2018’s Venom wasn’t exactly a bastard step-child for Sony Pictures or for Marvel Studios, who graciously stepped in to help Sony deliver two of the best Spider-Man movies to date, but its sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, comes out three years later, maybe with not the same level of excitement of Marvel’s own movies. Absolutely destroyed by critics — and probably deservedly so — Tom Hardy’s first outing as Eddie Brock and his carnivorous symbiote companion, Venom, did big enough business and was popular enough with the fans that it made sense for Sony to make another one.
For this one, Hardy is directed by fellow actor Andy Serkis behind the camera, his third movie as a director but with decades of experience with visual FX-driven storytelling under his belt thanks to his work with Peter Jackson and Matt Reeves.
Eddie is still in his awkward literally symbiotic relationship with Venom, the quip-making trash-talking alien from another planet. As we meet then, they’re visiting Woody Harrelson’s psychotic Cletus Kasady, imprisoned in San Quentin for the alleged murder of his grandmother, mother and an unknown amount of others. With Venom’s help, Eddie discovers where the bodies are buried, and Kasady gets the death penalty. Before receiving his fatal fate, Kasady bites Eddie and ends up being inhabited by his own symbiote, turning him into the far deadlier and crazier Carnage.
Honestly, if you haven’t read the Spider-Man and other Marvel Comics on which these characters are based, I’m not quite sure what you might get out of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, because it heavily relies on the advanced love that’s already built in to fans of the character. For myself, Venom was introduced when I was already quite older than the average comic book reader, so the idea of the character never quite clicked with me as with other Spidey villains or anti-heroes, as this case might be.
Very early on in the movie, it’s set up that Venom is acting as a running commentary to everything going on in Eddie’s life, both good and bad, but Venom’s desire to fight crime and then eat the perps they catch leads to a split between the two. It’s going to be pretty immediate whether people like this relationship and the constant quips that come out of Venom’s “mouth.” It feels like the film’s writers maybe saw the Deadpool movies too many times, and realized how much people love Ryan Reynolds’ anti-hero doing that sort of thing and figured, “Why not?” The problem is that while the jokes are better than some of the “Ouch!”-ers from the first movie, the writing is still mostly bad and not up to any of the comic book movies this year.
Hardy seems better acclimated for the schizophrenic performance that’s required from Eddie/Venom, while Harrelson seems to be back in Natural Born Killers mode, which actually suits him quite well as an actor. He’s able to keep things just under a high boil with the menacing lines he’s meant to deliver, whereas any other actor might be chewing up the scenery faster than a wood chipper. I still prefer Harrelson more when he’s doing something like Zombieland, but he does a lot to make this movie more watchable than it might have been. (I do give Serkis a lot of credit as a director for getting better performances out of both actors despite some of the silliness required.)
Michelle Williams played Eddie’s girlfriend Anne in the original Venom, and there’s a danger she would be sidelined to a far lesser role in this sequel, especially as she’s engaged now to Reid Scott’s Dr. Dan Lewis. In fact, she ends up being quite pivotal in Eddie reuniting with Venom when Carnage kidnaps her. Naomi Harris (who is so much better as Moneypenny in No Time to Die) plays Cletus’ childhood sweetheart Frances Barrison, better known as Shriek for her powers to… well… shriek very loudly. Early on in the film, she’s set up as the only one who Cletus can relate to, and after he escapes his jail as Carnage, his only desire is to marry her.
There isn’t a lot of craft to talk about with Venom: Let There Be Carnage — it all is what it is — but maybe obviously, the movie would live and die based on the visual effects used to create Venom and Carnage. That’s one place where the movie truly excels, because Visual Effects Supervisor Sheena Duggal (who performed the same role on Venom, and oddly worked on the VFX for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, which featured a different Venom) and her team find a way to really exceed all expectations of what could be done visually with Carnage. In the comics, he’s basically a red and far more vicious version of Venom, but in this movie, Carnage is an absolutely horrifying entity with tendrils and limbs everywhere, which adds more to the monster movie aspect of Venom that I would have enjoyed more if not diluted by the poor attempt at humor.
Also, the musical score by Marco Beltrami is another great one from the Oscar nominee, which often brings so much to scenes that wouldn’t work otherwise. I’d also call attention to the work done by Set Decorators Alex Brandenburg (The Hateful Eight) and Dominic Capon, but especially for whichever one of them decorated Eddie’s domicile, which is an absolute trashy work of art. Mind you, the movie generally looks great, but why on earth would someone need a three-time Oscar winner like Robert Richardson (Hugo, Inglourious Basterds) to shoot this? It just seems like such a waste of his talent even if his lighting does contribute some nice touches to Harrelson’s performance.
The movie climaxes in quite an impressive third act battle in a church that brings together all the players, and that’s also where the VFX team is allowed to go completely crazy, but it’s not enough to save a movie that was grating on my every nerve up until that point.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage offers funnier and better bits than its predecessor, but it still finds a way to quickly annoy the viewer to the point where anyone other than diehard fans will be quite pleased when the movie is over in 90 minutes.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens on Friday, October 1 with previews on Thursday night.
All photos courtesy Sony Pictures.