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Movie Review: Tom Hardy's Talent Is Wasted as a Superhero in 'Venom'


Published October 10, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated October 12, 2018 at 10:52 a.m.

Tom Hardy is brilliant, the Marlon Brando of his generation. Watching the Brit for the first time in 2008's Bronson was, for me, like seeing the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show." So I've found his professional trajectory a tad dismaying. The thing about performers who can do anything is that they often can't resist doing everything.

An artist of Hardy's caliber makes twaddle like Thick as Thieves (2009) or This Means War (2012) for one reason, and it isn't to stretch creatively. The same applies to Star Trek installments and goes quadruple for anything even remotely associated with Marvel Studios.

Venom, as it happens, is remotely associated with Marvel. The Marvel logo is brandished throughout. But that's just misdirection on the part of Sony Pictures' marketing division.

Sony has struggled to launch any of its long-planned Spider-Man spin-offs. In one of the most byzantine deals in show-biz history, the company struck a 2015 bargain with Marvel, pimping Spidey out to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in exchange for getting to pretend its own films are part of it. If you can't beat 'em, strike a byzantine deal with 'em.

Loopy as the story behind the movie might be, it's Shakespeare compared to the one that four screenwriters dreamed up and Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad) directed. Hardy plays investigative reporter Eddie Brock. Eddie has a hunch that billionaire inventor Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is up to no good. He decides to investigate the scientist's research complex, and what he finds defies description ­— not to mention logic and credibility.

Drake, Eddie discovers, has secretly been building rocket ships and sending them into space to collect aliens. The reporter can't believe his eyes. There, right in the next room, is one of them: a black, blobby thing behind protective glass. Oops, it just saw Eddie, escaped from the completely unguarded lab and jumped inside him. What now?

Well, this is a comic-book movie, so now Eddie has superpowers. When he's attacked, he becomes huge, bullet proof and able to morph into any shape, even sprout razor-sharp arms. He also has an inner voice that sometimes tells him what to do and sometimes makes snarky cracks about what he does. For example, Eddie is so upset about being controlled by a parasite from outer space that he almost jumps off a skyscraper. When he changes his mind, the demonic voice in his head scoffs, "Pussy!"

Reviewers have compared Venom to the 1984 comedy All of Me, in which Steve Martin's body was taken over by Lily Tomlin. They miss a significant point. Martin's film was pre-CGI. He convinced audiences he was being pulled by opposing forces using imagination and talent. Digital animation does the heavy lifting here.

As you'd probably expect, we're treated to high-speed chases, noisy CGI battles, PG-13 carnage and collateral damage to multiple San Francisco landmarks — along with all those demonic wisecracks, which strive for but never approach Deadpool-level drollery. Oh, and we get tongue. I'll be shocked if Gene Simmons doesn't sue.

Sound. Fury. Nonsense. A franchise is born. Beats me what moviegoers thought they hadn't seen a hundred times before in this one-man buddy film. I mean, besides the finest actor of his generation sharing the stage with a special effect.

Sure, Brando did a comic-book movie, too, but that was really more of a stunt. He didn't star. He was paid $19 million for 10 minutes of screen time in the opening scenes of 1978's Superman. An offer that, understandably, even he couldn't refuse.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Venom"

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