(On Cable TV, April 2019) I wanted to be more positive toward Venom, but it’s a slick and overproduced piece of typical action/SF blockbuster, well made at times and yet conceptually dull to a surprising extent. The fun here isn’t in the overall concept, which was also tackled to superior effect in the similar Upgrade. No, where Venom show signs of life is in the details of its execution, whether it’s sight gags during a rather good pursuit through San Francisco streets, a sexy She-Venom (taller and curvier than Michelle Williams) showing up for a few moments, or the ticks and quirks of Tom Hardy’s performance as a man not entirely in control of his life or his body. Part of the problem is in the ludicrous idea of making the film fit within PG-13 confines—the creature design, body horror and tendency for the monster to decapitate and eat its victims make it a poor fit for the rating. I’m usually the last person to opine that R ratings are superior, but that’s not the case here: never mind the lack of blood, it’s the film’s self-conscious restraint in the PG-13 context that makes it repeatedly frustrating—a hard-R would have allowed creative freedom to the result. Otherwise, well, Venom does feel a bit silly in between its good moments. The plausibility of nearly everything is dubious, and the film does suffer from the overproduced tendency of modern blockbusters to keep the camera shaking, overcut action scenes to shreds and throw so much CGI on-screen that we never believe in it. Fortunately, there is a human element: The always-cute Jenny Slate shows up for a few moments; Tom Hardy does turn in an interesting half-possessed performance (with a few exceptions, Hardy isn’t that interesting an actor when he’s just himself—he has to take over a bigger-than-life role to be compelling); and supporting players such as Ahmez Riz to wrap things up. There’s also some mildly interesting subtext (or rather quasi-text) in the symbiotic relationship between the protagonist and his alien host that plays well to audiences willing to let their imaginations run wild. Still, for all of the good bits and pieces to be found in Venom, they feel like exceptions dragged down by the film’s overall dull tone and plot. Something far more interesting could have been possible by using those elements better and so the film remains a disappointment no matter its scattered strengths. But I’m sure we’ll get a sequel anyway.