Review: In ‘Venom,’ Tom Hardy as a Weirder-Than-Usual, Not-Quite Superhero
Posted October 4, 2018 5:41 p.m. EDT
It would be irresponsible of me to recommend that you get to the theater late if you go see “Venom,” a new movie adapted from a Marvel comic book about a kind of divided-self superantihero. By missing the first scene you will be bereft of some ostensibly essential plot material concerning a rocket crash, alien organisms fetched from the East Malaysia scene of said crash, one such alien organism taking over a variety of human bodies, and so on.
But if you do in fact enter the theater as the film’s action moves to San Francisco, you will be better able to enjoy “Venom” as a loose remake of the 1981 comedy “Stripes,” with the stalwart actor Tom Hardy in the Bill Murray role. No, seriously, it checks out. Hardy’s character is a relaxed, near-slovenly but very charming fellow named Eddie Brock who manages to lose his job, his fiancée and his apartment all in the space of a single day, more or less. Are you following me?
Here, though, the solution to Eddie’s life challenges lies not in joining the military, but in being joined by an aforementioned alien “symbiote,” one named Venom, who finds Eddie a comfortable fit. When Venom dominates Eddie, he takes on a form that can only be called ridiculously terrifying. Black skin as shiny as patent leather, rheumy eyes the color of spilled milk, tongue an obscenely wriggling raw jumbo hot dog, and the teeth — oh, what teeth he has. Ugly as sin and hungry for human heads, Venom gives Eddie invulnerability against the baddies who pursue him. And Eddie, eventually, gives Venom (who has confided to his host that he’s part of a mission to destroy Earth) a semblance of humanity.
In the scenes in which Eddie and Venom get to know each other, so to speak, Hardy’s outlandishly physical performance bolsters the movie’s not-infrequent flashes of wit. Sometimes “Venom,” directed by Ruben Fleischer, feels like a David Cronenberg body-horror movie (like “Rabid” or “The Fly”) played for slapstick, as when Venom compels Eddie to climb into a lobster tank at a chic restaurant.
Michelle Williams plays Anne, Eddie’s estranged fiancée, and for much of the movie she’s just called upon to advance the plot. And to call that plot a conventional Marvel-style contrivance is an understatement. The movie zips to a commonplace climactic set piece, with two admittedly nifty computer-generated monsters battling it out to decide the fate of humankind. You know: for kids! In any event, by this point the movie’s wit has definitively dried up. (The resemblance to “Stripes” is long gone by this time, too.)
It takes a while for Williams’ very-buttoned-up character to actually join the fun, but when she finally and momentarily does — I am reluctant to reveal just how — it’s almost enough to make you want a sequel in which her character has more to do. Emphasis, alas, on “almost.” Because ultimately, the ingratiating eccentricities of “Venom” aren’t enough to really distinguish the movie from its superhero-movie brethren as it devolves into the usual expensive orgy of sound, fury and wisecracking.
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and Marvel’s usual skating-as-close-as-we-can-to-an-R-rating saltiness.
Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.