Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie in 1988, Venom, the black Flubber-looking alien symbiote supervillain which needs a host to thrive, made its ignominious live-action debut in 2007’s muddled Spider-Man 3. Now, it gets a chance to redeem itself with a Spider-Man-free solo adventure, with Tom Hardy as investigative journo Eddie Brock, who’s infected by the titular parasite (it doesn’t like to be called that, by the way).
Co-existing in the same body, Brock and Venom (also voiced by Hardy) form this super (anti-)hero team. They have this cantankerous and comical Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde meets-The Odd Couple relationship, in which Venom frequently chides Brock for being a wuss while Brock tries to dissuade Venom from biting off heads. Most of the time, Venom is inside Brock and, other times, the former comes out to play in the shape of a gooey, drooling CG monster with menacing teeth and a long slithering tongue.
Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed plays the resident big bad, unscrupulous tech tycoon Carlton Drake, an evil Elon Musk whose obsession with space travel is the reason Venom and its symbiote pals are on Earth in the first place. (The aliens crashed in Sibu, Sarawak, recreated in some backlot in Atlanta.) Elsewhere, Michelle Williams has the thankless ‘girlfriend’ (later ‘ex-girlfriend’) part who gets caught in the mayhem because the script says so.
While the SPFX is stunning, it's the least interesting aspect in Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s underwhelming take on Venom. No, you come to see an off-kilter Hardy sparring with himself in a one-man comedy routine — he’s his own special effect. Alas, the second Hardy morphs into Venom, the magic goes out the window, especially in the fiery finale where you’re happy to just switch to autopilot mode and wait for the end-credits stingers. (There are two, so stick around.)
But there’s something else that bugs me. Early on, there were speculations that Venom would be R-rated and it should be. It’s a violent movie packed with lots of stabbings and beheadings. But somehow, the studio must’ve gotten cold feet along the way and opted for a more family-friendly PG13 rating where it’s okay to have carnage without the bloodshed. As such, some of the gruesome scenes feel like they've been edited; they come across as a tad watered down.
In the end, Venom is a good Tom Hardy movie, and a half-decent comic-book movie. (**1/2)
Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment