Review: ‘Venom’ (a guy and his symbiote)

Even with the Spidey “Secret Wars” origin story stripped out, Sony inexplicably manages to hammer out a watchable flick.

In a Marvel-associated world without any Avengers or X-men, muckraking reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) likes sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, calling attention to cover-ups and other things powerful people want to go unnoticed. Transplanted to San Francisco after being run out of Brooklyn for his antics, Eddie interviews Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) using a privileged lawsuit dossier to ask sensitive questions, an unwise move that gets him fired, his fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) fired, and generally ruins his life. When circumstances bring Drake into Eddie’s crosshairs again, a lab mishap bonds the disgraced reporter to a powerful parasitic entity… one with an agenda all its own.

The Marvel story of “the symbiote” has expanded from a footnote in a universe-spanning secret war into multiple characters with Lovecraftian capabilities, tentacled aliens that can hide in human hosts to mysteriously generate bludgeoning appendages and even protective shells to shield their assets from harm. Such a fantastic concept has zero chance of being realized with practical effects, making it a perfect vehicle for computer animation and an excuse for wanton vigilante justice. Removed from its source material and established comic book history — and ignoring the Topher Grace footnote in Spider-Man 3 — can a popular villain-turned-anti-hero carve out a niche for itself in a Hollywood machine generating new superhero flicks by the minute?

With human characters removed, too much of this film would look like repeated boss battles in a typical console video game, but metamorph actor Tom Hardy sells the loser-with-a-heart-of-gold act into a suddenly empowered everyman with the power to do some good — even if it’s a little bad… or maybe a lot bad. It shares commonality with the recent Upgrade, the idea of a nobody becoming a somebody with a little cooperative help; it doesn’t get more superhero-y than that. What sets Venom apart and keeps it on the rails is Hardy’s commitment to the relatable streetwise reporter wielding a weapon that thinks for itself, that and keeping the story simple enough to enjoy it for what it is.

Judging from what made the final cut, the filmmakers know what they have; they even sneakily touch on the fetish angle that haunts some fan fiction. That said, the acceptance of several characters to what’s going on seems more than a little sudden, although running for your life can also contribute to trenchbonding. In addition to the effect, the banter between Eddie and Venom is equally entertaining, edited tightly enough to hold it all together. It’s all movie magic and science fiction — because conservation of mass and basic biology are real things — but there’s plenty to love if you buy into this concept. If glossing over the idea of feeding people to an empowering alien entity isn’t your cup of tea, you might want to skip this particular Marvel mayhem.

Judging from early box office counts, hints dropped throughout the film, and an end-credits scene, Sony has big plans for Eddie Brock and his new best friend. Don’t expect any other connection to the MCU or even the Spider-Verse; thus far, that won’t seem like too much of a problem.

Venom is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, for language, and so many snacks… so little time.

Three skull recommendation out four

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