Can Tom Hardy bring the alien goo to life in a way that Spider-Man 3 so specacularly failed to do?

What’s the Movie? Venom

What’s It All About, JG? Apart from Tom Hardy’s unexpected career side-step into goofy comedy, it’s about a lump of back alien putty that’s held in a space station that falls to Earth when something else on the space station escapes and causes it to crash. It subsequently bonds with washed-up journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) because the symbiote needs a human host to survive in an oxygen-rich environment for reasons of plot expediency. There’s a bad Elon Musk-alike, Carlton Drake, who’s gathering a multitude of aliens for… reasons (he claims to be trying to save humanity though to describe this plot thread as “nebulous” would be an insult to nebulas) and has other symbiotes he’s trying to get to bond with humans because He’s A Bad Guy. It all ends in a big rocket, scads of variable-quality CGI and a big-ass set-up for a sequel, where Venom and Brock finally get to the point of the exercise and start hunting bad guys in San Francisco. It is, in other words, a superhero movie, just with a sticky-looking blob full of teeth and a tongue even Gene Simmons would be envious of rather than a cast of spandex-clad muscle-warriors.

Why Did You Give It A Go? Venom worked hard in its pre-publicity to posit itself as something between standard Marvel fare and Deadpool‘s laconic, sarcastic take on the same material.  In this it partly succeeds, gaining a PG-13 certificate in the UK – less extreme than Deadpool but a bit more edgy than the PG certificates most Marvel movies end up with. That made it at least a faintly interesting prospect. And Hardy’s obviously a great actor in a role that’s notably unusual for him, a world away from the usual grim-and-gritty parts he normally takes, so that might have been worth a look too.

Is It Any Good? It’s a very expensive B-movie.  If that’s your idea of “good” then sure, it’s got it’s moments, though they’re all loaded into the second half of the film.  It takes an inordinate length of time to arrive at the moment where we get some Venom action, and everything before it is completely bog-standard back-story and set-up that could have been covered in about ten minutes (if that). It’s about forty-five minutes to an hour in before we even get a proper action sequence, which is a bit of a problem in an alleged action movie, and all the vamping to get us to that point just can’t hold the attention.  Once Venom actually deigns to turn up things get much better, and the second half of the film, while goofy in the extreme, at least manages to hit “entertaining” with a degree of consistency, though often because it wanders into misconceived rather than always being “good”. Hardy, it turns out, is a surprisingly great light-comic actor, and his interactions with the goo inside him provide a lot of the best moments in the film. There’s a few decent effects sequences especially when the Venom symboite is being “ripped off” Brock, though there’s a lot of eye-rolling moments as well, As with all (well, some) of the best B-movies, when Venom is at its most effective it’s striking a good balance between comedy, action and thrills, though when its at its worst it’s all hacky dialogue, a fiancee you couldn’t care less about and too-on-the-nose swipes at topicality (the Drake-as-corporate-bad-guy material is especially lamentable). The ending – a big rocket blows up – is openly laughable and also marks the point where the special effects and/or budget can clearly no longer keep up with the script, and it all ends in a predictable big explosion, the bad guy getting his just deserts and that cue-for-a-sequel.  Often cheesy, occasionally good, frequently baffling, Venom never manages to settle into a groove and as a result comes across as scattershot and incomplete.

How Many Of These Did You Watch? I’ve seen all the Marvel movies.  Yeah, yeah.

Would You Recommend It? It’s not the worst two hours of my life I’ve ever spent and there are moments here which suggest there could be a really great Venom movie, but this isn’t it.  Hardy’s great, and I’d gladly watch a second Venom with him where the film just gets on with the business of having them fight crime or getting into adventures or whatever. That’s not what we get here though, and endless reams of back-story and exposition badly weigh down a film that just doesn’t need it. As Drake’s fiancee, Michelle Williams is incredibly bland and essentially exists for no other reason that to provide a bit of exposition via some papers she has on Drake. There’s no sense of a relationship between her and Brock that exists outside the confines of a plot delivery mechanism, though Williams isn’t exactly helped by clunky dialogue that sounds like it’s been workshopped a dozen times rather than, you know, something someone might actually say. When the film does gain a sense of momentum in the second half it’s often very watchable, though that does come with the caveat that some of that watchability comes from it dipping into MST3K/Rifftrax territory, though a few compelling moments do manage to peek out – Brock being forcibly separated from the symbiote works well, and, obvious though it is, the extent of Drake’s human experiments provide the odd nasty moment. But this is still an incoherent movie that can’t pick a tone or style and stick with it, and the end result is a blur where everything and anything gets thrown at the screen to see what sticks. The surprise is that any of it does. Given this film’s unexpected success it seems all-but-inevitable there will be a sequel that the final scene so badly wants, so let’s hope the lessons are learned from this movie and we actually get something where “entertaining” is the aim, not an apparently-unintended side-effect.

Scores On The Doors? 6/10  And most of that is for Hardy.

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