Columbia Pictures’ VEMON

Do you have room in your life for another superhero/comic adaption franchise? Sony certainly hopes you do as they inject some Venom into cinemas across the country. Sony wisely promotes this film with the tagline “the world has enough superheroes” as they hope to succeed with villainous appeal and avoid any audience fatigue/disenchantment in this popular genre.

Set in San Fransisco, California, Tom Hardy stars as investigative journalist Eddie Brock who becomes a symbiote (with the alien Venom) in this supernatural action thriller based on the Marvel Comics character. This stand-alone kicks off Sony’s Marvel Universe instead of being related to the current Spider-Man universe (Spider-Man Homecoming) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Venom last appeared on film in 2007’s Spider-Man 3.

Eddie’s transformation into his extraterrestrial alter-ego who has incredible powers as Hardy voices both beings very well. Audiences can definitely tell they are related yet they are distinct enough to avoid any possible audience confusion. Hardy lets loose without overreaching with maniacal theatrics after providing some basic dialogue disclaimers that ease any possible concerns from audiences (e.g. the pain level he feels, etc.). Eddie’s efforts to control a seemingly uncontrollable situation keep audiences in his corner.

“Eyes! Lungs! Pancreas! So many snacks, so little time!” says Venom. This alien’s appetite for destruction creates dark comedy zingers like this one as well as a vehicle that careens down an unpredictable path though the basic elements along this path are predictable and formulaic. Filmmakers add an impressive level of sensitivity to this alien while that also reveals his motives. It’s a subtle and effective move that fills the film with depth and emotion.

Michelle Williams co-stars as district attorney Anne Weying. She makes the most of her limited screen time, but provides plenty of potential for future installments along with Reid Scott (Dr. Dan Lewis).

Riz Ahmed (Jason Bourne, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) plays a tech billionaire named Carlton Drake who, predictably supplies the catalyst for the main plot through his obsessive involvement with symbiote experiments through his Life Foundation company. Jenny Slate (Gifted, Obvious Child) brings some emotional heart as Dr. Dora Skirth, the head of the scientific team at Life Foundation. Her role touches on the ethical struggles and legality of these experiments.

Scott Haze (security chief Rolance Treece), Sope Aluko (Dr. Rose Collins), Wayne Pere (Dr. Llyod Emerson) and Michelle Lee (Donna Diego) round out the supporting cast. Mac Brandt (Prison Break series) has a very small role as a bartender named Jack.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) helms a well-balanced film backed by strong stuntwork and memorable special effects. The dark-themed and largely simplistic screenplay, written by Kelly Marcel, Jeff Pinkner, and Scott Rosenberg, manages to lift this likely franchise-starter off the ground. A connection to the MCU and Spider-Man: Homecoming cinematic universe might have helped here, but the brave filmmakers take a risk that will hopefully pay off more in future installments.

Ludwig Göransson’s musical score impresses as Eminem contributes his “Venom” song to the soundtrack that also includes Pusha T, Black Keys, and Run the Jewels. Göransson does not reach the height of his Black Panther score, but certainly enhances the emotional action.

Venom comes recommended with a few reservations (**1/2 out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language. Filmmakers eventually achieved a PG-13 rating instead of R due to the minimal gore and many ultra-violence acts that are discussed or referenced instead of displayed to audiences. Stick around for two sequences during the ending credits including an extended lead-in to the upcoming Sony film Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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