Lady Gaga's box office competition is no "Spider-Man."
If you're deciding what movie to see this weekend and care about critical acclaim over explosions, we have a very clear winner: "A Star Is Born."
The romantic drama starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is being hailed as one of the year's best movies, scoring an impressive 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Descriptions include "the movie of the moment," "exhilarating," and "downright electrifying." Meanwhile, most critics think the film's chief box office competition, "Venom," kinda sucks. Currently, it holds a disappointing 27 percent "rotten" approval rating on the critic aggregation site.
The Sony action movie follows Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, a reporter who stumbles upon an alien symbiote that turns him into the monstrous Marvel villain Venom, who we saw do battle with Peter Parker in "Spider-Man 3." It's not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but according to critics, that doesn't save the movie from being compared to other Marvel flicks. Unfortunately for Hardy and the filmmakers, those set the bar pretty high.
Reviews ripped the anti-hero flick apart in its entirety, with many poking fun at Hardy's voices as Brock and Venom. One critic said that Hardy's words sounded like a "doofus mumble," or "a cross between early Marlon Brando and late Adam Sandler." Others described his voice as the Cookie Monster or an "evil caricature from a 1980s TV cartoon series."
Read how film critics are slamming "Venom" and praising "A Star Is Born" in the reviews below.
In the first scene of Marvel's utterly unmarvelous Venom, an alien space ship crashes and burns on earth leaving behind a slithering mass of defanged, digitalized slop. That's also a fair description of this puddle of simplistic, sanitized PG-13 drivel that Marvel has released instead of the scary, dark-night-of-the-soul thunderbolt fans had the right to expect. Tom Hardy and a massively overqualified cast, including Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, have been reduced to putting on a clown-show for kiddies in a shameless corporate product where the creativity stopped with the balance sheet. This year gave us the best and most imaginative Marvel film in "Black Panther." Now we have the worst.
Tom Hardy is afflicted with an otherworldly force that invades his mind, his body, his very being. It's called the desire to act like a stumblebum Method goof. The symptoms, which are highly visible and dramatic, range from a propensity for bug-eyed staring to a tendency to swallow each line with a kind of renegade doofus mumble, in a way that leaves Hardy sounding like a cross between early Marlon Brando and late Adam Sandler.
As anyone who saw his silky and cutting performance in “Locke” can attest, Tom Hardy is one of the smartest actors around. So why, in "Venom," does it seem like he's doing his impersonation of a benignly inarticulate stoner clown who's only got half his marbles? It may be his way of lightening up and going with the flow of a popcorn movie. It may be his way of playing a guy who becomes one-half of a hybrid creature: a fearsome monster superhero who’s like Jekyll and an alien Hyde in one mutating gelatinous body.
Mostly bad-bad, with a splash and dash of fun. Nearly four years after 'Deadpool,' comic-book flicks are still trying to recapture that hit's naughty sense of humor and style. Consider this a watered-down PG-13 wannabe. The title character is an alien species that bites off heads and munches on brains. It lands on Earth with intent to destroy. But it needs a human host to survive. Enter Hardy's good-guy TV reporter Eddie Brock. He's just lost his job, his girl, his apartment, his life. He doesn't deserve an alien takeover. This concept may seem vicious -- remember the movie Alien? -- but the symbiotic relationship is oddly and mostly played for crude laughs. Venom also talks to Hardy in a deep voice that sounds like an evil caricature from a 1980s TV cartoon series.
If anything, the plot could use a fast forward button. Venom doesn't even show his ugly, sharp-toothed face until nearly an hour into movie. Instead, we get 45 minutes of Brock's pathetic daily life, including a tussle with a loud neighbor and fights with his girlfriend (Michelle Williams). We don't need to know every mundane detail of a hero's origin story -- and this guy isn't even a hero. Get to the good stuff already!
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.
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.
A Star Is Born
Every once in a great while you experience a movie moment so beautiful and so exhilarating it truly does take your breath away and maybe even brings a tear to your eye.
One of the many wonderful surprises in "A Star is Born" is how director/co-writer/leading man Cooper strikes the perfect balance between a showbiz fable with emotional histrionics and performance numbers and a finely honed, intimate story with universal truths and experiences hardly unique to the entertainment world.
Lady Gaga is a winning, natural presence, even in the scenes where she's nowhere near a piano or a microphone. Cooper's guitar and growling baritone vocal work is so solid, if someone played you a Jackson Maine song and you didn't know it was actually the actor Bradley Cooper, it's quite possible you'd believe it was the work of a real veteran music star.
"A Star Is Born" is downright electrifying — funny, exciting, sexy and wholly lived-in. Characters you just met feel like old friends, from the drag queens at the club to Ally's father (Andrew Dice Clay) and his fellow drivers. Sam Elliott, as Jackson's brother, might only have 15 minutes of screen time, but it's enough to break your heart (and probably earn him some awards love too). "A Star Is Born" is that rare film that makes you actually feel part of a world, and not just like an observer on the other side of a screen.
The actors and the filmmaking hold up “A Star Is Born” where the story cannot. Gaga is a gifted actress, natural, vulnerable and strong as she goes toe-to-toe with Cooper in what might be his best performance — the man truly disappears into Jackson Maine. And as a director, well, he is the real deal and, with this sort of introduction, definitely far from the shallow now.
Passionate, emotional and fearless, the gangbusters "A Star Is Born" is poised to become the movie of the moment -- the one everyone has to see right now.
But aside from the incandescent, white-hot performances by stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, the best thing about this film is how unreservedly it embraces and enhances its old school Hollywood legacy.
"Star" succeeds as well as it does because it's made by people -- starting with director and co-writer Cooper -- who are unapologetic about their belief in these traditional movie stories. This is a team that understands the emotional satisfactions that skillfully contrived fantasies can convey, and who are damned good at putting them up on the screen.
The result is a show business rush so pure it would be illegal if it were a drug. Though the film's peek behind the celebrity-curtain love story inevitably falters a bit in the second half, the emotional waves it has already created manage to carry us over the rough spots.
It turns out Cooper is not only a judicious and instinctive storyteller behind the camera, but he also delivers one of the finest performances of his career in "A Star Is Born," a well-seasoned, handsomely cured slab of showbiz schmaltz that hits all the right pleasure centers. With equal parts glitz and grit, Cooper has successfully navigated the most perilous shoals of making a classic narrative his own, managing to create one of its best iterations to date.
As a study in artifice and authenticity, "A Star is Born" offers a suitably jaundiced glimpse of starmaking machinery at its most cynical, but also its most thrilling and gratifying. In many ways, it's a paean to the frisson of discovering talent in its rawest, wildest state. And it's a reminder that self-preservation is crucial to stewarding that untamed force. It's Ally -- and Gaga -- who owns the spotlight, stage and screen by the end of "A Star is Born," which Cooper has succeeded in making earthly convincing and lavishly, deliciously larger than life at the same time.
Got a story or a tip for us? Email TooFab editors at email@example.com.