Venom review: Supervillain caper bites off more than it can chew

Tom Hardy commits to the toothy, twitchy antics in this twisted caper, but formulaic superheroics poison Venom's demented double act.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
4 min read
Sony Pictures

Most superheroes have a secret identity. But Venom might be unique in that he's in a constant fight with his secret identity, as normal guy Eddie Brock is taken over by a viscous, vicious murder machine from outer space that only he can hear.

In Venom, a new movie based on the  Marvel  comic now in theatres worldwide (if you find those post-credit scenes confusing, we have explanations), Tom Hardy plays Brock, a hapless ex-reporter who hears a nasty voice in his head

Voice in his head, huh? Sounds scary

when he accidentally bonds with a very hungry alien symbiote called Venom. It's only the latest blow for Brock, who lost his fiancée and his job when he stumbled onto the nefarious plans of a Silicon Valley tech billionaire.

Nefarious? Those big words don't impress anybody, buddy

I can't hear you ... Anyway, there's an awful lot of setup, all of it deeply formulaic, detailing how Brock is brought low. It seems to take forever to get to the fun part, which occurs when Venom forms a co-dependent relationship with Brock. If threatened, the sticky symbiote pops out of Brock's body, extruding glistening black spikes like a bunch of cheese strings dipped in motor oil, and impossibly extending limbs like a cartoon character whose fist turns into a hammer to biff the bad guys

Jeez, you get paid to write this?

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Tom Hardy lets his inner demons out in Venom.

Frank Masi/Sony Pictures

I said I can't hear you! The combination of over-the-top action with icky body horror gives Venom a fairly fresh twist on the saturated superhero genre. It really comes into its own with flashes of a demented buddy movie, as symbiote and host battle for control. Brock is confused and confounded by his new inner monologue and its overwhelming urge to bite people's heads off

Except this is a PG-13 instead of an R like they planned, so there's a whole lot of talking about head-chomping and nowhere near enough actual chowing down

and the pair make an entertainingly deranged odd couple. One highlight involves Hardy causing a scene in a restaurant, a hilarious moment of slapstick lunacy that deserves to be remembered alongside The Blues Brothers, Scarface and other great restaurant-based causing-a-scene scenes.

Tom Hardy gives it his all with a twitchy, sweaty commitment to the bit, delivered in his best "I coulda been a contender" voice

Did you seriously just compare Venom to On The Waterfront?

but the delirious double act really begins to sing when Venom's own personality emerges, suggesting the slurping symbiote is more than just a straightforward nasty alien. Whether dispensing surprisingly sound relationship advice or revealing unexpected motivations for bonding with Brock, the quirky symbiote has the makings of a genuinely funny foil for its human host.

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Michelle Williams marvels at Tom Hardy in Venom.

Frank Masi/Sony Pictures

Unfortunately, the movie insists on veering away from the gruesome twosome's blackly comic interplay to keep doing movie things, like endlessly repeating the villain's villainy or reminding us about Brock's uninteresting love interest. It would be way more fun if all of this familiar superhero fodder was dropped and we had 90 minutes of Hardy and his alien interloper arguing, eating people and arguing about eating people. Instead, the tediously familiar movie-ing continues right up to another noisy, bludgeoning CG brawl between digital characters

Did we learn nothin' from Ghost Rider, Spawn and either of the Hulk movies Marvel doesn't like to talk about?

Well, quite. Despite Venom's roots as a character in the Spider-Man comics, this Sony-produced film isn't connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe . But as is inescapable nowadays, there's a midcredits scene setting up another instalment in Sony's Venom-verse. This sequence feels hugely disjointed from the rest of the movie, as if the scenes which precede and explain it were cut at the last minute. But it's still an intriguing Easter egg for comic book fans

OK fanboys, enjoy stage-whispering "That's from the comic!" to your nonexistent girlfriends while everyone else is just trying to get out of the frickin' theatre

It's fair to say Venom has a few gaps in narrative logic

This is the dumbest movie ever

starting with the whole premise that Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter famed for his street level antiauthoritarian fearlessness, would be assigned to do a fluff piece on a Silicon Valley genius

So dumb

who in turn seems content to run a high-tech, highly illegal lab that anybody can apparently wander in and out of. But this isn't the kind of movie where you pick apart the logic -- this is the kind of movie where you just roll with the B-movie shenanigans.

The opening of Venom straight-up rips off the opening of Rampage, previously the dumbest movie of the year. Why would you do that, Venom? Did you see the Rampage guys around town and they were all sad they made the dumbest movie of the year, so you were like, "Hold my beer"?

The supporting cast includes Riz Ahmed as the rocket-obsessed tech industry bad guy

Riz Ahmed plays the exact same Mark Zuckerberg-ass evil nerd he did in Jason Bourne. Didja think we forgot, Riz? Didja think we forgot Jason Bourne? Because we didn't. And let me tell ya, we really frickin' tried

and Michelle Williams, effortlessly charming despite being stuck with the thankless task of playing Brock's ex.

This movie better have bought these guys a nice big house, that's all I'm saying

It's no Infinity War, but Venom delivers flashes of Saturday night silliness when the unhinged human-alien two-hander are onscreen. Like Eddie Brock himself, the movie is fairly unexciting until the bad guy pops out.

C'mon dude. It's The Mask for Limp Bizkit fans

OK, fine. I hear you.

Venom post-credits scenes explained: The most clunky sequel-bait imaginable and a surprise from another world.

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