FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2018 -- The Marvel Comics Universe is so vast that some characters forget how they started and who they really are. Such is the case with Venom, a character who first appeared (on film) in "Spider-Man 3" in 2007. In that film, Venom got attached to Spider-Man and turned him dark.


Sony decided to revisit the character since he is from the last film in the franchise to turn a reasonable profit while introducing a fairly dark anti-hero. They turned the reins over to Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland", "Gangster Squad", "30 Minutes or Less") who has a grasp of integrating humor into a dark character, but probably should have watched the two "Deadpool" films to get a better idea. Don't be mistaken, this film is targeted to people who liked "Deadpool".


Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a boots-on-the-ground investigative reporter who is on his last chance job; he's pissed off his previous employers. After a privately funded space mission ends in a crash, Brock is assigned to talk to Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an Elon Musk type of industrialist who has more than a few things hidden in his closet. Brocks fiance, Anne (Michelle Williams) is an attorney who works for Drake, she tells him not to concern himself with Drake...but he ignores her. He pokes through her computer and finds a damning correspondence implicating Drake as a murderer.

His confrontation with Drake leads to him being fired by his television station and Anne getting fired - she also dumps him. While tis is happening, Drake is experimenting on humans by combining a symbiotic mass with them hoping to create a new species to live in space. By chance a symbiote gets into Brock and changes him into Venom. Like Spider-Man, Brock embraces his new power even though he can't control it nor its appetite for food. The preferred food is, of course, people. Meanwhile Drake gets his own symbiote and turns even more evil. Yadda, yadda, yadda...let's try to take over the world, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Ho-hum.


Perhaps the biggest distraction in the film - besides the lame plot - are the cheesy Walmart special discount special effects. The symbiotes, Venom and the evil Riot, never look threatening. Instead they look like something that one might laugh at upon approach. Either version of "The Blob" (1958 and 1988) looked more ominous! For that matter (pun intended) the stuff from "Life" (2017) was scarier and had a similar story.


The injection of random humor almost helps, but it gets mashed behind a Hardy who isn't quite clear on how to deliver his parts. Hardy is far too good an actor to waste on such a script. Williams suffers the same problem as she doesn't sem to know if she should be in terror or herself fearless when she confronts Venom.


Reid Scott, who plays Anne's new doctor love interest after she dumps Brock, is about as stiff as petrified cardboard as are most of the other characters. This is in stark contrast to the well fleshed out charcters and stories of "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity Wars"; such a huge comedown.


The great news is that this Marvel send-up is short, it comes in well under two hours, so the suffering doesn't last long.


"Venom" is strictly for Marvel comics junkies fully immersed in everything Marvel. They are the only ones who could tolerate the run-of-the-mill special effects and the very ordinary story.   -- GRADE C --   GEOFF BURTON