Remember Spider-Man 3? Remember the black suit Spidey wore, which turned our hero Peter Parker into an arrogant douchebag with terrible dancing skills, and turned out to be an alien symbiote that later bonded with that guy from That 70’s Show and became a black, Spidey lookalike with huge fangs and a long tongue?
Well, if you don’t remember, don’t worry – this movie has nothing to do with that terrible 2007 attempt to shoehorn Venom into Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
Instead of Topher Grace, we get the significantly more A-list power of Tom Hardy playing Eddie Brock, a maverick, slightly unhinged journalist who crosses swords with founder of the Life Foundation, genius inventor billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). Brock later infiltrates the Life Foundation to find that Drake has been experimenting with an alien symbiote species, and ends up becoming the host to one of them, a symbiote who calls itself Venom.
In this new age of superhero cinematic universes and sequels, the superhero origin story seems to have been absent for a while. The last straight up origin story we got – and by that I mean one where the character had not featured in any prior movies before, like Black Panther or Wonder Woman, for instance – was arguably Deadpool and Doctor Strange in 2016 (the less said about Suicide Squad, the better). And two years is a long time in superhero movie years.
While I would stop short of calling Venom a welcome return to the superhero origin story, it is somewhat refreshing to have one that isn’t beholden to a larger cinematic universe for a change. No Tony Stark snark, no wink wink nudge nudge to other heroes in other cities, not even a hint of a mention of Spider-Man anywhere, despite the fact that Venom and Spidey’s stories are intricately linked in the comic books.
Still, Venom doesn’t really push the envelope in terms of superhero origin stories. Most of the screen time is spent building up Eddie Brock and Carlton Drake’s characters, both of whom aren’t particularly likeable characters, and you’ll spend most of the first half of the movie willing it to fast forward to the part where Brock becomes Venom.
Hardy’s portrayal of Brock does grow on you though, but it is only when he bonds with Venom that he really gets more likeable. In fact, one of the best parts of the movie is the interaction between him and Venom (whom he also voices). The banter between the two helps to make Venom a whole lot more interesting as a character, rather than just a moving mass of CGI goo.
Visually, this Venom is a far cry from Spider-Man 3’s as it plays up the symbiote’s powers significantly, as well as its violent tendencies (Venom actually bites the heads off people quite a few times).
It’s just too bad that the rest of the main characters are rather one-dimensional – Ahmed’s Drake is the typical evil genius rich guy, while Michelle Williams doesn’t get much to do beyond being the token love interest (which is jarring, considering how far female characters have come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)). And don’t even get me started on the symbiote named Riot, who has to make his way from a place in East Malaysia (“20 miles from Sibu”, we are told) to San Francisco (via a stopover in Hong Kong).
Entertaining but somewhat formulaic, this origin story at least gets the job done, establishing Venom as the first major player in Sony Pictures’ new Spider-Man cinematic universe. One of the two post-credit scenes hints at another major Spidey villain, but beyond that, it should be interesting to see just how they intend to actually develop that universe, especially with Spider-Man currently web-slinging through the MCU right now.
Well, if Venom is successful enough, maybe we could have a Spider-Man universe without Spider-Man himself? Oh what a tangled web that would be.
Catch this movie at Golden Screen Cinemas nationwide. Follow GSC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
(Ed: A previous version of this review has been altered to remove potential spoilers for the movie.)
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams, Scott Haze, and Reid Scott.