If the negative buzz surrounding the release of Sony’s non-MCU Venom movie is true, there’s probably a load (a gaggle?) of Lady Gaga fans trying to hack into this review to try and make us all see that slice of flimflam she’s made with a sweaty beardy Bradly Cooper instead. Well, if it’s a committed and sweaty-looking performance you’re after, sod off Bradley because Tom Hardy plays a blinder in Venom. Bottom line: if you enjoy Hardy’s performance, you’ll have a really good time with Venom. Hardy, for his part, clearly had a good time making it: there are many laugh-out-loud moments as he wrestles to adjust to his new, wise-cracking ‘parasite’ on top of tall buildings, in his local convenience store or, best of all, nose to nose with his noisy neighbour. And if you find yourself getting nostalgic in these scenes for Sam Raimi’s comic style, there’s no harm in that.
The concept of a ‘Spider-Verse’ series with no involvement from Spider-Man himself remains a bizarre Frankenstein plan from Sony’s Amy Pascal, designed to churn dollars until the web-slinger’s MCU commitments are done with, but director Reuben Fleischer (Zombieland) has made a film that actually benefits from being smaller-scale and (bar a brief end-credits scene) free from connection to other superheroes. It does mean, though, that journalist Eddie’s backstory is now far less compelling than the comic strip version that broiled him in the rage and jealousy that comes with being humiliated on the job by smart-ass Spidey.
Which brings us to the nub of why Venom, as great as Hardy’s performance is, never climbs higher than the lower-middle rung of the superhero ladder: in an era when Fox has given Deadpool and Old Man Logan the R-rated movies they deserve, what a shame Sony has wimped out on the chance to do likewise for this darkly comic and most violent of anti-heroes. Too often the camera self-consciously pans away from the head-chomping carnage in a way that feels utterly contrived to get the family-friendly PG-13 (15 in the UK) rating. Even if you don’t know Venom from the comics, you’ll feel the cynical wheels of compromise turning in these scenes. Talking of which, the last act feels very rushed and perfunctory and seems to comes around very quickly; you have to wonder what’s been cut out. Minus the (very) extended end-credits and Venom is one of the shortest superhero movies in recent times.
Taken for what it is, Venom is a good night out - a fast-paced, often hilarious creature feature that’s nowhere near the train wreck critics would have you believe. And in Tom Hardy, the symbiotic funster has certainly found the host he deserves. Let’s hope their next outing has a bit more bite.
VENOM / 15 / DIRECTOR: RUBEN FLEISCHER / SCREENPLAY: JEFF PINKNER, SCOTT RESENBERG, KELLY MARCEL / STARRING: TOM HARDY, MICHELLE WILLIAMS, RIZ AHMED, WOODY HARRELSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10