Venom (2018)

RUBEN FLEISCHER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.  USA, 2018.  Avi Arad Productions, Columbia Pictures Corporation, Marvel Entertainment, Matt Tolmach Productions, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Tencent Pictures.  Screen story by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel, based on Marvel’s Venom character created by Todd McFarlane, David Michelinie.  Cinematography by Matthew Libatique.  Produced by Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Matt Tolmach.  Music by Ludwig Göransson.  Production Design by Oliver Scholl.   Costume Design by Kelli Jones.  Film Editing by Alan Baumgarten, Maryann Brandon.

Another character from the Marvel universe is given an origin story, this time a dark and complicated figure whose morality is always in question but who lacks the gleaming style or cutting wit of Catwoman.  Tom Hardy plays a provocative journalist whose unorthodox methods going after a tech billionaire (Riz Ahmed, who is surprisingly bland) lose him his job, his fiancee (Michelle Williams) and his future, placing him in a dire financial situation that does little for his self-esteem.  When a morally conflicted scientist who works for Ahmed (Jenny Slate, the standout in an otherwise unremarkable cast) approaches him with secrets about her boss and his top-secret project involving an alien life-form, Hardy jumps at the chance to redeem himself; instead, he is accidentally invaded by a parasite from another planet that turns him into an inky, long-tongued monster who causes him to hear voices and has a predilection for biting off people’s heads.  A good-natured sense of humour and a serviceable performance by the lead actor make this a film whose first half works well (Marvel movies always do a great job with establishing a regular human being’s transformation) but whose second half has nothing to mark it as special, particularly in its conclusion.  After Venom has situated itself in Hardy’s body, including a wonderful scene that has him turning a swanky San Francisco restaurant upside down and cooling himself off in a lobster tank, Ruben Fleischer’s unimaginative direction devolves into familiar action sequences, most of them filmed in darkness with a hero who never changes his drab clothing or takes a shower.

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