When Sony released Spider-Man in 2002, it was hard to deny that they had seemingly pioneered the winning formula for a multiplex-slaying superhero movie in the 21st century.
But there’s only one problem with that – it’s now 2018 and no one has told them that it’s time to move on.
Far from being the perfect package for fans who prefer their (anti)heroes to literally have a little bit more bite, Venom is a flawed beast that feels every bit as outdated as it does confused.
Tom Hardy is fearless investigative reporter Eddie Brock, who lands himself in hot water after probing reports of sinister experiments at a shadowy corporation owned by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). Acting on a tip-off, he finds himself alone in Drake’s facility late at night – and it isn’t too long before a series of escalating events end with a mysterious alien parasite taking over his body.
Of the film’s many faults, this depiction of Brock’s origin story is perhaps the most pressing. It’s crucial to establish his background, but it’s tediously stretched to the point where Hardy’s full transformation comes at the end of the film’s overwrought first hour. Marvel fans will also baulk at the absence of Spider-Man in the origin story – in the canonical version, the alien symbiote latched on to Spidey as a ‘living’ costume during the intergalactic Secret Wars, explaining Venom’s similarity with his image.
When the transformation finally does happen, so too do the film’s few highlights – a sequence that sees Hardy dispatching a group of goons on the streets of San Francisco is deliciously dark and effortlessly skews Marvel’s sense of moral responsibility on its head. But the fun soon stops. As the pressure ramps up, Hardy finds himself plodding his way through a series of increasingly anonymous fight sequences that lack the engaging thrills of other modern superhero movies.
As for Hardy himself, he’s a satisfactory fit as a grizzled Eddie Brock – but he’s let down by a script burdened by dated comic book cliches that should be relegated to another era entirely. It’s the same for Michelle Williams as Eddie’s girlfriend Anne Weying – she’s entirely wasted in a role that lacks empowerment and righteousness – right up to the moment where she’s saved by the strangest of interspecies romances.
Still, it’s not an entirely wasted venture. Hardy’s relationship with the titular beast’s voice inside his head often proves to be unexpectedly funny – there are several zingers that offer a small glimpse of what could’ve been.
But all too often though, it proves to be a film without a solid identity, and one that feels a decade too late.
Venom could have been so much more, a real chance for Sony to mark the beginning of a darkened alternative universe that was capable of taking on the multiplex slaying might of the MCU. As it stands, it seems that there’s very little for Disney to worry about.