It’s really simple. If you were a fan of the original Venom, you are probably going to enjoy Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Everything that worked about the first Sony/Marvel movie—the offbeat humor, the sultry special effects, the intense characters—is all back in full force in the sequel. However, for the most part, everything that didn’t work is also back, so your personal feelings on the original are a very good indicator of how you’ll feel about this one.
I say this from experience. When I watched the first Venom in 2018, it was an incredibly fun time. I was in awe at the absurdity of what I was seeing, the unique way star Tom Hardy played this man who had been chosen as a host for an alien symbiote—it was so weird, more than a little wacky, and ultimately enjoyable. And even though I’d been waiting to see the character get his own story for years, 30 seconds after I left the theater I basically forgot everything about it. That’s exactly how I felt about Let There Be Carnage.
The sequel is directed by Andy Serkis—best known for his major franchise acting roles, here leading his biggest gig yet—with a script by Kelly Marcel (Terra Nova) from a story by Marcel and Hardy (his first writing credit). It picks up a year after the original left off with Venom and Eddie Brock (Hardy) having come to an uneasy agreement. They live together in secret, but Venom can’t kill people, so while they have superhero potential, they aren’t really using it. As a result, things are tense and certainly still awkward. Their situation takes a turn though when serial killer Cletus Kassidy (Woody Harrelson) chooses the freelance journalist for an exclusive story. After some back and forth, Cletus bites Eddie, extracting a bit of Venom, which turns him into the villainous Carnage.
What works best about Let There Be Carnage is how hard it tries to give its characters strong, relatable motivations. The movie begins in 1996 where we meet a young Cletus and see him fall in love with a woman named Frances, aka the supervillain Shriek. That role is picked up in modern times by Naomie Harris (Skyfall) and we realize that though they were separated for years, she and Cletus remained madly in love. Meanwhile, Eddie and Venom’s relationship is almost like a broken marriage—they love each other, but can’t stand to live with each other anymore. This leads to numerous funny and sometimes frightening exchanges, as well as a few beyond absurd scenes such as Venom at a rave. You read that right.
Serkis and his team put a lot of story threads and conflicts at a very rapid pace, never leaving the audience disinterested or bored. Sometimes this works, such as the scenes between Hardy and Venom, but other times it’s a little less cohesive or believable, like the love story between Cletus and Shriek. All throughout the film, humor and action are dispersed in almost equal amounts which, like the narrative, can be largely hit or miss. Sadly, most of the misses are with the humor, which elicits more polite smiles than full-on laughs. That impressive pace, however, does make much of the character development and conflict feel almost superfluous. It happens, it enriches things a little bit, but it moves onto the next thing so quickly it never fully develops. Therefore the stakes that the relationships and story are supposed to build, especially between Eddie and his former love interest Anne (Michelle Williams), seem a bit forced. As a result, everything about the movie is fleeting. Entertaining to look at, but ultimately a little too fast and furious for its own good.
But the action scenes rarely disappoint, in large part to the ooey-gooey visual effects behind Venom and Carnage, which feel a few notches more polished than last time. The transformations from human to symbiote are fluid and almost beautiful. Plus, the way Venom’s black, muscular look is juxtaposed with Carnage’s sinewy, stringy look makes the showdown comic book fans have been waiting to see for over 30 years that much more enjoyable.
Hardy, as both Venom and Eddie, really commits to the almost slapstick tone of his character. Now that he’s been fully established, he seems to be having even more fun this time and once again proves that, even with very odd material, he’s one of our best actors around. Harrelson as Kassidy also seems to be enjoying himself. But he gives a more-subdued-than-you’re-expecting performance that can, at times, get overshadowed by those impressive Carnage visual effects. As a result, the character is never quite as formidable as one might hope for. Harris isn’t given a lot to work with as Shriek but seems well aware of how goofy the material is, so she puts a certain twitchy electricity into the performance. Williams gives the most recognizable, “normal” performance of the bunch, mostly because her storyline is more driven by narrative than character. Therefore, she’s there to deliver plot details, act as motivation for Eddie, and then move along.
There’s just a lot going on in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. It’s a stuffed 90 minutes during which you’ll sit in dumbfounded awe at the manic, fast-paced film you’re watching. The story itself mirrors that as it moves from beat to beat without any satisfying impact. And valiant attempts at being something more than a speedy story ultimately don’t work that well, giving the film a “here one minute, gone the next” feeling. Nevertheless, some things are just inherently entertaining to watch and Venom, Eddie, and Carnage are just that. But while Venom is probably sticking with Eddie, Venom: Let There Be Carnage might not stick with you.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens Friday, October 1 in theaters only.
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