We are 2002.
Two trains are traveling towards each other, preparing for an unavoidable head-on collision. On one train is every generic 2000’s action flick that you’ve already forgotten, especially the comic-book compatriots of Daredevil, Elektra, and Jonah Hex. On the opposite train, is a collection of your favorite buddy-cop flicks like Lethal Weapon, Hot Fuzz, and Rush Hour, to name a few. These two trains should be nowhere near each other, much less on a collision course. But they collide. Crash. The end result? Venom. Much like Eddie Brock and his symbiote clash, Venom is two separate entities fighting, flailing, and ultimately crashing.
Ruben Fleischer, most well known for 2009’s Zombieland, was tasked with Sony’s take on the titular anti-hero. With the aforementioned film’s balance of comedy, horror, and action, Fleischer seemed to be a perfect choice to direct Venom. But from the get-go, without Spider-Man to contrast and connect Venom’s origins, Fleischer was automatically handicapped. Just imagine Superman without Lex Luthor, Batman without The Joker, The Fantastic Four without Doctor Doom; these characters become far less dimensional without their aforementioned opposition and inspiration. Sure, you could, I guess, make a Joker movie without Batman (Good luck Todd Phillips!), but it’s always going to be an uphill climb. Such is the case with 2018’s Venom.
In Venom, investigative journalist Eddie Brock gains superpowers after being bound to an alien symbiote whose species plans to invade Earth. There is no Spider-Man, and no influence of Spider-Man on the introduction and integration of the symbiotes. While the plot does take influence from 1995’s Planet of the Symbiotes, even that story arc included the involvement of both Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider. Without Spider-Man to anchor Eddie Brock and Venom, we are instead left with a generic plot that follows Brock as he loses everything, gains superpowers, and saves the day. Venom, even while containing something as abstract as an alien entity bonding with a host, becomes as generic as any action flick. You have waves and waves of disposable bad guys, car chases and similar events, and a rushed finale with plenty of explosions. If you’ve seen any action movie in the past 15 years, nothing in Venom will surprise you.
While Venom is forgettable in its action, Tom Hardy’s performance as both Eddie and Venom is truly something that has to be seen. While DC fans scream into space begging for the “lost Snyder cut” of Justice League, I find myself begging for a “Tom Hardy only” cut of Venom. Forget Riot’s weird time-defying journey from Malaysia to San Francisco. Forget about Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake impersonating another timeline’s Elon Musk. Forget about Michelle Williams’ completely disconnected Anne Weying, ex-fiancée to Eddie Brock. Just give me Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock interacting with Tom Hardy’s Venom for two hours. Tom Hardy already talked about how Venom cut 30 to 40 minutes, including some of his favorite scenes, so I know exactly what I’m asking Santa for this year.
Venom is at its absolute best after Eddie Brock and the symbiote cross paths. The initial 30-45 minutes of setup in the first act are almost entirely unnecessary, but when Tom Hardy gets to flex his muscles, acting with himself, you can’t look away. Whenever Hardy is eating chicken out of the garbage, jumping to a lobster tank to eat the aforementioned lobster, or eating the heads of dispensable baddies, Venom is actually enjoyable. In those moments, the potential of Hardy as both Eddie Brock and Venom truly shines through. It’s the strangest but most enjoyable “buddy cop” set up in ages. You can tell that Hardy had fun in those moments, and the audience can’t help but enjoy these scenes. It’s just a shame that Venom was additionally held back by a PG-13 rating, and ultimately held back by the other 50% of the film. With the success of Venom at the box office, one can hope that a sequel will remedy the potential and performance of Hardy into something far more pleasing.
“Things that aren’t in this movie. There are like 30 to 40 minutes worth of scenes that aren’t in this movie… all of them. Mad puppeteering scenes, dark comedy scenes. You know what I mean? They just never made it in.”
Comics journalist and historian Mike Conroy wrote about Venom, stating “What started out as a replacement costume for Spider-Man turned into one of the Marvel web-slinger’s greatest nightmares.” From the beginning, without Spider-Man’s presence, or even a brief acknowledgment, Venom had an uphill battle. Unfortunately, it’s a battle that Venom ultimately loses. Even with Tom Hardy’s eccentric and compelling portrayal of both Eddie Brock and Venom, Venom never makes up that Spidey-shaped deficit. Instead, we’re left with a generic and forgettable action flick, one which we’re left to remember as “something with amazing potential”, and not much more.