‘Venom’: Dumb plot, weak effects sting in inept superhero film
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“A pile of heads and a pile of bodies!” – The alien creature Venom, trying to convince his human host they should kill a bunch of people and then bite their heads off, and then make two piles.
Tom Hardy is one of the best actors in the world, but as he flounders his way through “Venom,” we’re reminded even the finest talents can sink under the weight of a terrible movie.
And that’s what this is: a tone-deaf, uneven and maddeningly dumb clunker that never settles on an identity, all the way to the closing credits.
It is a comedy? Sure, at times. I’ll admit I laughed out loud at two or three punchlines. But I also laughed when I think we weren’t supposed to be laughing.
Is it a superhero movie? Given Venom exists in the Marvel Universe (we saw him/it in the equally awful “Spider-Man 3” some 11 years ago), yes. In fact, it’s a classic origins story, complete with a megalomaniacal billionaire playing God; a likable girlfriend character, and of course an everyman who finds himself in the wrong lab at the wrong time, and all of a sudden he’s FREAKING OUT because some crazy things are happening to him!
Alas, it’s not a good superhero movie. The special effects are underwhelming. The CGI fight scenes are tedious and predictable and murky at times. The villains — human and extraterrestrial — are forgettable. And neither the ordinary guy nor his alter ego is particularly compelling to watch.
Even the PG-13 rating is the safe choice. Venom is a voracious creature with about 200 teeth and an extra-long tongue. Why not go the R route a la “Deadpool” and let the big guy loose in more ways than one?
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The British Hardy affects a “New Yawk” accent as Eddie Brock, a rough-edged, authority-defying, crusading TV journalist living in San Francisco after an unspecified crash-and-burn episode in the Big Apple.
Eddie lives with his fiancé Anne (Michelle Williams), a successful attorney working for a firm that represents the famed, adventure-seeking and controversial billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed).
All of those connections come into play when Eddie makes a really bad decision, which results in him losing his job and his fiancé.
Cut to six months later. Eddie has given up on himself — but when Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), a scientist who works for Drake, tells Eddie about the evil Drake literally sacrificing homeless people as he conducts mad experiments, Eddie decides to leap back into action and expose Drake’s criminally insane activity.
In the annals of obscenely wealthy corporate honchos who believe they hold the key to the future but make fatal mistakes because they’re blinded by ambition, Carlton Drake is one of the all-time dumbest.
This guy funds a mission to deepest space that yields a handful of “symbiotes,” as Drake likes to call them. The symbiotes are slithering, shape-shifting, gooey creatures with superhuman strength, an affinity for eating people, and the ability to turn their “limbs” into weapons of serious destruction. Drake’s brilliant plan for creating people adaptable to outer space is to lock human “volunteers” (homeless people who had no idea what they had signed on for) in a chamber with the symbiotes, so the symbiotes can crawl inside the humans and both species can thrive. This usually results in a quick death for the human, but Drake keeps on trying to find compatible hosts.
As luck would have it, our man Eddie Brock turns out to be a solid host for the alien that calls itself Venom — and all of a sudden it feels as if we’re in a slapstick comedy. Invoking the obligatory talking alien mechanical baritone, Venom at first barks out primal commands such as “HUNGRY!” and “FOOD!”, but soon he’s commenting on Eddie’s romantic life and opening up about how he was considered a “loser” on his home planet.
Hardy flings himself into the role, bouncing all over the place like a man possessed (which he is) and doing whatever the screenplay calls for, whether it’s sitting in a lobster tank in a fancy restaurant (don’t ask) or exchanging wacky banter with the alien inside of him or chatting it up with caricatures such as the sunny homeless woman Maria (Melora Waters) and the judgmental bodega owner Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu).
As you’d expect from a Marvel Universe origins story, “Venom” leaves the door wide open for a sequel.
Perhaps they should consider turning out the light and gently closing that door.
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Ruben Fleischer and written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language). Running time: 112 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.