Somewhat surprisingly Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the sequel to the almost-billion dollar grossing meh-fest that was Venom, is a good deal of fun. Taking from the strengths of its predecessor which did have some notable marks, mostly star Tom Hardy’s larger-than-life performance and chemistry with his CG counterpart, Venom: Let There Be Carnage side steps the usual end-of-the-world stakes for a slice of superhero cinema that feels more in line with something from the 80’s or 90’s, and I’m certainly not complaining.
Investigative journalist and host of a chocolate and brain-eating symbiote, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy — sharing a producer and story credit), is stuck in rocky relationship. Still reeling from his break-up with (Michelle Williams), Eddie is instead having a doozy of a time regaining control over his body, of which he shares with the lovable alien. Meanwhile, convicted serial killer, Cletus Kassidy (Woody Harrelson), awaiting his death sentence, appoints Eddie to write an up-clos-and-personal story using his own words. When an incident happens, involving Cletus getting a taste of Eddie’s symbiotic blood, Cletus breaks out of prison after becoming infected with the new symbiote, becoming the iconic villain, Carnage — who, at one point literally states “let there be carnage”.
Woody Harrelson — an inspired bit of casting, allowing the Oscar-nominee to revel in Natural Born Killers territory — fits right in alongside Hardy. While far from the richest on-screen villain the genre has given us, Harrelson is having a gas, devouring the scenery whenever the opportunity arrives. Michelle Williams, returning as Eddie’s ex, Anne, adds some integrity to the film, clearly understanding what franchise she’s in and making the most of her well-deserved paycheck.
However, there’s no denying whose film this belongs to and that’s Tom Hardy. Utilizing his skills as a leading star and the fearlessness of an actor who proudly goes for broke, Hardy basks in the opportunity to go full-Bruce Campbell-in-Evil Dead 2 levels of gonzo showmanship. Hardy dazzles in just about every frame he’s in, whether it be in person, or in the growly voice of Venom.
Director Andy Serkis, alongside screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Cruella, Saving Mr. Banks), makes the most of the comedic odd couple of Eddie and Venom, allowing the characters the be goofy and not taking itself too seriously. There’s actual wit to the banter and most of the best scenes in the film involve these two hatching out their issues. At one point, after a break-up moment between the two, Venom goes to a masquerade party at a club, decked out in rave gear, neon glow sticks and all. The relationship between the two is surprisingly endearing and serves as the films core anchor. This might actually be the closest thing to a queer romance in a tentpole superhero blockbuster we’re going to get for awhile.
Running at a scant 97 minutes, Venom: Let There Be Carnage clearly suffers from some post-production tinkering, resulting in occasional sloppiness that detracts from the overall sense of fun. Most notably in the opening and closing segments which result in entire subplots either getting resolved within a a handful of minutes or getting discarded completely. Suffering the most is Naomie Harris as the superhuman character Shriek AKA Francs Barrison. It’s not entirely clear what kind of performance Harris is going for, but it doesn’t work, largely in part of mismatched editing and motivations that simply don’t come together, leaving the Oscar-nominee stranded.
Maintaining the first films PG-13 rating, Let There Be Carnage is still almost completely bloodless, despite the brief bursts of sadism courtesy of Harrelson’s Cletus Kassidy. Thankfully, the action avoids becoming too numbing with the climactic showdown taking place inside a chapel, but there’s still some *ahem* bite missing.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage has more than its fair share of problems, namely some sloppy editing and pacing that moves too quickly, but it’s an enjoyable ride nonetheless. At 97 minutes, it goes in-and-out and while you’re bound to discuss the post-credits scene more so than the actual film leading up to that point, it’s a zippy, fun ride.