I don’t think the trailer does this film any favors. It makes Venom look way worse than it is, at least for anyone (like me) who doesn’t have a clue about this Marvel Comics character that is part human, part superhero, part alien blob. Don’t get me wrong. The film is a hot mess if you try to add up the sum of its parts. But a few of the parts are surprisingly entertaining. Okay, one part is surprisingly entertaining: Tom Hardy as disgraced investigative reporter Eddie Brock and his parasitic alter-ego Venom. When the two chat internally amongst themselves, the film is downright funny. Is it supposed to be? No clue.
Here’s the gist: Eddie’s life goes down the toilet when he attempts to expose the nefarious founder (Riz Ahmed) of a high-profile bioengineering company called the Life Foundation. Eddie’s obsession costs him his girlfriend (Michelle Williams) and his job so he aims to lay low for a while. But he’s sucked back into his rogue investigation when a Foundation scientist (Jenny Slate looking like Jenny Slate dressed up to look like a scientist) offers up proof about secret, unethical human experiments going on in her lab. Eddie goes to check it out, and he ends up getting infected – or merged – with one of four blobbish life forms (aka symbiotes) that were brought to Earth during a catastrophic space mission. Turns out Eddie’s the perfect “host” for the symbiote that calls itself “Venom.” Their symbiotic relationship is like a mish-mash of Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde, The Hulk and the Odd Couple, with a bit of a Deadpool sentimentality thrown into the mix. Venom imbues Eddie with various superpowers. Eddie imbues Venom (who has a voracious appetite for living creatures, especially heads) with some basic human values (like, try not to eat good people). And voila – a twisted new superhero is born.
I won’t dare try to explain where Venom fits into the cinematic universe of superheroes. Apparently, there’s a Sony Marvel Universe that’s connected to the Spider-Man universe and is not to be confused with the Marvel Cinematic Universe behind the Avengers movies. It all has to do with who bought which rights, and when, to the various superhero personas. I’ll leave it at that, so as not to rile the obsessive Comic-Con fanboys (like the guy who was sitting next to me at the screening and broke into applause at the end). In typical Marvel fashion, however, there is the requisite Stan Lee cameo as well as two post-credit scenes, neither of which was worth spending an extra 15 minutes in the theater. One was a teaser introducing a potential Venom nemesis; the other was basically a lengthy preview of an upcoming animated Spider-Man flick.
Venom is strictly for devoted fans of the comic superhero genre – of which there are many. For everyone else, anything resembling entertainment value comes from the moments where Hardy is providing the brilliant vocalization of the wacky internal dialogue between Eddie and Venom.
Bottom line: I was pleasantly surprised not to hate the movie.
Would I rather have seen A Star Is Born for a third time? Absolutely.