Tom Hardy’s Venom: Masterstroke or mistake?

Will Tom Hardy’s portrayal of alien anti-hero Venom add gravitas to the superhero genre, or has he already outgrown the part? 

With the release this week of the first official Venom trailer, it is clear Sony is banking on Tom Hardy to give the studio a superhero-sized boost in his latest role as the anti-hero.

Scheduled for release in October, Venom is the first standalone instalment from the Marvel franchise owned by Sony. It tells the story of reporter Eddie Brock who is unwittingly infected with an alien symbiote in his pursuit of a ruthless corporate tycoon. The symbiote imbues its human host with incredible powers, creating a split personality of half man, half Venom.

Originally part of the Spider-Man universe, the idea of a Venom spin-off film has been in the works for over a decade since the character was first given a bit-part in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. At the time director Sam Raimi sidelined Venom, reportedly feeling reluctant to explore the character in greater depth given his apparent “lack of humanity”.

Sony decided to properly revisit the project in 2016, reportedly with the idea of creating a lower key, more adult franchise in the style of X-Men spin-off, Logan. The studio shares the rights to the Spider-Man universe with Disney’s Marvel, although it could be argued Sony has chosen a darker, more grown-up route than the glossy glamour characterised by The Avengers franchise. 

The decision to cast Tom Hardy in the lead role is both exciting and somewhat puzzling. Hardy is, according to Variety, a big fan of Venom so it makes sense he would want to take on the role. But passion project or not, is Venom a good choice for Hardy’s next film?

Masterstroke

There has been feverish interest in the film for well over a year, with the official trailer attracting nearly 43 million views on YouTube in just three days.

The trailer asks the viewer to embrace their own anti-hero, something Tom Hardy has been doing his whole professional life. 

His reputation for choosing meaty, complex and challenging roles is well-known, from playing hardened criminal Charles Bronson and gangland boss Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders, to Taboo’s brooding James Keziah Delaney and the twisted, scene stealing John Fitzgerald in The Revenant.

From TV to film, Hardy has carved out a name for himself as an actor totally committed to his craft who is never happier than when taking risks. While he has been known to play the hero, last seen as pilot Farrier in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Hardy is typically most comfortable in far darker territory.

Hardy already has superhero film pedigree following his acclaimed turn as the menacing Bane in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Despite the fact that Bane lives in DC Comics’ dystopian Gotham and Venom is a creature of Marvel’s Spiderman universe, the Bane mask in a way seems to envision the sharp teeth of the reptilian Venom. 

Tom Hardy Venom
Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock wrestles with his alien host in Venom.

It makes sense that Sony would choose a gutsy actor to roll out the Venom franchise, especially one who can add a hefty dose of credibility and gravitas to the part. Film bosses already know Tom Hardy is a serious box office draw. His casting as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road is enough to prove he can more than hold his own in an all-out Hollywood blockbuster.

This film also embraces the concept of good and evil working as conflicting forces inside a fractured psyche, as the Venom symbiote wrestles with Eddie Brock’s conscience. It is easy to believe that Hardy could add depth to the role’s exploration of a split personality and with it attract a whole new audience to the superhero genre.

Mistake

As much as Tom Hardy could be the man to reinvent the superhero film for a grown-up audience, the casting of serious actors such as himself and love interest Michelle Williams does not quite ring true.

Sony opted for fresh-faced 22-year-old Thomas Stanley Holland to kick start its Spider-Man reboot with 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. By comparison Hardy feels like too much of a seasoned pro to be cast as some pesky reporter knocking about a laboratory in search of an evil corporate wrongdoer.

Tom Hardy Venom
Venom

Could his choice of this part say more about the dominance of superhero franchises in Hollywood? Last year Thor: Ragnarok, the latest film in a franchise dating back to 2011, grossed more than double the amount in three weeks that the critically acclaimed Blade Runner 2049 could manage in over a month.

Released on April 26, Avengers: Infinity War is just the latest in a long line of films to flood out from the Marvel-Disney stable and promises to be the biggest ensemble cast to date. Estimates are that as many as 30 superhero films will be released in the four years between 2016 and 2020.

There is no doubt that superhero films continue to rule Hollywood some 18 years after X-Men breathed new life into the genre. It makes sense that an ambitious leading man like Tom Hardy would want to stretch himself with the biggest roles in the business – but is he wasted on Venom’s Eddie Brock? Where is the depth? Where’s the challenge?

With Tom Hardy it is always fair to say audiences expect just that little bit more. Whether Venom lives up to the hype, only time will tell.

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