Venom, a classic and familiar story of duality, features a brilliant performance from Tom Hardy with a less-than-stellar story to support him.
It’s funny. As I sat down to write my thoughts on Ruben Fleischer’s Venom, I reflected back on one of the most interesting aspects of John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2: the Greek fable of Bellerophon and Chimera. In that film, they depicted that for every hero, the world needed an anti-hero, hence Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock.
You might be asking yourself, “how did we find ourselves here, Ben?” And, you would not be wrong to question this thought process.
In the script by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel (based on a story by Pinkner and Rosenberg, characters by David Michellnie and Todd McFarlane), a private space mission ends in disaster when the spacecraft breaks up on re-entry. The mission, financed by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and his company called Life Foundation, collected specimens of an unknown origin. The story elaborates on where they came from, but doesn’t do so in a very convincing way because it’s really not germane to this story (even though it’s an origin story, right?!)
Anyway, Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock is an investigative journalist. We are introduced to the character through a montage of his hard hitting, but fair stories. They demonstrate his willingness to get to the heart of a story, no matter the cost. His latest assignment is an interview with Drake about the failed mission, instead choosing to confront Drake, which does not end well. In the middle of all of this is a relationship with Michelle Williams’ Anne Weying, an attorney whose firm has Life Foundation as its client.
As Eddie, Hardy brings his charm and smarmy attitude while also representing humanities’ fears. The character uses humor to represent that fear, and the character is better for it, even if it overpowers the rest of the story. When Eddie is eventually joined with the Venom character, the smarminess and sarcasm becomes even more evident. The film’s explanation of the symbiote, the joining of the creature with the human host is the strongest aspect of the story.
Then there’s a spectacular car chase on the streets of San Francisco, an escape by Venom into the San Francisco Bay and a realization sets in the they need to work together, because, well there’s another creature of the loose; a far deadlier one called Riot.
Riz Ahmed’s Drake is a holier-than-thou scientist who believes that man is on the verge of wiping the Earth out because of our constant “taking” and lack of “giving back.” The character is not wrong, but the constant preachiness in order to move the story forward simply doesn’t work, Ahmed’s performance is strong in spite of the character, offering us a red herring full of self-involved conviction.
I’m not giving anything away by saying that Ahmed eventually plays the dual role of Riot. This is where the Bellerophon – Chimera duality comes in to play as Venom and Riot duke it out. The film references Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie, another story about a character study in duality (and a more natural one at that) where the characters on either side need one another. Someone else has already mentioned Carl Reiner’s All of Me, another character study in duality. Neither assertion is incorrect as it relates to Venom: it is clear that Venom needs Eddie to survive as much as Eddie needs Venom to grow up.
The third act, which should have been a showpiece of a fight, really ends with a thud. Sure, the visuals are amazing, but the risks to the character and to society-at-large are not present. I had a similar issue with Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man: the story used its own bubble to create an origin story for its main character. By doing this, Fleischer and the screenwriters do a disservice to this character because now we’ll get another origin story when they bring the Venom character into future Spider-Man entries.
I know this is a difficult thing to ask, but if you simply watch the movie for what it is which is a Tom Hardy character showpiece, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Between he and Michelle Williams, they make the movie shine. The story and the editing are where this film drops the ball because it is too stuck on itself to be anything more than it is. Fan expectations aside, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For the record, I don’t think an R-rating would have helped this story be anything more than it really was, not if it is going to fit into an ongoing shared universe with Spider-Man.
Now in theaters, Venom is rated PG-13 by the MPAA.