Par­a­site City

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Our crit­i­cal process: rip off the head, slurp down the brains, give star rat­ing.

Looks like Sam Raimi’s spi­der-sense was bang on the money. The di­rec­tor of the first three Spi­der-Man movies al­ways made it clear he was never a fan of par­a­sitic anti-vil­lain Venom, whose pres­ence in Spi­der-Man 3 helped to un­bal­ance a movie that was al­ready over­loaded with vil­lains. Now the un­holy al­liance of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Ed­die Brock and ex­trater­res­trial goop is the head­lin­ing act, you can’t help feel­ing that Raimi was right to be scep­ti­cal. Be­cause Venom is a mess, the sort of lazy block­busterby-num­bers that treats lit­tle things like story and char­ac­ter as dis­pos­able com­modi­ties – and feels like a cyn­i­cal ef­fort to milk Sony’s lu­cra­tive Spi­der-Man rights while their su­per-as­set is off fight­ing Thanos in the MCU.

As a Spi­der-Man spin-off it’s to­tally re­dun­dant, a brand ex­ten­sion that shares min­i­mal con­nec­tive tis­sue with its web-sling­ing fore­bear. The Wall­crawler is to­tally ab­sent here, and aside from a few sly nods to Spi­der-Man lore, the only rea­son a new­comer might guess the two were linked is that Venom’s eyes look vaguely like Spidey’s. That was log­i­cal in the Spi­der-Man comics, where the alien sym­biont Venom joined with Peter Parker be­fore hook­ing up with Ed­die Brock, but here it’s more like some weird cos­mic co­in­ci­dence, as prob­a­ble as an alien in­vader land­ing on Earth in the mood for a bit of Spidey cos­play.

Venom also looks, well, dis­ap­point­ing. In the comics it’s easy to see why he’s such a fan favourite, that sim­ple matt black riff on the Spi­der-Man suit so ef­fort­lessly cool that you can un­der­stand why some­one would want to put it on a t-shirt. Reimag­ined in live ac­tion, how­ever, he looks like a walk­ing oil slick with eyes, his un­likely steroidal physique and sharp, pointy teeth prov­ing more ridicu­lous than iconic. That slob­ber­ing, pre­hen­sile tongue, mean­while, is just un­pleas­ant, like Gene Sim­mons from Kiss mixed with your worst night­mares.

Venom’s grotesque ap­pear­ance, cou­pled with his in­sa­tiable de­sire to eat peo­ple – be­ing a hy­brid of man and alien burns a lot of calo­ries, ap­par­ently – sug­gests a higher hor­ror quo­tient than you’d usu­ally get in a su­per­hero movie. Yet de­spite hav­ing enough vi­o­lence and gore to jus­tify a 15 cer­tifi­cate, the movie never feels par­tic­u­larly scary. It also strug­gles to give any emo­tional weight to the psy­cho­log­i­cal drama of its lead char­ac­ter’s lit­eral split per­son­al­ity. Tom Hardy throws him­self into the role(s), turn­ing up the “look at me act­ing” twitch­i­ness when he’s Ed­die Brock, and hav­ing fun with the heav­ily treated Venom voice. Yet it never feels like an im­pos­si­ble strug­gle for a man’s soul – as can­ni­bal­is­tic alien sym­bionts with de­signs on world dom­i­na­tion go, Venom is rel­a­tively be­nign.

Which leaves you won­der­ing why the film­mak­ers didn’t go all out to make this a Dead­pool-style com­edy. There are a cou­ple of big laughs, maybe even the be­gin­nings of a hi­lar­i­ous comic part­ner­ship, but the hu­mour’s just too low in the mix to stick in the me­mory.

Venom looks like an oil slick with eyes

It’s never clear whether Venom is sup­posed to be a flawed hero, wise­crack­ing anti-hero or use­less vil­lain – he’s just… there.

In­stead, bad guy du­ties are left to Riz Ahmed’s Carl­ton Drake, a multi-bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man so ob­vi­ously evil that the film­mak­ers missed a trick by not giv­ing him a mous­tache to twirl. There’s pre­cisely zero am­bi­gu­ity about his mo­tives for us­ing the ar­rival of a quin­tet of alien sym­bionts to fur­ther his sup­pos­edly world­sav­ing med­i­cal re­search – he’s the sort of guy who can’t wait to get crack­ing on the hu­man tri­als. It’s a colos­sal waste of an ac­tor of Ahmed’s tal­ent, for whom this could have been a mas­sive Hol­ly­wood break­through af­ter be­ing one of the stand­outs in

Rogue One. Michelle Wil­liams, as Brock’s lawyer ex-fi­ancée Anne Wey­ing, is left sim­i­larly short­changed by a one-di­men­sional role that veers from be­ing the movie’s sole voice of rea­son – it’s hardly bulging with likeable char­ac­ters – to to­tally side­lined.

While Venom’s earned enough money at the box of­fice to make a se­quel in­evitable – a clos­ing cred­its sting even hints at where it might be go­ing – the live-ac­tion Spi­der-verse is look­ing like a cre­ative non-starter, much like al­most ev­ery other cin­e­matic shared uni­verse that isn’t the MCU. In fact, the most damn­ing thing about Venom is that the brief post-cred­its se­quence from the up­com­ing Spi­der-Man: Into The Spi­der-verse an­i­ma­tion con­tains more wit and in­ven­tion than the whole of the movie that pre­ceded it. Where’s Spidey when you need him? Richard Ed­wards

“What do you mean there’s no more pep­per­oni pizza?”

He was fu­ri­ous there were no eclairs on the sweet trol­ley!

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