The best thing I can say about this sequel to 2018’s super-villain movie Venom is that Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a better movie than that sloppy, unfunny and ugly exercise in making a movie and hoping Spider-Man will show up one day. This time around, Tom Hardy’s struggling reporter Eddie Brock is barely holding it together. His long-time love interest Anne (Michelle Williams, who looks certifiably embarrassed to be in this movie) has left him for Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott); and he’s having trouble keeping the alien symbiote named Venom (also voiced by Hardy) at bay.
I suppose the scenes in which Eddie verbally spars with Venom are funny to a degree, but all it really is is an extreme version of The Odd Couple, where Venom physically and verbally assaults Eddie for being a wimp and loser when all Venom wants to do is eat a bunch of bad guys. A ray of hope enters Eddie’s life when a condemned-to-death serial killer, Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), asks to meet with him before he’s executed, perhaps to tell his life story or reveal the locations of the bodies of victims never found. Kasady sees Eddie as a kindred spirit: abandoned and mistreated as a youth, as well as someone who has lost the love of their life—Anne for Eddie and a super-powered woman named Frances (nicknamed Shriek, played by Naomie Harris, who you’ll see return as Moneypenny next week in the James Bond tale No Time To Die).
Cletus turns on Eddie when Venom spots scribblings on Cletus’ cell wall that lead to the discovery of many more victims, pushing the governor of California to suspend the state moratorium on executions and moving up Cletus’ lethal injection date. When Eddie visits Cletus one last time, it’s clear he feels betrayed and he attempts to take a bite out of Eddie. That leads to Cletus ingesting a tiny amount of alien goop from Eddie, which eventually works its way through his body and turns him into a red-tinged version of Venom, known as Carnage, who seems to feed on chaos and destruction, and more importantly: he doesn’t have a host who’s going to stop him from killing freely.
Directed by motion-capture guru Andy Serkis and based on a story by Hardy and Kelly Marcel (who wrote the screenplay), Let There Be Carnage has a bit more kick to it than its predecessor, partly because the jokes land a bit cleaner, even if the logic and pacing are a bit off. In an effort to bring the film in at 90 minutes (including credits), things never stop moving, even when they really need to. Williams’ scattered scenes are so rushed that it feels the film is running at double speed, and it’s disconcerting, to say the least. I suppose the action pops a bit more here, but in the end, it’s effectively a black blob fighting with a red blob.
Maybe people will react to this Venom movie better than I did just because we haven’t really seen much of Hardy since he started making these movies. Ever since he literally and figuratively shit the bed in Capone last year, Hardy has retreated to this familiar playground that has a promising future of finally being blended with what Marvel Studios is doing, so I get it on that level. But watching Let There Be Carnage is to witness Hardy play the clown in mind, body and spirit. Not long ago, he was considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, one who could blend toughness with raw emotional depth. Here, he gets ketchup sprayed in his face because apparently this is a movie for six year olds. At the same time, it’s admittedly enjoyable seeing Hardy play a little. He signed on to do this, the story belongs to him, so this is clearly where he wanted to take things for the time being, and watching him spinning out of control with this voice in his head and homicidal alien maniac sharing his body, there is something vaguely catchy about the whole process.
For the record, Carnage isn’t an especially interesting villain, if only because he’s basically just a discolored Venom, so the same things that harm or curtail Venom work on Carnage too. To make matters worse, Harrelson is overdoing everything, even when he thinks he’s holding back, which I’m sure he thinks is appropriate for the character. But the truth is, acting menacing makes you less menacing, and Woody has it turned up to 11. But there’s something of a promise fulfilled in the film’s final moment and mid-credit scene, and I suspect the next time I see Venom, it will be in a context I’ll be far more excited about. Venom: Let There Be Carnage still isn’t especially good, but the team is devoted to telling this very silly story.
The film is now playing theatrically.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!