Tom Hardy deserves better.
Watching the talented actor’s latest film, it’s easy to tell that no one on screen cares more about their performance or has thought about their character more than Hardy.
Everything about his work is nuanced, with immense planning given to the affectation of each line, the physicality involved and the Jekyll and Hyde quality his work espouses.
But stuck in a superhero movie not produced by Marvel Studios, Hardy feels like he’s running in quicksand with “Venom,” a Spider-Man spinoff that can’t (or won’t) reference Spider-Man.
Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, an investigative video journalist who learns of experiments combining the homeless of San Francisco with alien symbiotes. When Eddie is exposed, he begins an unlikely alliance with his symbiote, Venom, in a struggle of good versus evil.
From the outset, it’s clear that Hardy is working the layers of Eddie and Venom (who he also voices) in internal conflict as some sort of mashup of superhero origin story and literary commentary.
Each part of the character(s) are distinct and unique and Hardy does an impressive job blurring the lines between normality and insanity. His reluctant charm carries the day, especially opposite Michelle Williams, who doesn’t seem all that interested in participating in the film.
Though Williams is intended to be Hardy’s fiancee, they have the chemistry of mild acquaintances. Hardy’s banter with his Venom alter-ego resonates ten times as much.
Riz Ahmed has been much more impressive as a villain than he is here as the rather bland Carlton Drake and a talented Jenny Slate is largely wasted with a small nothing part as one of Drake’s scientists that aided Eddie.
Perhaps the largest problem plaguing “Venom” is just how overworked the whole endeavor feels.
Hardy has said that his favorite 40 minutes were cut from the film and it’s unclear (but likely) that most of those changes were made as Sony insisted on a more marketable PG-13 rating for the film rather than the intended R rating.
All of the violence that resonates in the Venom character through the comics is lost without the gore you might find in a “Deadpool” or “Predator” film. As a result, the film feels unnecessarily handicapped.
There are some great sequences within “Venom,” usually involving Eddie and Venom’s inner monologue as they tear through the city. But 15 percent of a good film does not a quality film make.
If “Venom” ends up becoming the “Green Lantern” Hardy makes on the way to something better, then all Hardy’s effort will have been worth it.
This doesn’t feel very likely, however, given the $80 million opening weekend box office Sony raked and their affinity for churhing out bland, PG-13 material in the quest for the almighty dollar. A sequel is coming whether it’s deserved or not.
“Venom” is an alright movie. Fine even. It just massively underwhelms on its inevitable home on basic cable.
That nothing would have to be trimmed to make “Venom” ready for broadcast television should tell audiences everything they need to know about a movie where alien lifeforms steal people’s bodies and bite their heads off.
“Venom” lacks bite.