Sony desperately wants a Marvel-ous franchise (or series of franchises, really) of its own. Despite failing the Spider-Man franchise the prior three times at bat before the MCU stepped in to help guide last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, they have another push with Venom, a not-quite spin-off from the Spidey mothership that is depressing in its inability to be interesting in any way. It tries to crib from the Marvel formula but only really succeeds in copying two of the MCU’s weakest elements-a too-long origin story and a final conflict where the good guy has to fight the evil version of himself.

Tom Hardy is Eddie Brock, a disgraced reporter who loses his job and fiancée (Michelle Williams, trying her best in a thankless role) in a series of unfortunate events. While trying to crack a new story he ends up being infected with an alien symbiote that is kind of its own personality and kind of Brock’s alter ego, whichever is necessary in any given scene. Together they are Venom, a slimy, teeth-baring, tongue-snarling anti-hero that takes on the bad guys, but mostly because he wants to eat their heads. Hardy is an engaging lead, even as he mumbles and stumbles through a weak script.

Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake is the bad guy, a mix of Elon Musk and every mustache-twirling villain stereotype. Really, the movie is just a series of feeling bad that so many good actors (Hardy, Williams, Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott, Melora Walters, and even a post-credits Woody Harrelson) have to suffer such a banal, hokey, frustrating story.

Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) tries hard to keep everything afloat. It’s not entirely his fault the movie is a mess, Venom really isn’t a strong enough character/concept to be the lead of the story. The film also just feels like a collection of studio interference, reinforcing yet again that the biggest hero of the MCU is Kevin Feige, who seems to do the heaviest lifting of keeping the storytellers free of interference.

The effects of Venom are probably the best aspect, as the veiny, shapeshifting, pulsating character from the comics is captured vividly on screen, although his bloodlust is tempered to an uncharacteristic PG-13. But hey, the studio is clearly more interested in a hit than in a story, not willing to put in the time to build a proper franchise. In that way, they seem to be cribbing more from DC.

My Grade – D

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