2 ½ (out of 4)
I’ve alluded before that the Marvel Mouse has critics under its gloved thumb, but maybe Venom really is a case of a broad schism between audiences and reviewers. Venom is decent across all spectrums and a Tomatometer as low as modern DC trash and less than half of the MCU's worst is puzzling once you see the movie for yourself.
Of course Sony's output of capeshit isn't what you'd call a respectable track record, let alone the features they produce otherwise. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was a blessing for the early days of contemporary super-cinema but Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance and the pair of amazingly inept Spider-Man rehashes do not indicate competence on behalf of the studio. Venom's 100 million dollar budget is stingy given the clear necessity for elaborate visual effects. And the PG-13 rating is a little lenient considering heads are chomped on scene by scene – this film isn't exactly designed to be fun for all ages, although vulgarity and gore for the sake of it a la Deadpool or Logan admittedly wouldn’t have improved anything. Those details plus Tom Hardy's confession that 40 minutes of his favorite bits were pruned from the film portended that Venom was set up to suck.
That said, while it breaks no mold in superhero structure (third act clashes between CGI monsters, Bible-referencing villains, quips aplenty), Venom is not painfully self-aware, tastelessly violent or cringingly unfunny. With a classic origin story at its disposal, actors as adept as Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams at the forefront enhance the weakest lines of dialogue and the conventional genre clichés. The synergetic relationship between Hardy’s Eddie Brock and the gooey alien symbiote Venom becomes an antihero duo just distinctive enough to extol. The action is alright, the pacing is swift and, most advantageously, Hardy's caliber of dramatic acting and equal ability for brusque charm is weirdly well-suited for a disgraced reported dealing with a parasitic host that fits his body like a glove, merges into his conscious mind and transforms him into a voracious villain with or without consent. Nobody will be missing Topher Grace's role in Spider-Man 3 and you won't be thinking of Hardy's other brush with the superhuman as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.
An unusual tonal confluence, some rough editing, a climax that makes the titular virulent invader out to be the good guy and a pointless post credits stinger ultimately leaves Venom in the realm of merely satisfactory superhero movies. But the memorable blend of supernatural horror and B-movie sci-fi molds Venom into something more gratifying than it was foreordained to be.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
and A Star Is Born
The Absolute State
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