“Venom” is a surprisingly funny guilty pleasure that will never be mistaken for greatness

Not even Tom Hardy can save this attempt to combine a dark super-antihero story and ‘Deadpool’-style shenanigans. Venom of Marvel is  is a surprisingly funny guilty pleasure.

In the first scene of Marvel’s utterly unmarvelous Venom, an alien space ship crashes and burns on earth leaving behind a slithering mass of defanged, digitalized slop. That’s also a fair description of this puddle of simplistic, sanitized PG-13 drivel that Marvel has released instead of the scary, dark-night-of-the-soul thunderbolt fans had the right to expect. Tom Hardy and a massively overqualified cast, including Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, have been reduced to putting on a clown-show for kiddies in a shameless corporate product where the creativity stopped with the balance sheet. This year gave us the best and most imaginative Marvel film in Black Panther. Now we have the worst.

What went wrong?

Everything, actually. Crudely directed by Ruben Fleischer (remember the bliss of Zombieland?) from an aggressively blockheaded script by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel, this super–antihero tale seems to take a twisted pride in missing the point. Hello! The title character is an alien symbiote (that tongue! those teeth!) who bites off heads and feeds on human brains. The damn thing needs a human host to survive.

In Spider-Man 3, Topher Grace played the villain with a capital “V.” But in this lame origin story, Venom’s accidental target is a crusading, San Francisco TV journalist named Eddie Brock (Hardy). He cares about his fellow man, so there should be a chill — think Jekyll and Hyde — when Venom possesses Brock and starts leaving broken bodies in his wake. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Not here. Our hero actually carries on a dialogue with his mental roommate, telling the monster to ease up. There are Deadpool-style laughs here, and they’re welcome, until you realize the comic side is all there is. The hard-charging reporter and the annihilating counterpart are actually cuddlebugs. Yuck!

This leaves the movie with nowhere to go.

It’s hell watching the mega-talented Hardy struggle with a mumbly American accent and a script that chokes the vibrant life out him. Williams is stuck in the paycheck role of Eddie’s former fiancée Anne, a lawyer who has moved on to romance with a doctor (Reid Scott). If that doesn’t send you into a snooze, wait till to see what this movie does to Ahmed.

This brilliant actor (Nightcrawler, The Night Of) can’t do a thing with the villainous Carlton Drake, a billionaire entrepreneur who’s obsessed with melding aliens and humans. Since this movie takes all the terror out of those implications, Ahmed never looks more than mildly annoyed; it’s more like he’s on a Shark Tank panel and no one has any solid business ideas.

The action?

It’s repetitive enough to bore you breathless. And the special effects are strictly bottom shelf. Social media has been all over Venom, accusing fans of stuffing the Web with fake bad reviews so A Star Is Born won’t whack it at the box-office. Don’t sweat it. No one has to fake a bad review of this. The ending suggests there’s a Eddie/Venom buddy sequel in the offing. Someone needs to bite the head off that idea pronto. Audiences have suffered enough.

Some time in the far future, there will be deep debates about the impact the Spider-Man universe had on superhero cinema.

First film to ever have a $100 million dollar weekend? “Spider-Man.” One of the greatest superhero movies of all-time? “Spider-Man 2” must be in that conversation. A superhero played by a Brit more than once on screen? Your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, of course. A hero so iconic Marvel Studios just had to get him back (in a shared capacity) from Sony’s grasp? That would be one Peter Benjamin Parker.

“Venom” directed by Ruben Fleischer

At no point now, or 100 years from now, will ever be a part of those debates. It should also be noted that this is not a Marvel Studios film. Whatever agreement Sony and Marvel Studios had for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and future sequels (“Spider-Man: Far From Home” and beyond) has nothing to do with “Venom.” “Venom” is all Sony.

This film, starring perhaps the most popular villain in Spider-Man’s deep and legendary rogue’s gallery, isn’t deep, is very predictable and might even be the type of movie that will add fuel to the words of grumpy film critics who are tired of superhero films.

There are no plot twists — you can see everything coming from a mile away, despite the hilly San Francisco setting. Michelle Williams, who plays Eddie’s love interest, Anne, seems to be around just for one sure-to-be-talked-about moment and to make Eddie feel like a loser for being dumped (he deserves it). The villain is not the antagonist Venom fans want to see (more on him in a minute) and feels exactly like the type of template “he’s not going to be around for long” movie-supervillains we’ve seen before. And where the heck is the giant white spider logo? That’s the best part of Venom’s whole look.

But despite all that

“Venom” is surprisingly enjoyable. One might almost feel a sense of guilt gushing over “Venom.” It’s the kind of movie you’ll instantly call your friends about to see if they liked it too, just to check and see if there might be something wrong with you.

Leading the way in your confusing “Venom” viewing experience is Tom Hardy. Already a legend in comic book movie fandom for his mumbly and intimidating performance as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he at least feels more like Eddie Brock than Topher Grace did in “Spider-Man 3.” (We promise there will be no more mention of “Spider-Man 3.” You’ll notice it was omitted from all that Spidey movie praise above).

Hardy looks like his Eddie Brock could have been drawn by Todd McFarlane (perhaps no one drew a better Venom/Eddie Brock combo in the comics). Given how intense Brock is in the comics, you’d think Hardy would bring a few Bane-isms in his performance, but he spends most of the time in shock, being scared and confused, while forming a bond with his gooey black alien symbiote, which is just as weird to supporting characters around him as it is to the audience.

“Venom’s” action is plentiful but not spectacular.

Venom’s fight with the other symbiote, Riot, who bonds with heartless bad guy scientist/philanthropist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), is at first the moment you think you bought your ticket for, but you realize you’d rather see Hardy just chatting with Venom. Those conversations are perhaps the best part of a movie that doesn’t have many best moments. Another big surprise? This is a pretty scary character.

“Venom” almost feels like “Deadpool”-light. The thing with “Deadpool” movies is that you knew it was going to be funny. The laughs in “Venom” are there in part because you probably didn’t expect to laugh in the first place. The intensity was left in the editing room, apparently. As for the villain everyone wanted to see, Carnage, well, I get what Sony was doing here. Why put the only other symbiote who’s just as popular as Venom in the first Venom movie if you’re trying to make more? So if you’re hoping to see Cletus Kasady, you’ll have to join Sony and hope this movie performs well enough for a sequel.

Also, keep your eyes and ears open for special guest cameos — and yes, there is a post-credit scene that is as predictable as the movie was.

Hey, it’s not as great as what Kevin Feige typically scribbles on his calendar on a Tuesday afternoon in Burbank. But a good time? Yeah, that can be had here. You won’t be deeply moved. You probably won’t see it more than once. You’ll probably pick up the Blu-ray and not tell anyone. Venom is not “Spider-Man 2,” but it’s also not “Elektra” or “Green Lantern.”

You just may find yourself realizing you’ve watched the greatest guilty pleasure of the modern superhero movie era.


Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock / Venom
Michelle Williams as Anne Weying
Riz Ahmed as Dr. Carlton Drake / Riot
Reid Scott as Patrick Mulligan
Michelle Lee as Donna Diego
Ruben Fleischer
Scott Rosenberg
Jeff Pinkner
Kelly Marcel
David Michelinie
Todd McFarlane
Mike Zeck
Director of Photography
Matthew Libatique
Original Music Composer
Ludwig Göransson
Alan Baumgarten

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.

112 minutes

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