RATING |

I wonder what you’d call it when a crusading journalist morphs into a scaly creature with a writhing tongue and the name Venom, all in the course of diligent investigative reporting.

Snake news?

Certainly the maligned fourth estate could use a guy like that at the moment, and print people should be favorably disposed toward a character who vows at the end of the film to "return to the written word."

But Venom and the movie he's in are tough for anyone to warm up to. The first third of Venom is almost shockingly dull. As a superhero movies go, it's generic in a way that recalls the pre-Avengers bad old days (Green Lantern, Green Hornet, Jonah Hex) – without any personal style, unique tone, or interesting atmosphere.

Tom Hardy seems initially unsure of what to do with his character, Eddie Brock, a San Francisco TV reporter intent on exposing the unsavory secret operations of an Elon Musk-y  tech overlord named Drake (Riz Ahmed), who's using his space fleet to retrieve space material that he purports will be useful to mankind.

In fact, Drake's experimenting ruthlessly on homeless people, prompting a conscious-stricken employee (Jenny Slate) to contact Brock, who, long story short, ends up infused with alien matter that makes him a "symbiote," capable of turning into a muscular black monster when threatened, and also possessed of an interior alien intelligence that provides sarcastic running dialogue.

As a symbiote, Brock/Venom is sometimes funny, and for a while the movie finds a rhythm that seems to suit director Ruben Fleischer, best known for Zombieland.

Hardy manages to make a kind of buddy comedy out of the CGI back-and-forth with his usurping alien alter-ego, zigzagging between the two modes while trying to patch things up with his ex (Michelle Williams) and save the world.

I'd like to say that all of this is groundbreaking, but it's not. The movie is suspiciously similar to Leigh Whannell's cheeky sci-fi movie Upgrade, released earlier this year, in which AI operates the cybernetic systems inside an injured man's retrofitted body, and the two consciousnesses wrestle for control.

Did somebody copy off of somebody else's paper?

Ironically, Venom represents Sony's attempt to do something original with the character, who appeared as a villain played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3.

Here, he gets…upgraded, the hero in his own story, with vetted leading man Hardy in the title role.

You hold out hope that Hardy's inevitable showdown with Ahmed would yield some third-act sparks, but both actors are ultimately subsumed by CGI forms, and the ending is one of those dreary, pulverizing displays of animation that have spoiled many a superhero movie.

Including this one.

Venom. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. With Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams, Jenny Slate and Reid Scott. Distributed by Sony.

Running time: 112 minutes

Parents guide: PG-13

Playing at: area theaters