I would be shocked if Venom is a hit. The character is too niche, and the film about him is too strange — and frankly too crappy — for that to happen. But if it happened, Venom would surely become the most-quoted movie since Borat. Once Tom Hardy bonds with this alien “symbiote,” and this goo begins to talk to him as a gravelly voice in his head (also performed by Hardy), Venom suddenly becomes hilarious. Hardy and his evil side trade insults. They get into slapstick fights with bad guys where Venom marionettes Tom Hardy’s body like a puppet. They eat inexplicable amounts of tater tots. It’s like if Laurel and Hardy were the same guy — and also one of them liked to bite the heads off people.

This is epically, fantastically weird stuff. The only thing stopping this movie from becoming an immediate cult classic is that it takes nearly an hour for Tom Hardy to go full Venom. If they’d trimmed 15 minutes out of this thing, cut right to the chase, and just piled on the Hardy, Venom would be unmissable.

Oh, that first hour. It is bad. Not fun bad. Not so-bad-it’s-good-bad. Just painful. After a spaceship from the “Life Foundation” crashes in East Malaysia and its precious, venomous cargo escapes, we meet Hardy’s Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist who hosts his own news show in San Francisco. Brock gets assigned a puff piece on Life Foundation chairman Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), but he can’t resist pounding him with tough questions. He also can’t resist snooping around on the work computer of his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams), where he finds files that implicate Drake in a twisted scheme to test drugs on the city’s homeless population.

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I could go on explaining how Carlton’s symbiote winds up attached to Eddie but then I would have the same problem as this movie: I would bore you to death with endless, tedious exposition. And honestly? It really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Eddie and Venom finally hook up and, essentially, fall in love. Venom is a parasitic alien from another world. Eddie is a psychotic. But in borderline rom-com fashion, they complete each other. They have a meet cute — attaching yourself to a man’s face and then parkouring off walls and over fences qualifies as “cute” right? — and even make out in one very tender and not-at-all disturbing scene.

Venom is like hero (or anti-hero) and sidekick all rolled into one. Once he begins getting into fights and chases, the symbiote constantly yells at Hardy —mostly to call him a loser and other words I am not allowed to publish on this family-friendly website. Hardy, his voice dancing up and down the octaves, yells right back. Venom’s quips about everyone Eddie meets and everything he does almost makes him the voice of the audience, warning him not to make the obvious dumb decisions we know he’ll make and instead follow Venom down the path to salvation (and, yes, eating people). Despite his homicidal tendencies, he’s an oddly compelling devil on Eddie’s shoulder. The movie becomes so much more fun once he shows up, you can’t help but root for this pile of contagion. Sure, Venom might want to colonize our planet and feast on our spinal columns. But at least he’s doing it in style.

Most of the action is very poorly filmed by director Ruben Fleischer. A chase through the streets of San Francisco with Eddie on a motorcycle pursued by about a hundred drones is laughable, and the final fight between Venom and the movie’s antagonist is so dimly lit it makes about as much visual sense as two sentient puddles fighting in the middle of a monsoon that’s happening during a blackout. If you are going to Venom for cool superhero action — or for compelling characters, pulpy science-fiction, impressive special effects, a parable about corporations run amok, or a single significant connection to Spider-Man — you will be sorely disappointed.

If you can look past all of that (and the dreadful first hour), your reward is Hardy, delivering one of the all-time great unhinged performances. He commits fully to the character; sweating, screaming, leaping, grunting, howling, twitching. He has more chemistry with the CGI Venom symbiote than with any of the humans in the cast — the kiss he shares with Venom is way longer and more intimate than the one has with Williams earlier in the movie.

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You can argue that Hardy is in a different movie than the rest of Venom — which is mostly dark and very self-serious. And that is probably true. But Hardy’s movie is vastly superior to the one surrounding him. His is the movie I desperately wished I was watching more of. (Despite the fact that I cannot recommend Venom and even hated parts of it, I would absolutely watch the sequel teased in one of the worst post-credits scenes I have ever witnessed.)

Venom is a mentally unwell character. The symbiote infects Eddie Brock’s mind as well as his body, and it drives him crazy. Even when he’s sort of in control of his faculties it’s as if he has multiple personalities. Venom, the movie, is like that too. The first half is all grit and ominous warnings about the fate of mankind. Then the last 40 minutes or so you have Tom Hardy almost literally crawling out of his own skin and monologuing about turning a burglar into a legless, armless, faceless, thing “like a turd in the wind.” The shift is so pronounced, you could almost convince me it was part of some genius master plan to make a movie that matched its title character’s disjointed temperament.

Almost. Regardless, I will be quoting Tom Hardy’s Venom voice (“FOOD NOW!”) for a long time to come.

Additional Thoughts:

-Riz Ahmed runs what appears to be the most scientifically-advanced laboratory on the planet. He definitely has the ability to launch private missions into outer space. Yet he does not possess a single security camera. He’s only got the world’s most valuable material inside the most secure facility known to man. Why keep a close eye on it?

-It possibly counts as a very minor spoiler so I won’t reveal it, but Michelle Williams has a line in this movie so ridiculous, only an actor of her caliber could pull it off. That she does it with a straight face earned her whatever paycheck she received for Venom.