So I guess we know now why Sony keeps rebooting and remaking “Spider-Man” movies.
They hadn’t a clue how to film “Venom,” the alien antithesis of “your friendly neighborhood” web slinger.
I mean, we all love Tom Hardy, but he can’t break through in this thinly-scripted, dully acted and badly directed Marvel comic brought to life.
There are casting issues — Riz Ahmed is a little too reasonable and not particularly scary as the science tycoon hell-bent on getting humanity a leg up in colonizing the stars. Michelle Williams may have four Oscar nominations, but she’ under-reacts to every overwhelming experience of extraterrestrial life and violence her character encounters, and can’t do much with the feeble punchlines four credited screenwriters cooked up.
Jenny Slate is wasted in a lab coat role.
But Hardy, not exactly known for his light touch, finally gets a handle on this alien “symbiote” who takes over his body and fights for control of his soul in his head, leading to oodles of the old ultra violence and lots of vengeance fantasies come true.
Because Eddie Brock, the TV reporter he plays, has a bone or three to pick with the world.
He gets fired from his TV gig for going off half-cocked with his big interview with space-faring billionaire bio-tech tycoon Carlton Drake (Ahmed, from “Rogue One”) and gets his fiance (Williams) fired by stealing a tip from her laptop.
They both kiss him goodbye with the same pithy sign off–“Have a nice life.”
So when this alien parasite takes over his body, turns him into a bull in a four-star-restaurant China shop (“HUNGRY!”), bickers with him over “Let’s tear off their heads and eat them” (people) and takes over every time he gets in a tussle, Eddie’s not as un-receptive as you might think.
“Apparently, I have a parasite” he deadpans.
Scott Haze plays the head minion at Drake’s lab, the one charged with bringing this alien thingy that has taken over Eddie back to the lab for more “human experiments.
“Bring me back my CREATURE!” Ahmed bellows, as Drake. And you kind of wish he’d gone more Elon Musk about it.
Slate is the ethically-conflicted scientist trying to expose Drake’s casual, callous inhumanity. Ron Cephas Jones of TV’s “This is Us” and last summer’s “Dog Days” is the underwhelming TV editor who gives Eddie the boot.
“Venom” is an “origin story” comic book movie, so there’s all this prologue about Drake’s spacecraft bringing specimens back to Earth and crashing in Malaysia as it does.
One symbiote makes its way to San Francisco the hard way — one stolen human host at a time.
The other gets out of the lab and gets hold of Eddie by the usual “no good deed goes unpunished” route.
You just know those two toothy, talkative monsters are going to tangle.
Truth be told, you know pretty much everything that’s coming, and the cast fails to act very surprised when these unsurprising, rote comic book story beats are revealed.
The picture finally achieves “tolerable” for a while in the middle acts, with Hardy all goofy and rubber-legged, yanked about by this beast within like a puppet, cracking wise as he negotiates with the invader about how to behave in human company.
The fights are the usual post-“Transformers” digital blur, mayhem that trashes cars, a motorcycle and the drones chasing that motorcycle through car-chase-capital San Francisco.
If you go, you must stay through the credits. Sony is expecting this thing to be another Marvel money-minting machine for them, a franchise and a new villain is thus introduced.
But there’s no franchise future with “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer in charge. He could not spice up or otherwise save this script, and the picture feels under-directed every time there are actors involved or climaxes that he stumbles past as if he didn’t notice them.
Even the last after-the-credits plug is a tin-eared head-scratcher, an “alternate universe” animated “Spider-Man ” TV show sample.
Silly Sony. The cartoons come BEFORE the big, dumb action picture that should have played like a cartoon, but didn’t.
MPAA Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Jenny Slate, Michelle Lee, Riz Ahmed
Credits:Directed by Ruben Fleischer , script by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel, Will Beal, based on the Marvel comic. A Marvel/Columbia release.
Running time: 1:52