Ever since we first heard that Tom Hardy would be bringing Eddie Brock and his symbiotic partner Venom to life, the hype train got going in full force. Hardy's a great actor that has done superhero roles justice with Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, after all, and this film looked to give a darker edge to Sony's heroic film efforts. At least, that's what the marketing suggested.
The dark tone of the trailers and pre-release material doesn't match to what we see in the finished product, as Venom is actually more of a comedic caper than a gritty origin story. We were reminded constantly of buddy films and others like The Mask as Hardy has this back and forth with Venom's voice in his head. In fact, before Venom really comes to life the film is more 'The Wacky Adventures of Eddie Brock' as he becomes more and more bizarre in his behaviour, like dunking himself in a lobster tank or eating tons of chicken.
That said, this isn't a comedy film as such, and as a whole the tone is all over the place, as among the jokes we get horror-esque sections as Hardy struggles with this parasite, or when he's sneaking through a lab and test subjects bang on the class. It commits to neither side of the spectrum fully, and as a result it feels like a bit of a mess, especially since there aren't nearly enough action scenes to make it an action film either.
We heard whispers on the grapevine that it felt as if Tom Hardy phoned this role in, but we wouldn't say that's fair. It's not the best performance of his career for sure, and he seems to be in a habit of slurring everything he says right now (Peaky Blinders is another good example), but his dynamic with Venom does actually become kind of cute... even if that isn't exactly what a lot of people will be going into the cinema expecting.
What people will be there to see is Venom himself, as in the big symbiotic monster, not the voice in Hardy's head. He shows up about a third of the way through the film, and without spoiling anything, his own intentions are all over the place as well. There's a point during the climax of the film for example where he totally goes against what he's been saying all along (Batman v Superman style), leaving us dumbfounded as to why this key plot point had been glossed over.
When Venom gets feisty though, that's when the film shines, as there's a motorbike chase scene where the symbiote helps Hardy outrun a group of pursuers with plenty of bombast, and then Venom himself gets up close and personal with another group of soldiers later in the film, producing another excellent sequence. It's just a shame there isn't more of that (we do get a rather messy final fight, but it doesn't come off too well), as instead we hear the pair bickering more than we see Venom unleashing his strength.
The very talented Riz Ahmed is also rather poorly deployed in this film as well, filling the role of an immoral genius/millionaire type, but lacking the gravitas to feel menacing or threatening. There are very few characters in the film at all in fact, as we mainly get to see Hardy wandering the streets of San Francisco on his lonesome. Speaking of San Francisco though, it's a wise choice to take the Spidey villain away from New York, as this distinguishes this project with a separate identity.
Before release Tom Hardy spoke to Comics Explained, saying "there are like 30, 40 minutes worth of scenes that aren't in this movie", and we can't help but feel this might have something to do with the issues it faces. It's neither that dark, nor that funny, and the few moments of magic aren't enough to save it from being another lacklustre Sony outing in the superhero market. That said, the moments of magic like the bike scene and the Hardy/Venom dynamic are enough to justify giving it a go, but just don't expect the whole package like you might be used to seeing from Marvel titles these days.