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Venom

Year: 2018
Production Co: Avi Arad Productions
Studio: Sony
Director: Rueben Fleischer
Producer: Avi Arad/Amy Pascal/Matt Tolmach
Writer: Jeff Pinkner/Scott Rosenberg/Kelly Marcel
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Woody Harrelson

If there's one thing I'm terrible at, it's predicting box office. I'm the one who said Pacific Rim would be 2013's first $1bn movie, after all.

To me, Venom had flop written all over it. I almost felt sorry for Sony, bereft of any franchise potential besides this second-string Marvel character and up to (or should that be 'down to') their usual creative standards. The trailer featured boring, small scale action sequences, a stupid premise and one of the most brilliant actors today at his absolute worst, Tom Hardy leaning too far into the wise cracking Brooklyn persona we've seen a few times before.

I thought the studio would be left with a creative and financial dog on its hands, desperately changing course a few more times and pumping out even less exciting sequels in desperation to have their own Marvel/Star Wars/Harry Potter-style brand name golden egg, all while waiting for the axe from Tokyo to fall.

Boy, did all the kids who love anything even remotely related to Marvel prove me wrong. Sony spent $100m making it and probably at least that much marketing it, so the worldwide haul of almost $850m completely justified their money spent.

Thankfully my reputation isn't completely shot though because I was right about one thing. Venom absolutely sucked.

Eddie Brock (Hardy) is a muckraking reporter with a video blog where he speaks truth to power, treading on toes and upsetting the gilded structures of San Francisco, and the story he's stumbling onto will change his life in ways he couldn't imagine. As the film opens we witness a space shuttle crash in Asia where a CGI tendril slime thing from space gets loose – the symbiote. The shuttle and its cargo is owned by Drake (Riz Ahmed), the slimy CEO of a secretive pharmaceutical corporation.

While outwardly a respectable businessman, Drake is overseeing experiments with the alien substance that leave a lot of people dead and a lot of unanswered questions. Despite being warned off the story by his exasperated editor and his lawyer girlfriend (a completely wasted Michelle Williams), Eddie can't help but prod too hard and finds himself on Drake's wrong side, losing his job and with his girl moving out for the mess he's made of everything.

Months later, one of Drake's scientists approaches Eddie offering him the chance to blow the lid off the grostesqueries in Drake's company – the company is kidnapping homeless and underprivileged people for its experimentation to try to make a perfect human/symbiote hybrid and are promptly disposed off when it kills one after the other.

She helps Eddie break into the lab late one night and he's promptly invaded by the CGI slime, which manifests itself as a deep, cartoony voice in his mind spouting ridiculous dialogue and demanding food. He also finds himself armed with huge black webs of material that emerge from his body to defend him or attack others who slight him, all without his control.

Gradually Eddie must learn to accept and live with his superhero alter-ego – the huge, black, giant-eyed, sharp toothed, Spider-man-like Venom, and together they'll go after and take down Drake's nefarious scheme, which of course involves another symbiote-charged monster with whom he shares a smack down on the side of a rocket ready to launch.

That's the plot, and it's hard to tell if something good could have been made from it with better writing, design or action. It seems like good execution can elevate anything, Marvel having proven time and time again that it can take simplistic stories for kids and make the modern equivalent of Shakespeare out of them.

It just seems Sony doesn't have the quality control of the other franchise factories in Hollywood. The script by Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel and Scott Rosenberg feels like the third draft, the direction by Ruben Fleischer is fine but nothing outstanding.

It's missing a sense of scale and stakes – an ironic complaint in an age where any self-respecting blockbuster has at least one building falling over, but it all just feels a bit small and inconsequential. When your trailer-worthy moment is a guy jumping over one of San Fransisco's iconic hills on a motorcycle, you're in trouble. Worst of everything, there's no feeling there, no spirit the movie makes uniquely its own, Fleischer merely setting stuff up and pointing a camera at it.

But Tom Hardy might be the biggest mystery of all. He seems like too good an actor to give a bad performance through lack of skill. Maybe he's just slumming it for what was probably a pretty big paycheque. Maybe he's taking the piss out of everyone by being so bad, or maybe he just figured a movie this dumb and B grade needed a dumb and B grade performance.

But Marvel-worshipping kids with little discriminating taste and Sony are both ecstatic, so who the hell am I to say?

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