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Movie Review: “Venom”

It’s rare for a superhero movie with a sloppy script and a mundane villain to overcome such glaring flaws and win over audiences. Robert Downey Jr. pulled it off with 2010’s Iron Man 2 through his sheer abundance of charisma, but the number of actors who can accomplish that feat are few and far between. That is why Sony Pictures should be thanking its lucky stars that Tom Hardy was cast to play investigative journalist Eddie Brock in Venom.

Fact: Director Ruben Fleischer’s take on the famous alien symbiote from Marvel Comics slaughtered its competition opening weekend to the domestic tune of $80 million. It did so despite a horrendous score on the movie-review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes — currently at 29 percent positive among critics — while an astounding 89% of moviegoers loved it.

How does one account for the discrepancy? The answer: Tom Hardy’s energy, coupled with decent special effects, creatively buoyed generations of fans who merely want to see the famous anti-hero chomp on bad guys. The film serves as a sufficient bridge (fitting, given the San Francisco setting) for those who want to see Spider-Man face off against his famous nemesis.

Box office profits aside, however, the PG-13 script (Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel and Will Beall) is incredibly lackluster. The plot revolves around Brock’s gut feeling about a billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) bringing him into contact with an alien, and then his efforts to deal with the fallout once it bonds with his body and mind.

In short, Ahmed plays a character who doubles as an evil amalgamation of Elon Musk and Donald Trump. The billionaire’s Space X-like program and ties to the pharmaceutical industry provide him cover needed to perform experiments on homeless people, but it all comes crashing down when Brock refuses to listen to his rants about “fake news.”

“Look around you,” the villain says to one of his human lab rats. “Look at the world. What do you see? War. Poverty. A planet on the brink of collapse. I would argue that God has abandoned us. He didn’t keep his end of the bargain, Isaac, so now it’s up to you and me to put this right. And this time, Isaac, we can. We will. This time I will not abandon us.”

Those few lines represent the most insight moviegoers get into Carlton’s mind. It’s as if the writers just assumed that once “Elon Musk-Trump” was established that no further character development was necessary. An $80 million opening weekend (as far as investors are concerned) makes a strong case that they were correct.

Similarly, Michelle Williams as love interest Anne Weying has zero chemistry with Hardy. The scant details given suggest they would have never been in a long-term relationship to begin with (let alone be engaged), and her character seems to exist only to have a nonsensical “girl power” moment towards the film’s conclusion.

The film’s special effects are good, but having a pitch-black character fighting at night often makes for a frustrating experience. That decision, coupled with quick edits during action sequences, seems to have been someone’s solution to a cost-cutting conundrum.

Overall, Venom is a mixed bag. Its nearly 2-hour runtime ebbs and flows in quality depending on whether Hardy is onscreen. His psychic jousting with the alien provides plenty of humor and propels the movie forward, but almost every other scene involving Carlton and Anne falls flat.

Those who can enjoy mindless action for the sake of mindless action should check out Venom while it’s in theaters. Everyone else should opt for a movie night at home with Hardy in Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), or Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.


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