Eminem, tater tots, Tom Hardy in a lobster tank, the worst wig in film history, a man and an alien bonding over being losers: Ruben Fleischer’s Venom wasn’t exactly the most critically acclaimed movie of 2018, but it was arguably one of the most fun—and weirdest. It has one of the most entertaining chases in recent memory, unexpectedly filled with more practical special effects than you’d expect for a CGI-heavy superhero flick.
The premise of Venom follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, acting his ass off), an investigative journalist who’s working on a story about the CEO of the Life Foundation, mad scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). Skipping ahead to the spoilers, Eddie ends up in a symbiotic relationship with an alien organism named Venom. Drake sends security guards to find Eddie and take him quietly, but Venom has other ideas and the new duo set off on a Ducati. This turns into a preposterous chase set in San Francisco, specifically the area known as Bullitt Hill. It feels not unlike a slapstick sci-fi riff on the Bullittchase with hints of What’s Up, Doc?—instead of bouncing over hills, though, Eddie shoots straight up into the sky, and his new alien pal uses his tentacles to reunite him with his bike.
Drake orders his security chief Roland Treece (Scott Haze) not to let Eddie get away, and they unleash drones and a fleet of Jeep Grand Cherokee SRTs. A frightened Eddie Brock does his best to roll with it as drones explode around him and Venom manifests in startling ways, mostly by taking over Eddie’s limbs so that he’s motorcyclin’ with Venom’s alien arms. Venom saves Eddie’s ass countless times: by pulling off a car door to use it as a shield, pushing Eddie’s head down so he doesn’t get hit by drone shrapnel, throwing him over a railing to avoid a dead end. Venom even takes the steering wheels of the Jeeps driving parallel to Eddie and forces them into the side of the road where they crash and so Eddie can pass through the gap. And finally, when Eddie gets hit by a car and thrown off his bike at the chase’s end, Venom heals Eddie’s broken bones with symbiote goo, goes “full Venom” to take on Drake’s henchmen and bites off a dude’s head, then flees the scene.
A surprising amount of practical work went into this chase, and thanks to wet streets and high speeds during shooting, pulling it off was relatively dangerous. Most of the chase happens along the streets of San Francisco with stunt doubles driving Eddie’s motorcycle. For shots where Tom Hardy’s face is visible, he was filmed against a green screen, then mapped onto the chase after the fact. The chase’s biggest CG stunt takes place when Eddie flies off his bike, and Venom’s tentacles pull him back. Obviously (and unfortunately), Hardy did not perform this gravity-defying stunt for real; instead, the shot involved Tom Hardy and wires against a green screen.
Venom’s chase is a far cry from Bullitt. It’s difficult to decipher the action at times—likely to hide the fact that the man on the motorcycle is one of Hardy’s stunt doubles (Robbie Maddison or Jimmy Roberts), not Hardy himself. And yet, we still frequently see the double clearly. And though Eddie’s Ducati Scrambler is one of the highlights of this chase, the sound of the Scrambler featured in the film is bogus. Ducati likely wanted to showcase their new Scrambler 1100, but sometimes it looks like it might be the Full Throttle 803cc. (In some shots, the 1100’s high-mount dual exhaust is visible, and in others, the low exhaust.)
Despite its flaws, the chase is still fun and darkly funny. It feels a lot like a Looney Tunes cartoon. At one point, Tom Hardy drives away from a massive explosion, flames filling the background, which is one of the most satisfying images you can see in a movie. And this chase is crucial to the plot: Eddie’s just starting to figure out that Venom is inside him, and the chase shows us what Venom can do. More importantly, it reveals that Venom will protect Eddie, keep him safe, even heal him. Venom feels less like a superhero (or supervillain) movie, and more like dark Harvey. At its heart, it’s a buddy film (maybe even a rom-com) about Eddie and Venom, an extraterrestrial in search of the perfect match. The chase is their first chance to get to know each other. Venom ultimately decides to save the world instead of destroying it just because he likes Eddie. And tater tots.
Hardy is what makes the whole film work, with a slapstick performance played with a level of commitment and intensity that’s somewhere between Nicolas Cage and Al Pacino in Heat. Even when Venom falters, Hardy is a joy to watch, a truth as evident in the chase as it is throughout the film.