How Tom Hardy turned Venom into one of the most exciting comic book antiheroes in cinema today
Written by ABR on 31/01/2022
In partnership with Astro Best
Cinema has long been fascinated by antiheroes – characters who walk a morally ambiguous line, appealing to our darker nature.
Consider how antiheroes have consistently proven a hit with audiences who seek nuance and moral ambiguity and cinema’s superhero boom, and it’s no surprise that studios have made strenuous efforts to establish a premiere antihero in the cultural hivemind, from Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool to Ben Affleck’s Batman. Forget the spandex, though – as 2018’s Venom and 2021’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage (now available on Astro Best for Malaysian viewers) showed, Tom Hardy’s ghastly, gloopy symbiote Venom is one of the most thrilling antiheroes in movies today.
Eddie Brock was already one of comics’ most famous antiheroes when his first solo movie hit the silver screen in 2018. He’d previously appeared in a more true-to-comics interpretation in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, but this new take on Venom was free of the Spider-Man frame, presenting a blank canvas open to interpretation by the actor and screenwriter – and director Ruben Fleischer’s casting of Hollywood bad boy Tom Hardy proved to be an inspired one.
In Venom, Hardy turned Brock into a well-meaning but clumsy everyman trapped on a warped roller coaster ride that calls upon elements of body horror, classic comic book action, and comedy. Hardy had to play out a new origin story, one that would be focused on Brock and the symbiote bonding as Brock undergoes one of the lowest points in his life – leading to the two eventually understanding that they are both outcasts who can be something greater together.
Hardy leapt into the role with all the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old given his first superhero action figure. That’s exemplified by a scene where he climbs into a tank full of lobsters, which Hardy famously ad-libbed: Fleischer told CinemaBlend that Hardy immediately decided he wanted to climb in upon discovering production had planned for a lobster tank to be the centrepiece of the restaurant the scene was set in. Hardy’s spontaneity led to an unexpected scene that embedded itself in moviegoers’ memories as one of the funniest and most bizarre scenes seen in a superhero movie yet.
Clambering into a tank full of crustaceans is hardly befitting of an antihero, you say. Perhaps – but it’s this chaotic quality that gives the film most of its drive and Hardy’s Venom charisma, and also makes this version of Eddie Brock potentially the most interesting antihero in superhero cinema today. An admitted loser with his personal and professional life in shambles, Brock is a man with nothing left to lose and very little to gain. That means, as Hardy once told Collider, that “…he’ll figure on a goal and he’ll do whatever he has to do to get to that goal, even if he has to do some naughty things to get there. His ethical structure is off and he’s got no scruples.”
Brock does have a noble heart, however. Part of what makes Brock so compelling as a character in these solo outings is largely due to his struggle to retain his humanity with a moral code – Venom does not hurt innocents, and actively tries to maintain peace by dealing with small everyday crimes that occur under his watch. Brock’s struggle to come to an understanding with the symbiote over who it can or cannot eat is largely played off for comedic effect, but it does show that while Venom may be twisted, he is no villain.
That much is obvious when one observes Venom up against his foil and nemesis Carnage in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Poisoned by the offspring of Brock’s own symbiote, Cletus Kasady also bears the scars of a painful past and longs to be reunited with the person he loves most. But there is one important difference: Venom ultimately wants to save the woman he loves, while Carnage wants to join forces with his partner to go on a destructive rampage.
Given Venom’s rich history, there are many ways Sony could drive his story forward post-There Will Be Carnage. With Tom Hardy in their corner, there’s great potential for Venom to become one of the best comic book antiheroes to ever grace the big screen.
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