Joseph Campbell, author of the seminal The Hero with a Thousand Faces, details a plotting device called “the hero’s journey.” Look at any number of films, past and present, and you can find this character structure utilized in some form, especially in the cinematic world of the superhero. It’s a technique that has been done to death, but when implemented properly, or when twisted in a new direction, can have satisfying effects.
This “hero’s journey” may apply to heroic characters like Captain America or Superman, however, oftentimes the qualities associated with the “hero’s journey” shackle the characters to a moral code. When these characters start breaking away from the heroic descriptive terms that define them, they often fall into a characterization of being an “antihero”; characters like Deadpool, Mad Max, or The Man with No Name are examples.
Director Ruben Fleischer explores the complicated nature of the antihero with the origin story of the beloved Marvel character Venom. Providing an unusual, weird, yet satisfyingly kinetic performance is Tom Hardy as the merged human/alien being.
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a news reporter in San Francisco, providing a hard-hitting investigative reporting show. Brock’s local reputation provides him an exclusive interview with Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a science mogul who has discovered a slimy alien substance, a “symbiote,” and is conducting human trials in an attempt to combine the alien substance with humans. Brock’s compulsive style leads to him losing his job and his relationship with his girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams). In an attempt to get his job and girlfriend back, Brock breaks into Carlton Drake’s laboratory, but encounters the alien symbiote.
Venom is an unusual film. Like its primary character, who is struggling to find balance and control of the monster inside him, the film struggles to find the same control between the indulgence to push the limits, establish an overall tone, and exist within the familiar realm found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film feels in moments influenced by the horror found in demon possession films, then transitions into a buddy comedy that feels like a modified mainstream version of Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage, then moves into complete Marvel movie territory with a finale that is filled with all the familiar boom and bang. It’s all over the place, which makes the experience feel overlong and tedious.
However, what keeps Venom engaging and consistently amusing is the committed performance from Tom Hardy, who gives Eddie Brock a cowardly demeanor that is layered with ambitions to do the right thing and, when Venom takes over, the impulse to take over the world and feed on humanity. It’s unfortunate that the other characters surrounding Brock aren’t provided the same kind of energy. Michelle Williams is underutilized as Brock’s love interest, and Riz Ahmed is given an antagonist that never feels threatening.
Venom, at 120 minutes, attempts to be a different kind of superhero film. While it never successfully accomplishes the feat of crafting the super antihero that audiences can get behind, it does have Tom Hardy working overtime to make the character an oddly amusing creature.
Movie Score: 2.5/5