A dentally enhanced Tom Hardy stars in "Venom."

A dentally enhanced Tom Hardy stars in "Venom." Credit: Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Sony Pictures

PLOT A man inhabited by an alien parasite develops superpowers.

CAST Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams

RATED PG-13 (violence and some gore)


BOTTOM LINE Loony ideas and nutty dialogue make this Marvel’s first camp classic.

“Venom,” featuring Tom Hardy as a superhero with a split personality, may or may not shatter October box-office records as predicted. Either way, Marvel should start rolling out the Venom masks and merchandise, because this accidental gonzo comedy seems destined for the midnight circuit and Comic-Con legend-status. Full of quotably abysmal dialogue and some wondrously awful scenes, “Venom” could become Marvel’s version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” -- a camp classic worth mocking again and again.

“Venom” stars Hardy as Eddie Brock, a San Francisco television reporter, and Michelle Williams as his fiancee, Anne Weying.They both work indirectly for Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an Elon Musk-ish billionaire who seems to own everything in town. Brock has long suspected Drake of engaging in questionable business practices but an inside tip leads him to an even more horrifying discovery: Drake’s latest space mission imported several alien “symbiotes,” shape-shifting parasites that can give their human hosts tremendous power -- or kill them.

At the screening I attended, stifled barks of laughter came from the audience almost as soon as “Venom” started. Around the time Brock accidentally absorbs one of the parasites -- who calls himself Venom -- the stifling ceased and open hooting began. Hardy’s highly idiosyncratic performance as the knockabout, disheveled Brock (a combination of early Marlon Brando and late Art Carney) was giggle-worthy enough, but Venom is a bona fide riot. He’s a lizardlike creature who can control Brock from the inside and also speaks to him in a grumbling, cookie-monster voice: “Hungry! Food!” (Hardy does the voice as well). Much of the film is like a dark, action-horror version of “All of Me,” with Brock-Venom instead of Martin-Tomlin.

Directed with near-manic energy by Ruben Fleischer from a screenplay by Scott Rosenberg (and others), “Venom” hits a delirious high point when Brock and his parasite stop fighting each other and start to bro down. It turns out there’s a reason Venom wants to stay on Earth and inhabit Brock’s body. “On my planet,” he says in his thunderous growl, “I am kind of a loser.”

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