We experienced an overwhelming feeling of trepidation when Venom was first announced. The question of whether the much-loved villain-stroke-anti-hero would finally be done justice – after that portrayal in Sam Raimi’s trilogy – was marinating all of the promotional material. It was a feeling that we just couldn’t shake until a good hour or so into this latest from Sony Pictures.

The film starts slow, as origin stories often do, and there’s relatively little in the way of action until certain key plot points are established. Opting for an origin story was a safe -if unavoidable – move, given the absence of our friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. Director Ruben Fleischer was presumably at pains to establish a way in which Venom could conceivably exist without the well-known hero on which he is cannonically based.

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In a nutshell, the line is that parasitic, extraterrestrial organisms (‘Symbiotes’) have been collected and utilised by the Life Foundation – a well-meaning, but ultimately nefarious, organisation – whose path Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), in his capacity as an investigative journalist, inevitably crosses. One of the Symbiotes, Venom, bonds with Hardy – during the course of an ill-advised jaunt into a high-security facility – and a budding bromance is born, as the duo works together to take down the Foundation.

Some of the casting choices seem very weak, and there’s a definite sense that Tom Hardy is all that’s holding this movie together. The interactions between Brock and his newfound, intracranial roommate are a definite highlight, adding some much needed humour to proceedings which would otherwise have been very flat. In particular, Carlton Drake, the main antagonist in the film, feels terribly wet behind the ears from the get go, and never really shakes this impression.

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After a fairly slow start, the film builds up to some satisfying action sequences – with Brock playing the role of both cat and mouse in various chases across San Franscisco. The CGI is certainly passable throughout Venom’s showdowns with the boys in blue, and indeed Carter’s hired goons; however, as the stakes get higher, and we get into the Symbiote-on-Symbiote action, things start to get a little sketchy. Most of the final showdown was incredibly hard to follow, and consequently felt very clumsily done – we could just as well have been watching liquorice in a blender.

Though the aesthetic is certainly darker and more gritty than the standard Marvel fare – with more overt violence and some troubling themes – there’s no real gore as such. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this per se, but we would have preferred the film to have leaned further towards the Punisher end of the spectrum. There are countless references to Venom literally biting folks’ heads off, but this invariably happens off-screen; and we see characters impaled on improbably large objects suffering little more than a nosebleed. Someone clearly wanted to have their cake and eat it.

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A major concern going into Venom was the absence of Spiderman, who was always going to be a monstrous, eight-limbed elephant in the room – not least because of the surge in his popularity following recent MCU flicks, and of course the incredible PS4 exclusive game (see our review). A big part of Brock’s Venom identity has always been his hatred for Spiderman, and the fact that there weren’t any substantive references to Spidey in the movie was more than a little awkward.

Speaking of identity, even the Trademark white arachnid on Venom’s chest has been carved out in Sony’s incarnation – serving as a reminder that licensing is cruel mistress, and that absence  really does makes the heart grow fonder.  I mean, come on guys, there were even indirect references to Superman – with one character flippantly suggesting that high-frequency sounds are like Kryptonite for Symbiotes. Was one little Spider really too much to ask?

Verdict: DO WATCH / DON’T WATCH

There are a catalogue of problems with Venom, both conceptually, visually, and structurally, but all things considered it is worthy of your time. Tom Hardy has proven once again that he has a flair for playing unhinged characters, and his performance is the sticky, viscous substance holding this hot mess together. It’s far from perfect, but with the humour injected by the exchanges between Brock and Venom (both played by Hardy) Venom is undeniably entertaining. It’s not quite the childhood reminiscathon we’d hoped for, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Thanks, Tom!

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