In 2018’s blockbuster hit, Venom, there’s a key sequence where a manic Tom Hardy decides to hop into a lobster tank in the middle of a restaurant and eat one of these confused crustaceans alive. I wasn’t a fan of the Ruben Fleischer-directed film, but it was that gonzo energy that clearly showed the potential to be had from a Venom-focused feature not involving Spider-Man. Now we have Venom: Let There Be Carnage, with Andy Serkis in the director’s chair. I can’t say the film ever has an equivalent moment of that amount of craziness, but it does feel like a film that constantly wants to be at that level.
Set a year after the first film’s events, investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) is still living as host to the alien symbiote that gives him superhuman abilities and a vocal foil with a desire to eat the heads of humans. Brock is also getting his career back by interviewing imprisoned serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who is bound for execution. Because why not, Cletus ends up taking a bite out of Eddie in a chance moment, leading to him absorbing some of Venom and becoming the host of a rival symbiote known as Carnage. This leads to an intense path of destruction in San Francisco.
I can’t remember the last time I watched a comic book movie that was so light on its feet. This Venom sequel clocks in at just under 90 minutes, without credits, and it certainly feels that way. There’s no moment to spare, as everything seen has a purpose in terms of either the action or moments adding to the comedy of it all. With only a few main characters to focus on, if anything, the brevity and lack of too much complication make the handling of this story a benefit.
Without having to deal with perfunctory origin story elements and having a fan-favorite comic book villain as the main antagonist, this is a movie that hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. That’s very apparent when watching the film dare to involve a returning Michelle Williams as Hardy’s ex-girlfriend Anne, along with Reid Scott as Anne’s boyfriend, Dr. Dan. Is there anything for them to really do that doesn’t involve a plot function (i.e., getting kidnapped)? No, aside from a clear opportunity to once again bring out Lady Venom.
Actually, with that in mind, it’s easy to note how this sequel functions as a bigger, badder, and bolder version of the first film. That was what I expected, but I can say the references to the first film were welcome as far as seeing a way to clearly acknowledge the stuff the fans liked without going overboard. Having Peggy Lu return as the convenience store owner, Mrs. Chen, is fun, and there’s just enough added to keep her involvement useful without feeling forced.
Of course, the main element brought back was the relationship between Eddie and Venom. With Hardy voicing both roles, and the film at a point where the CGI design works about as well as it’s going to, I had fun with those interactions. The film clearly wants their time together to feel like a romantic relationship of sorts, so seeing them fight and even break up allows Venom to open up in enjoyable ways without bogging the story down. It’s too weird, in that regard, and Hardy is certainly game.
Given the film’s title, Harrelson has plenty to do in this film, or at least he is allowed to go as big as he wants whenever he shows up on screen. As the film already operates on an “anything goes” level, seeing Harrelson’s take on Kasady/Carnage is like watching him in Natural Born Killers with no real nuance. That’s not a slight on Harrelson, but the film is not really relying on the viewer to see many layers in Cletus. The guy is just evil, and he spends his time either killing people or doing what he can to be with his equally evil girlfriend, Frances Barrison (Naomi Harris), aka Shriek (guess what her power is).
It was fun enough to see the backstory of their relationship play out in an over-the-top prologue that set the tone for the film. As a whole, Serkis seems to be channeling Darkman more than any other standard superhero film of the moment, and I have nothing against that. With that said, there’s not a lot of personality here, let alone anything important the film is really trying to say. While many clearly appreciate Venom, I more or less still see the character as a little more than a way to produce cool comic book art.
Does the film allow Venom and Carnage to eventually battle it out, allowing for plenty of visually neat moments of two CGI blobs destroying each other? Yes, although it takes the whole movie to get there. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, since it’s a short film, and the journey is fun enough.
Still, is there much more to Venom: Let There Be Carnage beyond an excuse to bring out Venom’s most well-known enemy (aside from, y’know, Spider-Man)? No, but something is refreshing about seeing a superhero (or super antihero) movie that lacks concerns. Venom doesn’t want to deal with larger universes, arcs that cross over multiple films, or the consequences to the actions taking place within the film (there’s a lot of times it’s easier to choose not to think too hard).
Venom: Let There Be Carnage seems completely fine being a fun exercise. Tom Hardy and writer Kelly Marcel developed a story bent on delivering maximum Carnage and Venom being a likable jerk to his host, with next to nothing else to go alongside it. One could call that a success, even if I personally don’t feel it’s really challenging me in any way. As it stands, it doubles down on the strange stuff that Hardy was into the first time around while still feeling incredibly slight. But hey, heads still roll.