MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/ Stars: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson, Peggy Lu, Larry Olubamiwo, Sean Delaney, Jack Bandeira/Runtime: 97 minutes
I know this is going to most likely ruffle a few feathers out there, but if I am being completely honest 2018’s Venom movie is one of those films that in many aspects is comical without trying to be as well as a wonderful example of a movie that is so bad it actually turns out to be fairly entertaining. This is because besides inconsistency (with the exception of perhaps with Tom Hardy’s performance since that is easily the best part of the movie), the film is also in possession of a narrative that doesn’t seem like it had any serious thought process put into it and is filled with plot holes a’plenty. Even with all of that in mind however, the movie did phenomenally well at the box office and as such a sequel was put into commission which now brings us to the movie I am reviewing today Venom: Let There Be Carnage. With that in place, it should be noted that this new movie was seen by many as a second chance to get this distinct character right. A character that, despite being immensely regarded in the comic book world since the 90s, without question has quite a bit of cinematic potential and yet very little of that was able to shine through in the first movie from 2018. Now in an idyllic world, the creative minds behind this series would have made sure to treat this follow-up as a golden chance to see just what clicked and what didn’t click with the first installment in order to make this film a vastly better product. Sadly this is not an idyllic world and what, by and large, a movie goer is going to get with this film is not entirely birthed from that optimistic set-up I touched on earlier. I mean don’t get me wrong: Venom: Let There Be Carnage is in some aspects a definitive improvement over the first movie, but that’s with all due respect to the performances by Hardy, Harris, and Harrelson who is looking like he is having an absolute blast in this as well as its skill in effects work and in trying to give us a narrative this time around that is fairly more coherent. Yet besides those elements, this is one film that saw the success its predecessor had as a perverse validation of all the creatively awful choices that it chose to make and as a result this slice of cinematic pie fairly frequently falls prey to a lot of the same peculiarities that tragically besieged the first installment from 2018. Thus I can safely that whilst yes Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a genuinely good movie, it is also only because of a few key components helping to elevate the finished product rather than the overall product itself.
The plot is as follows: Scripted by a writer that incidentally also did some work on the script for the first movie from 2018 (uh-oh), this movie gets underway as we see our hero Eddie Brock finding himself getting stuck with having to deal with a deranged mass murderer by the name of Cletus Kassidy who is spending time in that lovely locale that is San Quentin. Worse yet for our hero is the fact that this psycho will only talk to Eddie since he feels a “kinship” with him. Yet despite Eddie’s reservations we see that he is politely pushed to interview Cassidy by a determined cop who hopes it will get Kassidy to cough up where he buried all his victims. We soon learn however that Cletus has his own goal in all of this which is to get a hidden message out to a woman he loves by the name of Frances Barrison who, as of late, has been under lock and key at an enigmatic facility known as the Ravencroft Institute….only for Venom to inadvertently aid Eddie and give him the high ground during his time interacting with Kassidy in the form of cluing him into some mysterious artwork Kassidy has carved in his cell. As a result, we see that through the power of investigation our hero is able to help the police without having to go through Kassidy and as a result the governor makes the choice to give Kassidy the death penalty. Yet even though Eddie is fairly satisfied with gaining some degree of success as a journalist again, this also has an unintended effect of further increasing issues between him and Venom. This is because Venom was already pouting because he isn’t being permitted to just go around and eat people and this incident has just resulted in him feeling like he’s not needed since he doesn’t get any credit for this successful discovery whatsoever. Of course, this conflict couldn’t be more ill-timed since during a death row confrontation between Kassidy and Brock, the former decides to bite the latter on the arm. An incident that soon results in the creation of a new symbiote that, together with Kassidy and his deranged lady love Frances, might just prove to be the toughest challenges our dynamic duo has faced yet (besides their constant bickering of course).
Now it should be noted that film helmer Andy Serkis’ experience as a skilled mo-cap operator manages to most assuredly shine through here as he manages to helm this movie in a way that puts a lot more emphasis on scenes of action and physicality darn near more than anything else in this movie. That and the bond that Serkis has managed to cultivate with visual effects of both a practical and a technology-oriented nature do manage to do a fairly impressive job of showcasing both Venom’s presence on a physical level as well as the destruction he manages to cause in methods that are both realistic and astonishingly creative. A distinct example that I can definitely think fits this perfectly is a moment in the film where Venom just utterly annihilates the kitchen in Eddie’s place in a way that seems more at home in something like Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice minus all the passive aggressive broomsticks carrying buckets of water of course. Indeed the kinetic energy with how the camera moves is wonderfully matched by the downright maniacal, and just plain terrifying vibe brought to this film by the tag team of Carnage and Kasady. Indeed their motivation is not one that can be explained easily if at all; rather they engage in the violent actions they do through an empowering albeit heavily skewered feeling of vengeful justice. Indeed we are able to see this in full force during the fight that Venom and Carnage have in the film. I say this because their throwdown is full to the brim with animalistic creative limb hurling between the pair of symbiote warriors and which ultimately looks like a fairly riveting mix of CGI critters and explosions. Suffice it to say that this film really truly is an odd blend of a creature feature and something resembling the film Seven from 1995 yet Serkis does a wonderful job at balancing these 2 distinct tones, spectacular visual effects work, and surprisingly comedic performances and manages to make it all function well enough to work even IF it’s all by a thread here and there. Indeed, much in the same vein as our hero, this film chooses to really embrace the heck out of its quirky side and as such Venom is not only given a lot more of the spotlight, but his various one-liners do a wonderful job of acting as comedic relief especially in moments where things are super tense or thrilling.
Be that as it may be, let’s be honest everyone: the best things that this slice of cinematic pie has going for it would be its trinity of villains in the forms of Kasady, Carnage, and Frances respectively. Indeed this is one trinity of villainy that not only has a distinct style to their chaos, but who truly love all the mayhem and anarchy they are leaving all over the place. Indeed as Kassidy, Harrelson is an absolute blast as someone who could easily be kin to his character of Mickey Knox from Natural Born Killers, but significantly more chilling and bloodthirsty. Indeed the moment when Kassidy is given the chance to reunite with Frances, a woman who is just as brilliant, ruthless, and insane as he is and you see the chemistry between them, I’ll be honest with you it was actually quite difficult for me not to try and root for this duo (with Carnage in tow) to just completely and utterly annihilate everything and everyone in their path. I mean you can tell that at least these actors are having a lot of fun taking this movie’s PG-13 (sigh) rating as far as they possibly can with all the murder and destruction they cause. Heck, if there is a single issue I have in this category it’s that we don’t get nearly as much of Harris as we should. Of course given what I know about the character, her powers, and symbiotes this relationship between Harris and Harrelson really is given a vibe that resembles a star-crossed romance akin to Romeo and Juliet….if Romeo and Juliet were a pair of homicidal maniacs. Suffice it to say that there is no denying that this film doesn’t have some wonderful work in the antagonist department.
Yet more than anything, the main bond that is run through quite the wringer during this chaos-fueled rampage is the one between boy and symbiote ehhh Eddie and Venom. Indeed even though this movie does enjoy hinting at a surprisingly romantic relationship between the pair, their bond in this is more like that of Jon Arbuckle and Garfield respectively complete with a state of near-constant exasperation plastered all over Hardy’s face for darn near the entirety of this movie’s runtime. This is because now that neither of our distinct pairing has to really concern themselves with the other symbiotes taking over Earth, Venom can now engage in a lot more goofy shenanigans which proves to be the direct opposite of how Eddie would like him to act. Indeed like a lot of bickering couples, our dynamic duo has quite a few issues with communicating with each other which is what gets them into the situation at the heart of this film in the first place. Yes they both eventually come to discover that they do need one another and they do team-up to stop Kassidy, but at the same time neither does fully come to learn what it is that makes the other entity important. At the same time though this pair is trying to construct a symbiotic bond that is sustainable for the both of them so frankly I don’t care what anyone says, but I’m still holding out hope for this crazy pair to make things work for the both of them and, if this movie’s conclusion is any indicator, we’re going to be getting at least one more adventure with this dynamic duo so fingers crossed for unity at long last folks!
All in all significant flaws aside, Venom: Let There Be Carnage does at least put Venom and Eddie up against a fairly menacing nemesis in a narrative that is not afraid to lean into the weird and quirky. Indeed Andy Serkis has managed to give us an amusing and action-heavy follow up that not only wisely lets Venom be his own entity, but also gives us a pair of terrific and game performances from Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris in addition to the returning Hardy. Indeed this is one film that, even in the face of a 97 minute runtime, is filled to the brim with action beats, character construction, and wonderfully campy comedic beats. Yet even though this slice of cinematic pie does manage to possess a fairly decent narrative that is meant to take this franchise down a new road, this is still one superhero series that is trying desperately to get to just where superheroes in cinema have gotten to in 2021. Indeed this is one film that does play things fairly safe whilst also not taking any kind of riveting chances that such entries like The Suicide Squad did. Thus with that in mind, it really was refreshing to see just where the conclusion, and especially the post-credits scene for this movie, are hinting at taking this character and its actually kind of exciting to ponder just where this duo is headed next. On a scale of 1-5 I give Venom: Let There Be Carnage a solid 3 out of 5.