*1/2 out of ****
(for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for (brief strong) language)
Released: October 5, 2018
Runtime: 112 minutes
Directed by: Reuben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Peggy Lu
The Lady Gaga fan-trolls were right: this movie is awful.
Loud, hyper, grotesque, and utterly obnoxious, Venom is the worst Hollywood tentpole since DC’s Suicide Squad.
It’s hard to knock this as a glaring MCU failure, though. Produced by Sony’s old school Spidey-crew led by Avi Arad (who still holds on to some of the brand’s rights) rather than Marvel’s unstoppable overlord Kevin Feige, Venom is an absurdist disaster.
This first feature-length adaptation of the Spider-Man comics anti-hero/villain, Venom is a radically different take on the character that first appeared way back in Spider-Man 3. It’s as if that Topher Grace version is now bulked up on an ungodly amount of steroids, with a tone that pushes the limits of PG-13 horror.
Venom’s human host is Eddie Brock, an edgy investigative TV reporter with a rebel swagger. To emphasize the point his ride of choice is a muscular motor bike, plus the casting of Tom Hardy in the role turns Brock into a cross between Mike Wallace and Mad Max.
The whole premise is hokey comic book nonsense. An alien virus (called a symbiote) has arrived on earth, an Elon Musk-ish billionaire inventor with a god-like ego Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) wants to harness that virus for the next step in human evolution and interplanetary colonization, and a reporter gets caught up in the middle of it while (wait for it) going through a relationship crisis.
The first act slogs through setting all of this up, a solid forty minutes that could’ve been sliced down to twenty. Its dull idiocy is compounded by allegedly smart people being required to advance the plot through outrageously stupid decisions, first among them being how Brock exposes himself to the symbiote.
Then once it gets to its center-piece selling point — the tongue-wielding head-chomping creature — it doesn’t deliver. Instead, Venom barrels head first into embarrassing itself and its stellar cast right along with it.
The quasi-demonic possession and split personality it creates — vis-à-vis the Eddie/Venom “Jekyll and Hyde” mind games between the two as they fight and eventually work with each other — is played much more for dark, demented laughs than any sort of psychological study (or legitimate dramatic tension) about the dual sides of human nature.
It’s very much a B-movie beefed up on a blockbuster budget; mileage will vary with that lowest-common denominator approach.
Zombieland director Reuben Fleischer strives to goose it all with a gonzo punch (the sound design is impressive, if nothing else), but the end result is a desperate effort that comes off more campy than it intends, even as it repulses with its vulgar and hideous excesses.
Thankfully, this has absolutely nothing to do with the new spectacular Spider-Man reboot (no glimpse or reference to Tom Holland’s character can be found) and the further this budding franchise stays clear of the new MCU webslinger the better.
That said, it’s not too hard to extrapolate from the end-credits teaser how a Venom II could build towards a collision with the Homecoming Spider-Man in Venom III, so one hopes this mess will have evolved into something less goofy and more fascinating by the time we get that inevitable showdown.