Gollum like dialogue exchange between Venom and Eddie as each come to accept that they both need each other to live as the consequence of having the Symbiote damaged Eddie’s internal organs to start with means he needs Venom to constantly heal him and Venom needs a host in order to survive on Earth and Eddie is the most compatible one for him. Seeing his performance as both is riveting and I do not think any other actor could have delivered as much sincerity or substance to the role. Hardy truly holds the whole film and story together and I really enjoyed watching as both Eddie and especially Venom, start to understand the partnership both must now put up with which started with Venom very much the dominate one but gradually becoming more accepting of Eddie’s needs and wants, such as not biting the heads of anyone he feels like just because he is hungry.
On paper there is a lot about Venom that doesn’t quite get it right but the strength of the parts that do including what Tom Hardy brings to the role of Eddie/Venom made this an enjoyable film to watch and the potential for more films is there if handled right, something that as I mentioned before, the rather heavy handed on the nose referencing in the mid post credit scene delivered certainly suggests there will be, oh and there is a post credits scene at the end you wont want to miss either. I went into my local cinema with concerns and the rumblings of the mixed reviews from early previews did have me worried. But I actually came out smiling after laughing with the film when it wanted me to but also at some other parts which I was not supposed to laugh at but then I did feel there is also some self-awareness which the film embraces.
I had a fun time watching Venom and enjoyed it more then I had expected to going in. It may not be the best superhero film out this year but it is certainly worth watching and though I do sense this could be a very marmite film for Spidey fans, Tom Hardy’s performance makes it well worth a look and I would really love to see a future where his Venom/Eddie Brock meets the Tom Holland Spider-Man if another Sony Disney/MARVEL deal can be done.