For a re­view of “Venom,”

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Su­per­hero fa­tigue got you down? Tired of the same old bland Marvel Cine­matic Uni­verse of­fer­ings? A dose of “Venom” could be just the right an­ti­dote.

This dark, wacky MCU-as­so­ci­ated out­ing com­bines one of the most in­ter­est­ing con­tem­po­rary lead­ing men with a dar­ing di­rec­tor who has a hit-or-miss track record. Throw an out­landish alien or­gan­ism into the mix, shake well with a healthy serv­ing of ir­rev­er­ent hu­mor and you’ve got “Venom.” It’s a mess, but wow, is it ever a fun, fas­ci­nat­ing mess. Those are al­ways so much more thrilling than any of the for­mu­laic su­per­hero movies that pa­rade through mul­ti­plexes all year.

Tom Hardy plays Ed­die Brock, in­trepid San Fran­cisco in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter and un­will­ing host body for alien Sym­biote Venom. Al­though di­rec­tor Ruben Fleis­cher uses ev­ery tool in his cine­matic arse­nal, Hardy is firmly in charge here, steer­ing this ship straight to Crazy­town. He’s ab­so­lutely riv­et­ing, and hi­lar­i­ous.

The first half is a char­ac­ter study, jux­ta­pos­ing the free­wheel­ing but prin­ci­pled re­porter Ed­die with neme­sis Carl­ton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a shady bio-tech en­tre­pre­neur and Elon Musk type who would rather in­habit outer space than try to dis­rupt cli­mate change and has a shock­ing dis­re­gard for hu­man life. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a tip from Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), Ed­die breaks into a lab hop­ing to col­lect ev­i­dence that Drake has been abus­ing and killing home­less peo­ple for Sym­biote tri­als. Venom in­hab­its Ed­die’s body and turns him into an un­likely killing ma­chine, black tar ten­ta­cles pro­pelling the be­wil­dered hu­man around the streets of San Fran­cisco in a re­luc­tant ram­page rem­i­nis­cent of this sum­mer’s AI techno-hor­ror thriller “Up­grade.”

By far the best part of “Venom” is the chem­istry be­tween Ed­die and his par­a­site, Venom him­self, who is cheeky and sar­donic for an alien. They bicker like a mar­ried cou­ple over when to eat, what to eat (there are rules about whose heads Venom is al­lowed to chomp) and how to ap­proach Ed­die’s ex-fi­ancée, Anne (Michelle Wil­liams).

One flaw “Venom” shares with other su­per­hero/comic book movies is big third act prob­lems, clouded by muddy char­ac­ter mo­ti­va­tions and even mud­dier CGI. Two Sym­biotes fight for dom­i­nance, their shiny, slick, ’roided tar bod­ies clash­ing and meld­ing in a dis­pos­able and dis­ap­point­ing bat­tle. Hardy and Fleis­cher do man­age to reel it back to that bizarre but charm­ing tone they’ve cre­ated, and amaz­ingly, for all of the wild weird­ness and wack­adoo mess, this char­ac­ter is, shock­ingly, one we’d be happy to spend more time with, thanks to Hardy.

“Venom,” a Frank Masi re­lease, is rated PG-13 for in­tense se­quences of sci-fi vi­o­lence and ac­tion, and for lan­guage. Run­ning time: 112 min­utes. ★★½

“‘A Star Is Born”

Of all the movies about the Hol­ly­wood fame ma­chine, “A Star is Born” may be the most en­dur­ing. The story of an as­pir­ing no­body and an A-list celebrity who fall in love and grad­u­ally change places, “A Star is Born” has been made four times over 80-plus years. The de­tails may change — some­times it’s about ac­tors, some- times singers — but “A Star Is Born” al­ways re­mains the same: a Cin­derella story in which the Prince does not get his happy-ever-af­ter.

Bradley Cooper plays that prince, the al­co­holic coun­try-rocker Jack­son Maine, and Lady Gaga is Ally, his undis­cov­ered Cin­derella, in the lat­est “Star.” Cooper and Gaga may be es­tab­lished names, but they have a lot rid­ing on this project: It’s his di­rec­to­rial de­but and her first lead­ing film role. What’s more, they’re fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Fredric March and Janet Gaynor in 1937, James Ma­son and Judy Gar­land in 1954, and Kris Kristof­fer­son and Bar­bra Streisand in 1976 — all more or less Hol­ly­wood icons.

The good news is that Cooper and Gaga are flat-out ter­rific. Ac­tors play­ing rock stars can be a dicey propo­si­tion, but Cooper is note-per­fect as Maine, a sexy dis­as­ter poured into a pair of cow­boy boots. Des­per­ate for a drink one night, he slinks into a night­club and sees Ally do­ing a cabaret ren­di­tion of “La Vie en Rose.” He’s smit­ten. Back­stage, he re­moves her makeup (much as Ma­son did to Gar­land in 1954) and ad­mires the face she says has kept her from pop star­dom.

Gaga’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity is cap­ti­vat­ing, es­pe­cially af­ter so many years of mu­sic-video and stage per­sonas. She’s best as pre-fame Ally: shy and self-ef­fac­ing, but with an in­ner iron core. Af­ter Jack­son drags her onto his stage for a duet — an elec­tri­fy­ing mo­ment that may be the movie’s high point — Ally be­comes a vi­ral sen­sa­tion and soon finds her­self singing power-bal­lads backed by dancers.

Like some of its pre­de­ces­sors, “A Star is Born” suf­fers from a me­an­der­ing sto­ry­line (the script is by Eric Roth) and a slightly un­clear theme: Is the movie about chas­ing dreams, sell­ing out or sober­ing up? Still, Cooper and Gaga make beau­ti­ful mu­sic to­gether (lit­er­ally — they per­formed all songs live) and they vir­tu­ally glow when­ever they share the screen. Their “Star” makes a fine ad­di­tion to a Hol­ly­wood legacy.

“A Star Is Born,” a Warner Bros. Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage through­out, some sex­u­al­ity/ nu­dity and sub­stance abuse. Run­ning time: 135 min­utes.

★★★

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