Marvel Studies can do little wrong these days, but while they make it look easy to produce big, brash and fun films, Venom is a reminder of just how cleverly they do it.
Intended as the first offering in a Sony Marvel universe, Marvel Studios were not involved in the film – although Stan Lee is credited as an executive producer and, almost inevitably, has one of his Hitchcockian cameos.
In many ways, this is a mess. Apparently, Tom Hardy stormed off the set at one point, furious with his dialogue. The first half of the film lacks pace as it sets up the basic premise of how Hardy’s investigative journalist Eddie Brock become host to alien lifeform Venom, which is on Earth courtesy of the Elon Musk-like Carlton Drake, a filthy-rich, techy entrepreneur with a messiah complex.
Brock has already pissed off Drake by challenging his ethics and, as a result, lost both his career and his fiancé Anne (Michelle Williams).
If not quite yawn-inducing, this set up does nothing to set the pulse racing. However – thank goodness! – when Venom and Brock become one, everything lifts. It could almost be a sexual union in terms of the energy it injects into the film.
This is not to say that everything is suddenly fab, but apart from anything else, it does create a sense of fun in the banter between Brock and Venom (the latter voiced by Hardy), which is as effective as a celluloid snort of cocaine.
Suddenly it become clear that, with more attention to the script, Venom could be more than a very, very very, very poor man’s Deadpool.
Some of the CGI is too fast – there’s a late fight scene, for instance that leaves you wondering what is actually happening on screen – but you make it to the end and find that, ultimately, it’s been measurably closer to being fun than to simply being a snore-a-thon.
Hardy grows into the role too, seeming uncomfortable early on, but developing as he gets to unite with Venom.
Williams is feisty and (like Brock) becomes less one-dimensional as the film develops.
Riz Ahmed turns in a nice performance as Drake, catching a really good tone of barking, amoral genius with far more subtlety than one might expect from a villain in the cinematic incarnation of a comic.
Hardy has signed to make two more Venom films: there was just enough here to suggest that this could be a good move. But this is far from a A-plus: Sony has some work to do.