Rated PG-13, 100 minutes
What a disappointment. That's the best way to describe the new Marvel entry "Venom," that in spite of inspired casting and backstory, lacks real bite. If it doesn't feel right, you'd be absolutely correct in your assessment, as this feels genuinely watered down and chaotic.
Journalist Eddie Brock (Oscar-nominee Tom Hardy) is trying to take down Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, miscast), the notorious and brilliant founder of the Life Foundation. While investigating one of Drake's experiments, Eddie's body merges with the alien Venom -- leaving him with superhuman strength and power. Twisted, dark and fueled by rage, Venom tries to control the new and dangerous abilities that Eddie finds so intoxicating.
The modestly entertaining yet supremely bland "Venom" could've been a mesmerizing, dark tale of right and wrong, but it mostly just feels all wrong. Set in the "Spider-Man" universe, "Venom" will make you pine for Spidey, though that may be difficult after the last Avengers film.
First, director Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland") and co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg (the team behind the recent "Jumanji") and Kelly Marcel ("Saving Mr. Banks") make the mistake of having the film PG-13; in doing so, it lessens the darkness and adds more scripted PG-13 style action sequences that feel so out of place compared to the much darker comic book storylines.
Second, the film is hurt by the miscasting of Ahmed as the central protagonist Drake, a usually decent actor who can't convey his character's sinister motivations here. Then, it doesn't help that the script doesn't do much in way of shedding much light into any of the characters, particularly Michelle Williams ("The Greatest Showman,") wasted in the conventional, throwaway part of Brock's girlfriend, given very little to do here.
Fanboys everywhere rejoiced when they heard that an intense actor like Hardy was cast as Venom, and it's the film's calling card, for without it "Venom" would be a total waste. Hardy is the only real reason to see the film, but the Jekyll-Hyde hybrid of having voices in your head (Hardy also does the voice of Venom, in case you're wondering) is fun at first but become annoying and distracting by the film's end.
Somewhere along the way, "Venom" was a good idea on paper, but it's a bad execution that lacks considerable edge. If there is another installment, note to the producers: make it darker, bloodier and Rated R. The visuals are OK but generally border on cheesy, and if the end-credits scene gives any idea of the next "Spider-Man" movie, it doesn't bode well.
"Venom" will have its Marvel fanboy base show up, but I'm almost certain they'll be extremely disappointed by the results.