If you’re going to see Venom as the origin story of a comic book villain, you’re in for a big disappointment. Because the titular character takes too long to appear. And when he does, that is after a substantial period of inanity, the film makes a muddle (quite literally) of his presence. The rest makes you wonder whether this film should have remained in the development hell that it stayed into for decades.
Venom, as all nerds know, is a symbiote, a poodle of slime that’s actually a foul-mouthed organism from outer space. As we have seen in Spider-Man 3 (2007), Venom is a parasite that takes over a human body to slowly control it. But in Ruben Fleischer’s (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) scheme of things, great offense is taken to the term ‘parasite’ even if said organism is using another’s body. The body in question here is Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy.
Brock is an investigative reporter in San Francisco who attempts to unearth several ugly things being done by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a billionaire entrepreneur who runs a research institute called the Life Foundation. Of course, capitalism’s ugly connections leave Brock jobless and also loveless since his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams in a thankless role) also worked in a firm that has dealings with Drake’s company.
Soon, Brock sniffing and sniffling, ends up in the same spot where symbiotes are kept for experiment and predictably comes into contact with Venom. Now all hell breaks loose. Yes, we’re talking about storytelling abilities here. Or the lack of.
The writing trio of Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel is never sure of the narrative alley they are driving into.
The inherent darkness of the premise never gets exploited because the film wishes to be a comedy. And so it settles into a romantic banter between a man and his insistent costume.
Wait, isn’t Venom supposed to be a supervillain? That’s what Topher Grace essayed in Spider-Man 3. Well, Fleischer seems to tell us that he has a card up his sleeve since he is turning a supervillain into a superhero, dumping all our previous expectations. Turns out Venom has developed a liking for his host and planet earth. Now, he teams up with Brock to fight off other symbiotes who have plans to consume our planet. The result is an unfathomable skirmish between two slimes, a massive mishmash of digital blur that passes off for a grand finale.
Despite being a Marvel character, Venom does not belong to that cheery stable of Disney called the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has mastered an escapist abandon of a franchise that’s worthy of your popcorn.
Since it’s a separate entity, the film tries off-kilter humour to take off its proceedings, but it never manages to find the method to madness it’s aiming for.
The only saving grace is Tom Hardy who continues to hide his masculine beauty behind masks and other things (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises and Dunkirk), while bringing a certain edgy charm to his Brock, finding his groove in his raspy accent, and almost-musical walk.
It’s a one-man buddy comedy, driven by Hardy’s vocal performance that knows the essential weirdness of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
Only Hardy & Hardy work here, the rest is a giant mess without a proper dress.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder).
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