Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is an improvement over 2018’s Venom, thanks to director Andy Serkis, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018), who injects fresh blood into the sequel. Serkis takes the wheel and doubles down on the crazy, wholly embracing the silliness of the concept; after all, this is a comic-book movie that focuses on the turbulent relationship between a slimy alien symbiote and his human host, journalist Eddie Brock. The fact that Eddie’s clothes stay intact between transformations tells us something about the seriousness of what we’re watching. Any hint of hesitation to go full bonkers in the first movie is now totally gone, and this follow-up is far better off for it. Venom 2 is wild, hysterical, and surprisingly wholesome without ever overstepping its boundary of being escapism entertainment. If anything, Let There Be Carnage reminds audiences that Marvel/comic-book films don’t need to be so serious or self-important.
Based on characters created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie, the film’s story is penned by star Tom Hardy and scribe Kelly Marcel (who co-wrote the original and gets full credit on the screenplay here). Venom 2 opens with a prologue set in 1996, at St. Estes Home for Unwanted Children. It’s here that we meet a young Cletus Kasady (Jack Bandeira) and his teenage love Frances Barrison, aka Shriek (Olumide Olorunfemi). Frances is set to be transported to another facility, Ravencroft Institute, due to her sound manipulation/sonic scream abilities, which are increasingly becoming more powerful and problematic. Of course, things don’t go according to plan. Francis is shot in the head by a guard, Patrick Mulligan (Sean Delaney), and presumed dead; but she survives and winds up in the heavily fortified Ravencroft institution.
Cut to the present day, where Cletus (played by Woody Harrelson), now a sociopathic serial killer, is insisting that Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) come to interview him at San Quentin Prison, where he’s being detained. Cletus is a death row inmate wanting to get his story out to the world. Patrick Mulligan (now played by Stephen Graham), who’s become a detective, eventually convinces Brock to visit Cletus, who stubbornly refuses to talk (or share his story) to anyone else — Cletus considers Brock to be some sort of kindred spirit. When Eddie reluctantly visits Cletus, Venom examines his cell, which leads the pair to the whereabouts of the hidden bodies of many of his victims. Naturally, this gives Brock a considerable career boost and makes him more willing to interview the mentally unstable madman before he is sentenced to death by lethal injection. During one of the visits, Venom is provoked by Cletus, which causes Brock to attack the prisoner; Cletus bites Brock’s hand and draws blood, releasing the symbiote into his bloodstream. Thus, during Cletus’ execution, a ferocious and formidable new adversary is born: the king-sized, blood-red Carnage.
The emergence of a new supervillain, however, isn’t the only trouble Brock is facing. Venom is displeased with the status quo. He has a growing hunger/craving for human flesh, but Eddie’s only been letting him eat live chickens and chocolate. The pair even have two chooks living with them at their residence, which Venom has named Sonny and Cher; but Venom can’t bring himself to eat his ‘pets.’ Venom is after more freedom, wanting to be the city’s ‘Lethal Protector;’ he believes that he and Brock should be out on the streets taking out criminals (to snack on). Brock, though, is trying desperately hard to rein the beefy, toothy brute in. And then there’s Eddie’s ex-fiancée, defense attorney Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), who re-enters his life to tell him that she is now engaged to Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), much to Venom’s disapproval.
There is a lot of fun to be had in this second Venom serving. It’s amusing watching Venom flirt with Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu); there’s a stunning animation sequence detailing Cletus’ disturbing history; and the film is so goofy and cartoonish that there’s not a shred of seriousness to be found. Something that is so refreshing after Marvel’s latest slog, Eternals (2021). And then there’s fricking Carnage, Venom’s archenemy, who looks fantastic on screen; DOP Robert Richardson, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019), has photographed the hell out of the film when he certainly didn’t need to. The CGI work is also decent, with Carnage’s chaotic prison break being an action highlight; so too is the ridiculous ‘red wedding’ climax, set in a grand cathedral. And let’s not forget about that Halloween rave scene, where Venom almost feels like a big stupid queer slime creature ‘coming out’ — the number of gay undertones in this film almost demands a separate thesis, especially given that Eddie and Venom behave like squabbling newlyweds most of the time.
With that said, the film is at its best when it’s a bizzarro buddy-cop action-comedy between Venom and Brock. What’s really great here is the relationship between the two is handled far more confidently this time. Each character is depicted as a singular entity connected (or disconnected in this case) by individual choice. There’s a standout fight scene between Venom and Eddie in their apartment that’s expertly staged, engaging, and funny as hell.
Tom Hardy’s one-man show, playing Eddie and voicing Venom, wholly seals the deal. The grizzled Hardy is excellent and throws himself into the part — sometimes literally. Watching the ‘couple’ negotiate their boundaries while hurling stuff (and each other) around the room is practically worth the price of admission. Hardy’s committed turn almost solidifies the pair as comedy duo greats. Even with Hardy’s scene-stealing off-the-wall act, Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers (1994), stands out as Cletus Kasady/Carnage; his gleefully maniacal performance is a hoot. Reid Scott, Late Night (2019), is given more to do as Anne’s smug fiancé — he’s got a heap of humorous lines, too! But poor Michelle Williams, I Feel Pretty (2018), she’s saddled with another thankless role, essentially playing the damsel in distress; but, hey, she carries that stuff like a champ. Lastly, the talented Naomie Harris, No Time to Die (2021), is wasted as criminally insane villainess Shriek. She’s more of a damaged soul here, whose mistreatment and isolation has led her to the dark side; but there’s hardly any depth or exploration of her character.
A bulkier runtime (perhaps just under two hours) may have given moviemakers more freedom to flesh out certain characters, such as Shriek. Let There Be Carnage is a lean 97 minutes, making the film feel fast and frantic; it jumps from one plot point to the next without giving the narrative any space to breathe. The plus side to this is that the film never outstays its welcome.
All up, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a big, loud superhero (is that what we’re calling Venom now?) smackdown. Honestly, after the past two or so years of pandemic lockdowns, there’s no better theater experience than laughing at the silliness and WTF moments together with a large crowd. And you know what? Venom 2 delivers 90 plus minutes of well-earned blockbuster cheer. Oh, if the post-credit scene hasn’t already been spoilt — despite Venom 2’s ‘No Spoilers’ poster campaign — you’re in for a doozie!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Stu Cachia (S-Littner)