Not quite Marvel, but pretty close. Sony has owned the Spider-Man universe, and is transitioning characters and stories to Marvel, but this one is tangential with no direct connection to our beloved superheroes, which truly makes it work.

Of course, we can expect a sequel if Tom Hardy is up for the challenge, but that will all depend on how much fun he had on this project. He’s gone on the record saying that he chose the Venom character because it’s his son’s favorite super-villain, so there’s a good chance we’ll see him engulfed in black goo again sometime soon.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a complicated man. We watch as he transforms (literally) from a confident investigative journalist with a great life, to a complete wreck when he loses his job, his fiancée, and his reputation with one bad decision.

The Life Corporation and its brilliant Elon Musk-type CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) have found life among the stars and are experimenting with its symbiotic ways (is it sym-bee-ote, or sym-bye-ote?).

Eddie stumbles upon one such being, named Venom, and they form a sort of partnership, as Venom is trying to survive, and Eddie is trying to figure out what is going on. As Carlton Drake tries to recapture his precious extraterrestrial find, Eddie and Venom have to protect themselves and each other.

The impressively cast of Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed and Michelle Williams bring this character-driven action film to life. Michelle Williams has limited screen time, and doesn’t quite show the range she is capable of, but her name adds to the credibility of the film. Hardy, on the other hand, delivers a cockney New York accent, and is in a perpetual state of sweaty discomfort. He regresses from a confident man to a shell of his former self, sickly and scared. It’s actually kind of great to watch.

Director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) embraces this complicated story with open arms. He masterfully fuses the character progression with the magnificent special effects, and the perfect mix of humor and horror for such a dark narrative. Venom is shifted from a feared and beloved villain of Spider-Man to an ambiguous super-being that straddles the line of good and evil, which I imagine will become trendier as we move forward with this insatiable superhero appetite that our world has developed. 

A super-villain standalone is a new concept in an age of heroes, but, if you find the right character and the right actor, it carries the same desired emotional effect as your typical hero’s journey. Next year, Joaquin Phoenix will be in a standalone Joker origin story, which will almost certainly become the gold standard for villain stories going forward. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Mr. Glass in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2019 “Glass,” as well, so there is a clear movement to fill a void in the genre, and I, for one, am pretty excited about it.

You can’t help but develop a compassionate feeling toward Eddie Brock, as he is consumed and paralyzed by the symbiote, and really forced to do its will, to his chagrin and the reluctance of a sympathetic audience. This is what drives the story and really contributes to the core of its success. Originally conceptualized with an R-rating, the toned-down violence works well for the wider audience, and really amps up the humor. It’s a strong move on the studio’s part.

Was this one of the best superhero films? No. But was it entertaining and fresh? Yes. The mid-credits scene punctuates a fun future for the franchise with the introduction of another beloved villain. You have to look for something a little different to enjoy this, but the motorcycle chase scene down the hills of San Francisco, the oozy fight scenes, and the sheer giddiness of the premise make this worth watching.