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"VENOM"
(2018) (Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi/Superhero: A down-on-his-luck reporter finds himself infected by an alien parasite that can not only control and change the physical attributes of his body, but also speaks to him inside his mind.
PLOT:
Eddie Brock (TOM HARDY) is an investigative reporter who works in San Francisco and lives with his fiancée, lawyer Anne Weying (MICHELLE WILLIAMS). When his questions dig too deep during an interview with tech magnate Carlton Drake (RIZ AHMED), Eddie ends up fired, as does Anne simply through her association with him. Six months later, Eddie's out of work, behind on his bills, and Anne has moved on and is now dating a doctor, Dan Lewis (REID SCOTT).

Things change for Eddie when he gets a call from one of Drake's scientists, Dr. Dora Skirth (JENNY SLATE), who informs him that Drake and his team are doing lethal experiments on humans in trying to bond them with alien parasites that were recovered from a comet by one of Drake's spaceships. It crashed upon reentry and unleashed one such alien being -- that, like the rest, need live hosts to survive -- that's still in the wild but making its way toward San Francisco.

Coming across this in the lab, Eddie ends up infected by one such creature that can not only alter his physical shape -- sometimes just sinewy "tentacles" that emerge from his arms and other parts of his body to a complete, huge monster -- but also talks to him inside his head. Eddie quickly learns that "Venom" is there along with the others to feast on humans, but the alien ends up having a change of heart after spending time with -- and inside -- Eddie. As the other alien arrives with the intent of bringing more of its kind to Earth, it's up to Eddie and his parasite "friend" to stop it as well as Drake.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
While they're usually created for the purposes of entertainment of one degree or another, movies can also be used as instruments of education in providing teachable moments. Some of those involve highlighting important figures, movements or developments over the course of history that some or many barely remember or never even knew it. Others can be used to teach important life lessons such as never taking life for granted, being kind to others, fighting injustice and plenty more. And others, on a far reduced level, can teach a simple bit of proper grammar.

All of which brings us to the difference between critters that are poisonous vs. venomous. You might hear people say that a black widow or rattlesnake is poisonous when in reality they're venomous. The difference is how the toxin in question is delivered to the victim. The delivery system for poison is usually passive on the part of the critter in that others are affected by touch, ingestion or inhalation. Venom, on the other hand, is delivered by the aggressive animal, be that via a bite, sting or injection.

Now, you may wonder why we're having a grammar lesson as the introduction to a comic book movie. The obvious answer, of course, is that the film in question arrives with the title of "Venom" and features a character by that name. The main reason, though, is that there's not a lot positive to note about this film beyond being bad and at times goofy enough that it slightly delivers a degree or two of guilty pleasure entertainment value when not otherwise making you wonder why and how it derailed.

In full disclosure, I know little about the character, what with having been out of the comic book world when the character first arrived in the Spider-Man universe. And truth be told, I didn't remember the character was present (as a minor figure) in "Spider-Man 3" more than a decade ago. So, I didn't go in with any sort of anticipation of how this newest adaptation might play out and whether it would be faithful to the source material.

The interesting thing, however, and part of what might explain what went wrong is that despite this character existing in the world of Marvel Comics, it's not in the Disney version of that (home of "The Avengers" and all of the films and characters connected to that). Instead, it exists over in Sony land where Spider-Man previously did his web slinging before a brief detour over into the Mouse House. And without that overriding connective tissue (and apparent artistic hands-on), it's a film that's on its own and seems to be of a time of B-class superhero flicks that existed back before "Iron Man" got things rolling way back when.

The story revolves around investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) asking the wrong questions of tech magnate Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, seemingly playing a version of Elon Musk or other billionaires of his kind who expand their business ventures into various industries). That results in him getting fired, his fiancée Anne (a completely wasted Michelle Williams) likewise getting the job ax and thus dumping him, and then the passage of six months.

When contacted by scientist Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) who's concerned about trials going on in Drake's lab involving homeless people and sinewy and gooey extraterrestrial blobs that came back on one of Drake's spaceships, Eddie can't resist and sneaks into the place at night with Dora. But he becomes infected by one and before you know it he's eating live lobsters when not munching on human heads, easily dispatching guards and goons with his newfound superhuman abilities (and odd appendages that grow out of his body as needed) and hearing a voice in his head.

He thinks he's going crazy, but eventually learns what's happened and that this being in him -- self-named as Venom apparently for injecting himself into his victim-hosts and, I guess, being the toxin himself -- has arrived on Earth to take part in a buffet of more than seven and a half billion culinary choices. But as the alien creature (who occasionally shows up when modifying Eddie's body Hulk style) gets to know his host, he decides he likes him and turns traitor against his own kind. All of which leads to them battling each other to save the future of...ZZZZZZZZ.

Sorry, I dozed off there as what might have been an interesting spin on the old Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story goes full-on rote, complete with some less than state of the art special effects, bad writing and yada, yada, yada. But what almost makes this just under two-hour offering watchable -- only in a guilty pleasure sort of way -- is the relationship, if you will, between Eddie and Venom, their verbal exchanges, and Eddie having to contend with having someone/thing else controlling his body.

While I never once bought Hardy as an investigative report (due to the writing by Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner and Kelly Marcel and Will Beall, helmer Ruben Fleischer's direction, and, well, the actor's performance based on that), the symbiotic setup is so goofy and over the top that while it's bad, it's also somewhat enjoyable and thus, at times, slightly entertaining in a "what the heck" sort of way.

I have no idea if the comic book went in that direction, but if the film had focused more on and featured more of that, it might have been salvageable. It's too bad those involved didn't realize that and call an audible and thus deviate from the script and make something truly unique.

As it stands, it has its moments, but without enough goofy venom to inject into viewers' funny bones, only time will tell whether this offering will be poisonous to comic book movie fans and thus make them sick enough not to come back for more. And thus ends today's movie lesson where "Venom" gets a grade of just 4 out of 10.




Reviewed October 3, 2018 / Posted October 5, 2018


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