PLOT: Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his symbiote pal Venom are still trying to figure out how to live together when a death row inmate (Woody Harrelson) gets infected with a symbiote of his own, becoming the evil Carnage.
REVIEW: Despite a critical mauling back in 2018, Venom, against all odds, was a box office juggernaut, grossing over $800 million worldwide. It helped kick off Sony’s Spider-Man universe, which has grown to include the upcoming Morbius, as well as the planned Kraven film. A sequel was a given, with star Tom Hardy seeming unusually committed to the franchise. Indeed, he and creative partner Kelly Marcel share a story by credit (she penned the screenplay solo) and produce. With Andy Serkis, the new director, how does Venom: Let There Be Carnage measure up?
If you liked the first film, you would like this one too. Unfortunately, despite Serkis being involved, I’m not so sure the franchise has made a massive jump in terms of quality, although there’s still loads of fun to be had – just like there was in the original. Once again, the film’s greatest strength is its star, Tom Hardy, who seems to be having a blast playing the put-upon journalist, Eddie Brock, while also voicing his symbiote frenemy, Venom.
This picks up shortly after the first film, with Eddie still under suspicion for all the chaos of the first movie. Luckily, Venom has agreed to subsist on chocolate and live chickens for the time being, and the two see their fortunes turn around when Eddie scores an interview with death row inmate Cletus Kasady. However, Cletus himself soon becomes infected by a symbiote and becomes the evil Carnage!
Venom: Let There be Carnage doubles down on the buddy aspect of the first movie by focusing on Eddie/Venom’s relationship. Venom seems mostly happy with the arrangement, but Eddie is upset, especially with Michelle Williams’s Anne engaged to Reid Scott’s Dr. Dan. It leads to a big blow-up and a brief break-up, allowing Hardy as Venom to have some fun as the symbiote goes clubbing (for real – it’s the best scene in the movie) and tries to find a new host.
Serkis has embraced and enhanced the most anarchic elements of the first movie, giving this a fast-paced vibe that will please some and put off others. The ninety-minute running time was accurate, and I’ll say this – the movie never drags. It has a palpable sense of forward momentum throughout, but this comes at the cost of character and plot. Michelle Williams has comparatively little to do compared to how fun her role was last time, whereas the movie hints at a history between Brock and Cletus that makes me think chunks of the film were cut out. A brief intro sets up the young Cletus and his love interest Naomie Harris’ Shriek, but there had to be some history with Brock that didn’t make it into the movie. It’s off-putting. The first half-hour of the movie borders on being bad, as everything is so fast that you wish all involved would settle down and take a beat to expand on the story.
The biggest problem is Carnage, as a villain, gets short-shifted. We don’t get much of Harrelson in Carnage mode, and the final Battle Royale feels rushed as if they were racing towards an ending. This is disappointing, as everyone no doubt hoped Serkis would up the action quotient, but this still feels like Sony’s opting to keep this franchise relatively low-key. The best action scene is definitely the death row breakout. The finale battle between Venom and Carnage isn’t quite as good. While comparatively modest to Marvel/DC epics, a post-credits scene hints at big things to come so make sure to stay in your seats!
All that said, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is still fun. Marcel and Hardy can’t go wrong when emphasizing the Venom/ Eddie aspect. Hardy, again, seems all in as the young Marlon Brando-esque Brock and the extremely likeable Venom (despite all the chomping). Harrelson riffs on his Natural Born Killers role as the love-struck serial killer, while Naomi Harris camps it up as his lover, the earsplitting Shriek. In addition, noted character actor Stephen Graham pops up as a cop who has a history with both Brock and Shriek, and he’s memorable in what’s essentially a throwaway role. I also like that the Marcel/ Hardy pair seem to have some genuine sympathy for the “Baxter” (third wheel) in the Eddie/Anne love triangle, Dr. Dan, played by Reid Scott, who they’ve always gone through great pains to make likable. Usually, those guys are portrayed as jerks, but here’s he’s a nice guy Eddie and Venom can’t help but at least kind of like.
Marco Beltrami takes over the scoring duties from Ludwig Göransson. He delivers an energetic score, but for me, the most memorable aspect was the photography, with Serkis enlisting Tarantino’s DP Robert Richardson to contribute some striking visuals in the 1:85:1 aspect ratio – rare for a superhero film but great for IMAX screens.
Overall, I had fun with this Venom sequel. At this point, I feel like these are B-level superhero movies, but for their modest ambitions, which seem to be to deliver energetic, ninety-minute romps, they’re successful. But, hey – not everything has to be The Avengers.