Venom finally is granted his (its?) own full movie on the 30th anniversary of the creature’s first appearance in Marvel comics, and the result offers a strong performance by Tom Hardy, anchoring a storyline which, for Marvel, is slightly too wild and out-of-control, although that’s probably fitting, because it’s really what the scary/funny/icky Venom is all about.
Originally played in a simplified version by Topher Grace in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, there have been many attempts to do a proper full-on Venom pic ever since, most of them hamstrung by Grace’s staunch refusal to play the character (?) again. Venom is a tricky thing to capture on film too, as he’s not a doubting hero (like Spidey), a shadowy figure (like Wolverine) or a chaotic type (like Deadpool) but a fully-fledged bad guy and monster, even if he’s ever so vaguely softened here, something which might make purists uneasy.
After an American spacecraft crashes in Malaysia (shades of the classic The Quatermass Xperiment) and some ‘samples’ are retrieved by representatives of unethical zillionaire Carlton Drake (chilly Riz Ahmed), we then meet San Francisco journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy), a popular, pushy type engaged to lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams, with more to do than you at first think). Naturally, by way of a few convoluted circumstances, Eddie gets some dirt and winds up interviewing and infuriating the nasty Drake, who then sets about ruining his and Anne’s lives in standard fashion.
Six months later and Eddie’s boozy, bleary, unemployed, single and peeved at Carlton’s Life Foundation, which is housed in a huge, technologically-advanced building improbably perched beside the Golden Gate Bridge. Eddie naturally gets in (damn security!), finds himself infected with one of the samples or ‘symbiotes’ (a sort of perambulating, tendrilled blob of neon-coloured plasticine), and becomes host to Venom, which eventually manifests as a 10-foot-tall body-builder extraterrestrial with sharp teeth and a wickedly drooling tongue.
Hardy also offers the internal, sometimes droll voice of Venom too, and there’s some cool humour as he painfully (and embarrassingly) transforms and finds himself pursued by Drake’s goons who, in the best tradition of San Fran movies, chase him down those famous sloping streets in lengthy and loud sequences given away in the trailer. However, these pretty exciting moments are then spoiled a touch by director Ruben Fleischer and his four credited screenwriters when everything proves altogether too crazy for the final, frenzied, FX-overloaded act.
The fifth Marvel movie of the year (although it’s actually ‘In Association With Marvel’, like the Deadpool duo), this is certainly the messiest and the one most like a horror movie, even though Hardy was apparently unhappy that some 40 minutes of particularly violent and bizarre material was slashed to ensure good box-office. But does it tie into Infinity War? And is Spider-Man in it? And what about all the other rumours and conspiracy theories? Well, if you leap up and run out of the cinema before you’ve seen the customary two (two!) titillating end credits bits, then you’ll never know, now will you?