Tom Hardy's casting as Venom is a masterstroke for Sony's superhero universe

A leading man with the skill to illuminate Eddie Brock’s twisted soul, Hardy is sure to turn the limited raw materials of this antihero into a titan of cinema

How are we supposed to take the news that Tom Hardy has been hired to play Eddie Brock, AKA the comic book antihero Venom, in a forthcoming superhero adventure for studio Sony, once and future custodian of Spider-Man on the big screen? If this were a sporting signing, it would be roughly equivalent to footballer Lionel Messi turning out for Accrington Stanley. With one mighty stroke, Sony has rendered all arguments about Venom’s unsuitability to big-screen stardom – and I’ve made quite a few of these – utterly irrelevant.

For there is something about Hardy that seems to elevate the most unwieldy of projects to the gold standard. Who would have thought that Mel Gibson could be so casually replaced as Mad Max, in 2015’s brutally minimalistic Fury Road? Or that the Batman villain Bane, a mute automaton in a dodgy gimp mask in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, could be transformed into one of the caped crusader’s greatest big-screen foes in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises?

There is also something strangely suitable about Hardy bonding himself to Venom. Sony has struggled to get the best out of its rights to Spider-Man over the past few years – both Amazing Spider-Man movies disappointed at the box office – to the extent that the studio has been forced to work with more successful rival Marvel on the upcoming Homecoming. No one really knows yet whether its plan to build a cinematic universe around the few Marvel Comics characters it owns the rights to – all relatively little-known Spidey regulars such as Venom, Black Cat and Silver Sable – has any chance of working. We don’t even know if the new wallcrawler, Tom Holland, will be turning up in these movies.

This would be an issue for any other actor, but Hardy doesn’t require a household name superhero to make his mark. A leading man with the verve and range of the most expert character actor, he’s more than comfortable in the mode of a big-screen alchemist, creating brooding, economical titans of cinema from limited raw materials. He has also proved himself capable of holding our attention even when we are not entirely sure we like the character he is playing, notably as 19th-century entrepreneur-adventurer James Keziah Delaney in the excellent BBC drama Taboo. It’s this ability to breathe life into the most disagreeable of figures that should serve him well playing Venom.

Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises
Super villain … Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros/Sportsphoto Ltd

The Brock of the comic books isn’t always an out-and-out villain, as he was rendered by the lightweight, overly muddled storyline of Sam Raimi’s ill-fated Spider-Man 3. But neither is he a typical superhero.

In his most famous comic-book incarnation, Brock is largely motivated by his hatred for Spider-Man. He picks up the discarded black Spidey suit, which unbeknown to him is an alien symbiote that bonds with the user, out of a sense of mean-minded injustice because the wallcrawler is responsible for exposing his yellow journalism – which has ultimately led to Brock’s sacking by the Daily Globe and divorce from his wife. It is only later that the character morphs into antihero mode, moving to San Francisco and helping a community of homeless people in the Venom: Lethal Protector storyline.

Hardy, like few of his peers, has the skill to show us the chinks of light that illuminate Brock’s dark and twisted, vengeful soul. And he will relish having a blank canvas to work with, an opportunity that would not have been his had the actor instead chosen to replace Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

The Venom movie will have Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer, who has been largely confined to small-screen work since 2013’s unexpectedly lifeless Gangster Squad, in the director’s chair. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new era for Sony’s superhero movies after the misfiring Amazing Spider-Man films, and the even shonkier Spider-Man 3. The surprise casting of Hardy means the studio could not possibly have made a more auspicious start.


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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