Venom

Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott

Director: Ruben Flesicher

Writers: Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel


It is just mindblowing that a movie as ridiculous as Venom exists today, never mind that it was this successful. In an age where superhero movies rule the box office and 90% of them share a certain samey quality (even when they’re good), Ruben Fleischer and Tom Hardy have stormed onto the scene with the force of a bloodthirsty, parasitic alien to deliver a film unlike anything else in Hollywood right now. Part derivative superhero origin story, part David Cronenberg split-personality body horror movie, part human/alien buddy slapstick comedy, and part Darren Aronofsky fever dream; Venom is a volatile clash of several disparate elements concocted by an illiterate mad scientist. Nothing about it should work, and indeed very little of it does, yet it is nonetheless an incredibly fascinating and tremendously entertaining movie. Venom is silly, baffling and almost completely incoherent and the only thing stopping it from being one of the year’s unmissable movies is its unwillingness to fully embrace its own looney tunes compulsions. The film has been edited right down to the barebones and is about 30% tamer, duller and more mediocre than the movie it clearly wants to be.

One of the most remarkable things about this movie is how totally unremarkable the first hour is. Much like Fantastic Four, Venom is one of those films that takes forever to get started. Before Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) gets anywhere near the symbiote, there’s a lot of tedious set-up and painful banality to get through. First there’s the spaceship from the Life Foundation which we see crash somewhere in Malaysia where its black, gooey cargo escapes. Then we meet hotshot reporter Eddie Brock, a San Francisco journalist tasked with interviewing Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the ingenious, trailblazing CEO of the Life Foundation. Eddie finds a scoop while snooping through the emails of his fiancé Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) which reveal that Drake is testing some lethal new drug on the city’s homeless population. Eddie confronts the smug scientist, who then proceeds to utterly destroy his life and reputation. Gone are Eddie Brock’s budding career, his beautiful fiancé and his good name. Now he’s nothing more than a loser; a washed up bum languishing in a rundown apartment. And yet there’s still a ways to go before he becomes Venom.

The particulars of how Eddie is eventually attached to Venom and gets the ball rolling (like a turd in the wind) isn’t really important and the movie would have been better had they cut half of it out. All that matters is that once Eddie and Venom become one, that’s when the magic starts to happen. Venom is a scary, slimy, many-fanged creature who fuses his consciousness with Eddie’s and starts to take control of his life. He operates Eddie’s body like an animated puppet whenever danger strikes, he compels his host to rabidly scrounge for food (preferably a chompable human head) and he speaks to Eddie both from within and outside his head in the form of a ghostly profile, oftentimes just to remind his new friend what a hopeless loser he is. Venom is essentially a warped cross between a superpowered antihero, an unwanted houseguest, a ravenous beast and an off-putting wingman. He doesn’t just protect Eddie when their accidental symbiosis places them both in danger, he also takes an interest in his life and even goes so far as to offer him dating advice. It is a strange, complicated, toxic, homoerotic relationship that they share (Venom and Eddie even kiss in one scene) and it never ceases to be fascinating or enormously entertaining. Venom could have been a supernatural rom-com completely void of fight scenes or an action-based plot and I would have watched it happily.

Tying all the madness together is Tom Hardy who delivers what can only be described as an otherworldly performance. The commitment he brings to this unbelievably unhinged performance is absolute, channelling both the intensity that Health Ledger brought to The Dark Knight and the complete lack of self-awareness that Jesse Eisenberg brought to Batman v. Superman. Whether he’s sweating profusely through night terrors, rummaging voraciously for food in the bin, screaming and flailing around on the floor or frantically climbing into a fancy restaurant’s lobster tank, Hardy brings 100% to every scenario the movie throws at him no matter how silly or random. There were moments when I actually felt concerned for his wellbeing, so convinced was I that he really did have some kind of alien parasite inflicting him all kinds of physical and mental anguish (which with Hardy is not a possibility I’m ready to discount). His is the only performance worthy of note; everybody else plays typically bland, underwritten characters who aren’t given enough material to compliment whatever kind of movie Hardy thought he was in save one scene where Michelle Williams is allowed to let loose for a little while.

Despite the movie’s enjoyability, whether inadvertent or not, there are far too many wasted opportunities holding it back from greatness. While they seem to understand that they struck some kind of comedy gold mine with Hardy’s dual performance, Venom is unprepared to commit itself to a comedic format and keeps things serious and boring for those scenes where he’s not around. Some action scenes such as a night-time motorcycle chase through San Francisco was rife for the kind of creativity and inventiveness that an indestructible shape-shifting alien could easily fulfil, but the movie never takes advantage of it. This scene instead trudges along without any sense of momentum and it is absolutely laughable how often they reuse the same locations throughout. The same goes for the climatic fight where Venom faces off against a bigger, stronger symbiote; a confused, unintelligible skirmish of dark slime shot at night where it’s just as impossible to make out what’s happening as it is to understand what Carlton Drake’s ultimate plan even is. Venom is in the wider scheme of things a mostly dull, self-serious film that would have little to no impressions had it not been for Hardy and the hilariously crazy movie he thinks he’s in. I wish everybody else had been on the same page as him.

★★

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Dunkirk

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan


There are some movies that demand to be watched and some that demand to be experienced. Gravity is a good example. I saw Gravity in 3D at the cinema when it first came out in 2013 and I was blown away. The scale, the scope, the sensation, Gravity was a movie that transported me and once it was over I almost felt like I had spent the last couple of hours in space and had just returned. That was four years ago and I haven’t seen the movie since. Unless it’s being screened in a cinema in 3D, there’s just no point. I’ve never even considered going out to buy a DVD because I know that watching it on TV or on my laptop would not do the movie justice. It’s too big, too dynamic, too spectacular. There are some movies that simply must be seen on the big screen to be appreciated. Dunkirk is one of those movies.

Dunkirk tells the story of the 1940 evacuation of over 300,000 British soldiers following their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Germans in their invasion and conquest of France. The story is told through three different timelines, all focusing on three different sets of characters with three different goals. The first timeline takes place on land and its events transpire over the course of week. It follows a young private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) desperately trying to escape from the beach by any and all means with the help of fellow soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) while Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) tries to orchestrate the whole evacuation from the Mole (the pier where the soldiers set up their base as they wait for the ships). The second takes place on the sea over the course of a day. It follows Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a mariner who sets sail on his boat with his son and his friend to help with the evacuations. On the way they rescue the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), a shell-shocked survivor of a shipwreck. The third timeline takes place in the air over the course of an hour and it follows Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) as they take down as many German fighters as they can for as long as the little fuel they have lasts.

I saw this movie in IMAX and the effect is astonishing. There are two things Nolan can do as a director at which he is almost peerless: scale and tension. He excels at depicting large, complex narratives with huge ideas driving them and he can draw his audience to the very edge of their seats and hold them there for what feels like an eternity. Dunkirk allows him to showcase these talents like never before and as I sat there watching it on a screen that was larger than life with sound that engulfed me from every direction, I honestly felt like I was there. From the very first frame we are dropped right into the action as Tommy flees a troop of enemy soldiers and stumbles onto the beach and, in every single moment that follows, the tension never falters for a second. Dunkirk does not feel so much like a war film as it does like a disaster film. There is an overwhelming sense of dread that commands each scene as each character restlessly await the arrival of a rescue party, without any knowledge of when it will arrive or if it will be enough, while dreading the impending arrival of an enemy whose movements are similarly indefinite. This is a race against time for the British army and Nolan does a fantastic job of stressing that motif, not just with his time-jumping structure but also with Hans Zimmer’s score which evokes a ticking clock.

Although the time-jumping structure does work incredibly well for the film, I do wish I’d known about it going in or that the movie had made it clearer that that was the approach they were going for. The only hand-holding the movie gives here is a trio of brief captions naming only the place and the timespan. That by itself would be sufficient if you already knew what they meant, but I hadn’t a clue and was quite disorientated for the 15-20 minutes it took me to work out what was happening. Once I’d figured it out though, I was absolutely mesmerised by the intricacies of how these three stories affected and interacted with each other. There’s one scene where one of the pilots must make an emergency landing in the sea and lets out a wave to his commander, one that he takes to mean all is well. It isn’t until we see that same landing from the perspective of those in the boat that we understand the wave was something else entirely. The structure can also be used for poetic effect, such as in a sequence near the end where the landing of a plane is shown to take as long as the boarding and launching of a naval fleet.

I’ve always liked Nolan more as a director than as a writer because I’ve found that his dialogue is often too contrived and expository and his characters too flat and artificial. With Dunkirk though it would seem that Nolan has gone out of his way to avoid these pitfalls and it works out wonderfully. The movie’s use of dialogue is so minimal that it could have almost been a silent movie (if not for the deafening sounds of planes, gunfire and explosions). The bond between Tommy and Gibson is one that goes almost entirely unspoken; theirs is a comradeship built on a recognition that they are stuck in the same hell and need to help each other and it is expressed through actions and gestures. The movie follows the example set by Malick’s The Thin Red Line by treating its characters more as units of a whole rather than as individuals. They’re all struggling together and the film is only interested in their personalities and individual plights insofar as they relate to the larger crisis. It is therefore a testament to the fine acting at work and the carefully chosen lines of dialogue they are given that we are able to feel so strongly for these characters and fear for their survival.

As opposed to most 20th century conflicts, the Second World War is one that the Brits and Americans often look back on with a selective, venerated memory. Dunkirk in particular proved to be an event of symbolic significance to Britain as it appealed to their perception of themselves as the steadfast underdog fighting against evil and adversity. Nolan has sought to depict a demythologised version of Dunkirk. He does not do this however by showing the graphic brutalities of war with blood and guts flying all over the place the way they were in Hacksaw Ridge. He chooses instead to portray the emotional turmoil of all those involved in the evacuations; the despair of the soldiers stranded in a foreboding warzone, the anxiety of not knowing whether or when rescue or ruin would come, the cold and utter shame of their defeat. It is also significant that, while the threat of the German army is ever present, we seldom see the German soldiers and, even then, only at a distance. The film isn’t interested in portraying them as villains because that’s not what the story is about. It’s about these soldiers and the arduous trial they all suffered and endured together. In the end when the movies allows for some sentimentality, it is completely earned.

Dunkirk is a cinematic triumph, one that somehow feels both epically huge and intimately small. The scale of the action taking place is immense and executed to technical perfection. The opening sequence where Tommy darts around alley corners and over garden fences as the enemy pursues him, the panic and chaos that ensues when dozens of men frantically try to escape from a sinking ship, the hectic dogfights between the Spitfire planes and the German aircrafts, these are all intense moments that grip the viewer and transport them right into the film. And yet the human element is never lost. Whether it’s the fear of a young man of being forsaken, the torment of a traumatised soldier, or the pressure felt by a pilot flying solo and on reserve fuel, Dunkirk allows us to fully understand and appreciate the trials and tribulations of those who were caught in the middle of this tight spot. Dunkirk is not a great watch, it is a great experience and (I really cannot stress this enough) it is one that must be seen in the cinema.

★★★★★

The Revenant

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Writers: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu


The Revenant is two stories blended together into one. On one level it is a story of revenge as the main character searches for the man who killed his son and left him for dead. As he undergoes an agonising journey and faces the perils of the harsh winter, the forbidding forest and the ruthless Native Americans on his trail, it is his thirst for vengeance that drives him forward. On another level The Revenant is a story about the power of nature and of man’s place in the universe. After suffering and barely surviving the fury of nature this man has to battle against such foes as the cold, starvation, exposure and the land itself in order to survive. Hunting him in pursuit of their own vengeance are a people who are in touch with nature and are just as cruel and merciless. What Hugh Glass understands however is that nature can also be an ally as well as a foe and it is that recognition, as well as his sheer will and determination, that allows him to survive.

Following a brutal ambush that claims the majority of their party, a group of trappers deep in the wilderness are forced to embark on a hazardous expedition to get home. During this expedition the hunter Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is viciously attacked by a grizzly bear and is all but mauled to death. With the Native Americans hot on their trail the group cannot afford to have any hindrances slowing them down. Captain Henry Andrews (Domhnall Gleeson) leads the expedition onwards and leaves Glass in the care of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ half-native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Later when Hawk catches Fitzgerald attempting to put Glass down, a fight breaks out that ends with Fitzgerald killing the boy in front of his father. After hiding the body he persuades Bridger that they cannot stay any longer and leaves Glass to die. Broken and on the verge of death, Glass embarks on a treacherous journey to find their settlement and bring Fitzgerald to justice.

This film is a technical marvel. Right from the opening scene the film presents us with a stellar battle sequence as the traders are ambushed by the Native Americans. With a long-take that seamlessly moves from extreme close-ups to wide surveys of the battlefield the film allows us to take in the chaos and brutality of this attack at an intensely personal level. Watching these men getting killed off by arrows that appeared out of nowhere reminded me of Aguirre, the Wrath of God. As Glass undergoes his quest for survival the film follows him with every excruciating step and stays with him as he crawls along the hard ground, climbs the grim ridges and ventures into the fierce rapids. The intimacy of the camerawork allows you to feel every painful second of Glass’ journey. The cinematography also allows for an appreciation of the landscape, driving home the overwhelming power of nature in all her beauty, cruelty and majesty.

As Glass DiCaprio delivers one of the most intense performances of the year with a fervent commitment that is unquestionable. The rage and grit he exhibits in his harrowing quest for vengeance is stunning and his dedication to the role is venerable. The physical, emotional and spiritual toll that this experience takes on him makes itself felt with every strain, every grimace and every shout of agony. This is probably the most demanding role DiCaprio has ever taken in his career and he proves himself equal to it. Also noteworthy is Hardy as the cold, callous Fitzgerald. This villain does not strike me as one whose motives are necessarily evil. Instead I think that he is a man who has spent too much time in the wild and has been adversely affected by his experiences. He has learnt that to survive means to be pitiless and has no qualms about leaving behind those who are too weak. Hardy depicts a strongly impersonal and heartless demeanour as this character.

If I have any issues with this film, it is that it sometimes tries to depict its narrative in a Terrence-Malick-esque way, evoking these dreamlike sequences that feel kind of empty, or at least lacking, in terms of weight and meaning. This isn’t to say that the film as a whole is lacking in substance to match its remarkable style though, I just thought that those sequences were trying to convey a kind of poetry that I didn’t think was there. However, in terms of drawing the viewer into the journey and providing an intense viewing experience, The Revenant is a marked success. Through innovative direction and a fully committed, physically-demanding leading performance this film draws the viewer into an extreme and arduous tale of survival in all of its severity. The film’s command of tone and use of environment allows for a truly captivating spectacle that commands your attention from beginning to end.

★★★★★

Mad Max: Fury Road

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whitley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton

Director: George Miller

Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris


A week ago I had never watched any of the Mad Max films. When I saw that this film was coming out it was my understanding that, as far as story and continuity goes, I wouldn’t really need to watch them. However when I decided to go and see it, I thought I’d watch them anyway because I wanted to get a sense of how a Mad Max film should (and shouldn’t) be done. My impression of the Mad Max films is that they are fun, violent, and over-the-top films that don’t take themselves too seriously and therefore shouldn’t be taken as such by the audience. The characters were badass, the post-apocalyptic atmosphere was brilliant and the incredibly thrilling car chases were always the best parts of the films. The first two films knew exactly what kind of films they wanted to be and they delivered themselves perfectly. I didn’t think the third one was a bad film per se, but it wasn’t a Mad Max film. The few actions scenes that were included were downplayed and softened to make it more accessible for a PG-13 audience, the story felt very out of place and out of character, and on the whole it was too light-hearted for the ruthless and desolate world of the Mad Max universe. It is often the case that when a director works on a franchise for too long, they often end up getting carried away with it and distorting it until they forget how they actually did it in the first place (George Lucas and Peter Jackson being primary examples). Thankfully this isn’t the case with George Miller this time around. With Fury Road Miller has created a film that embraces the new technology now available to him while still remaining true to the spirit of the original films.

In Fury Road Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys, a deranged cult led by the vicious Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and is consigned to being a ‘blood bag’ for War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max sees his chance to escape when he commandeers the War Rig driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in her attempt to save the Wives, a group of beautiful and fertile young women who have been subjected as sex slaves, from the captivity of the cult. Max and Furiosa both grow to understand that their best chance of survival and escape is to work together to escape the wrath of Immortan Joe and his army as they determinedly pursue them. What ensues is effectively a two-hour chase scene as the crew of the War Rig struggle to evade and fight off the cohorts that hunt them, all the while dealing with the hostilities that arise between them.

This film delivers everything that an audience could ever want from a Mad Max film. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the titular character is sufficiently callous, understated and intimidating. What makes Max an interesting character is that he was good man long before the nuclear war destroyed this world, but has been damaged and impaired by the harsh brutalities of this new world of anarchy and violence into a shell of a man who relies solely on his instinct to survive. His merciless and indifferent nature, coupled with the faint traces of his former self beneath it all, makes him a compelling figure and an overall badass protagonist. Furiosa is every bit as strong, as vicious and as resolute as Max is in her quest to save the Wives from a life of brutality and misery. For her the quest to survive extends to more than just staying alive. It is about retaining one’s humanity and creating a better world from the ashes of the old one. She serves as the film’s heart in her search for a glimmer of hope in this dark and barren world.

As well as compelling characters and an interesting yet unspoken discussion on the theme of survival Fury Road also delivers on mindless, over-the-top violence, another staple of the Mad Max universe. The tension in the chase scenes is palpable and provides an exhilarating experience for the viewer. The fact that the entire story is centred on a single chase means that the tension remains throughout the course of the film, even in the quieter scenes. The film is absolutely packed with blazing guns, roaring engines and fiery explosions, but never loses track nor gets carried away with them. The action is just as intense and just as ridiculous as it needs to be for an entertaining, adrenaline fuelling, and radical sci-fi film. Miller is also able to be creative with the action by employing practical effects whenever possible and allowing the characters and their devices to be as insane and ridiculous as possible. I have no idea why the War Boys have a car with them in which a guitar player shreds throughout the entire chase, but it is awesome nonetheless!

Like two of its three predecessors, Fury Road knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be and delivers exactly what it promises. It is packed with entertaining and memorable characters with strongly defined personalities; it boasts of excellent production that helps create a living, breathing world with an engrossing atmosphere; and it utilises awesome, exaggerated action sequences that make for an exciting, spine-tingling viewing experience. Fans of the original trilogy should be satisfied with Miller’s latest offering and newcomers to the Mad Max universe are in for a treat.

★★★★★