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MOVIES: Venom - Review

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Despite the overwhelming and undeniable success of Spider-Man: Homecoming, a joint venture between Marvel and Sony, the latter studio has made the curious decision to pluck one of the webslinger's greatest foes from the comic book pages and spin him off into a separate film that has nothing whatsoever to do with Spidey himself. The result is Venom, a mostly boring but occasionally entertaining origin story that features what may be Tom Hardy's most bizarre performance to date.

Eddie Brock (Hardy) is an investigative reporter with a history of exposing huge scandals and taking down seemingly untouchable corporate and political figures, but he meets his match in Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an Elon Musk clone obsessed with space travel whose palatial offices overlook San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Tapped to do a fluff piece on Drake and his empire, Eddie can't resist the opportunity to needle the entrepreneur about a pending wrongful death suit, and just like that he finds himself without a job, and on the outs with his girlfriend, Annie (Michelle Williams), a lawyer whose firm represents Drake.

Meanwhile, Drake and his scientists are running wildly unethical experiments trying to bond parasitic alien life forms, called symbiotes, with human hosts. The results are catastrophic, with the gelatinous creatures essentially devouring the humans from the inside, and after a series of deaths Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate) hires Eddie to expose Drake. A covert infiltration of Drake's lab - which is laughably lax on security - provides more than enough evidence of wrongdoing, and comes with the added bonus of Eddie unknowingly bonding with one of the symbiotes, a creature that calls itself Venom.

It's at this point - more than halfway through the film's 112-minute runtime - that Venom finally begins to come alive,. As Eddie begins hearing voices and having strange cravings for food, Hardy dials his performance all the way to eleven, and it's a blast to watch him ramble incoherently, sweat pouring from his brow and eyes bulging from his head, as he tries to keep the murderous creature at bay. The best moments come when Venom grows fed up with Eddie's protestations and decides to take over, making short work of armed assailants and biting the heads off would-be attackers, leaving Eddie's poor brain to try and make sense of what's happening all around him.

If the filmmakers had realized they were making an off-the-wall buddy action film, and had actually set out to do that from the start, Venom could have been something truly great. But as the film careens onward, it's clear that whatever elements actually work are not by design, but rather because of the choices Hardy makes, both as Eddie and the voice of the symbiote. These characters seem to exist in a completely separate reality than everyone else, and while that does create space for some great comedic reactions from Williams - particularly during a scene where Eddie barges into an upscale dining establishment, rants about Drake and then submerges himself into a tank full of live lobsters - it leaves the full experience feeling noticeably inconsistent.

The inevitable third act showdown also fails to deliver, devolving into an incoherent mess of CG that makes the action sequences from the Transformers films look like intricately choreographed ballet. As alien bodies slam together and limbs transform into axes, blades and other weapons, it's nearly impossible to tell what's happening or who it's happening to, and to be honest, I couldn't wait for it to be over so we could get back to more of Hardy's weirdness. It's the small stuff that works best, and it's a shame the filmmakers didn't catch onto this notion at the beginning.

That Venom sets itself up for a sequel should come as no surprise, and the prospect of watching Hardy play this character again is an intriguing one, especially in a scenario where the audience won't be forced to wait more than an hour into the film before anything remotely interesting begins to happen. As for this first outing, it often feels like the bad ideas are methodically consuming the good ones - not unlike the symbiotes themselves - but if you can stay awake through the dreadful first hour, there's definitely some fun to be had.

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