Tom Hardy: Pretty Ugly and Full of “Venom”
The British superstar actor is a true chameleon, but is that a good thing?
With the trailer drop of Tom Hardy‘s propulsive Marvel movie Venom (out October 8), I saw a bad, bad thing. Hardy assuming another role that alters that pretty face of his! Why, oh, why? Is this a plot to destroy me?
Do I need to see Hardy act with his shoulders, his thighs and, maybe, a single eye — again?
In Venom, Hardy, 40, drives the sci fi adventure as mild-mannered Eddie Brock. The mumbling investigative journalist in the Clark Kent mold encounters Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). The bad doctor is conducting an experiment combining unsuspecting human subjects with an oily alien goo to create “a new species, a new race” in a way that goes together like vanilla ice cream and spicy brown mustard.
When Brock gets too close to the truth, he becomes impregnated with Dr. Drake’s oozy extraterrestrial Symbiote. It transforms the journalist into the titular lethal avenger who resembles a ferocious, fanged, salivating, tongue-twitching, big eyed black mamba snake – on two legs. The handsome actor is once again doing the thing that makes me crazy: covering his face! It’s getting to be a predictable stunt – like Harry Houdini in chains or David Blaine catching a bullet in his teeth.
Sometimes, this ploy of taking and ravaging a beautiful face can be used to show that an actor has chops beyond their looks. The prime example is Charlize Theron, who got super ugly playing butch serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ 2003 Monster. The transformation from beauty to beast went more than a little way to get Theron a Best Actress Oscar that year.
But, clearly, Hardy isn’t seeking an Oscar out of Venom – but a franchise. And, typically, as an actor he’s trying to push as far away from type as he can – but he’s taking this ugly thing too far. In 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road he played wild man Max Rockatansky (opposite Theron as one-armed Imperator Furiosa). He rocketed through the dusty dystopian future with his face in a catcher’s mask.
In The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Hardy stepped behind the mask again as Bane. To play Batman’s terrorist nemesis, Hardy bulked up so his sheer muscle on a relatively short 5 foot 9 frame would be more intimidating. And then he shoved his head into the world’s ugliest orthodontic headgear.
Then there’s Christopher Nolan’s panoramic 2017 WWII epic Dunkirk, in which Hardy plays a heroic fighter pilot. The dashing aviator is a classic role that has drawn a long list of handsome actors either saving the world for democracy or heading to their fiery doom – John Wayne in The Flying Tigers, David Niven in Spitfire, Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High and Michael Caine in Battle of Britain, to name a few. But, damn, if Nolan slaps an oxygen mask over Hardy’s nearly unrecognizable face the entire movie, forcing him to act with his eyebrows.
In TV’s darkly dark occult period mystery Taboo, Hardy plays the tortured, incestuous adventurer James Keziah Delaney. While it would be enough that tattoos ink his features, the cinematography and tone are so shadowy that he appears as if covered in soot throughout the series. He might as well be wearing a ski mask.
As an antidote, I intend to watch Steven Knight’s underseen 2013 drama, Locke. It’s also a stunt film because it’s predominantly Hardy’s buttoned-up husband and manager character driving through the British night for 85 minutes experiencing his world unravel on the domestic and work fronts while in traffic. For most of the movie, the windshield frames Hardy and he’s strapped in a seatbelt. His face, despite some tasteful facial hair, is gloriously revealed – along with a stream of Shakespearean-level acting in a four-door sedan.
I understand that Hardy rises to a challenge but I prefer him straight, no chaser. He doesn’t need to act with one arm tied behind his back – or a ridiculous mask on his face. In the end, I want more of Hardy, not less.