Venom: Let There Be Carnage and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing
Directed by Andy Serkis
The first Venom movie wasn’t exactly a cult classic, but it did have a lot more fun with the formula and with the characters than I expected it to. Still, trying to figure out what to do with the character for a second movie, especially since we’re STILL keeping it away from anything Spider-Man related, could easily upset the balance and stretch the joke further than it can go. The trailers definitely seem to be having a lot of fun with the formula which may be the right way to try and make lightning strike twice, and Andy Serkis is definitely an interesting choice for director, so who knows? Is this a campy and fun romp that captures the Venom magic for a second time, or did our luck run out when the first movie turned out to be not-terrible? Let’s find out!!
Following the events of the first film, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has settled into a routine with the symbiotic space goo that resides in his body and the two are trying to get his journalism career up and running again with this big story of captured serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) who for whatever reason has taken an interest in the reporter. After a particularly heated discussion between the two of them that ends in a small amount of bloodshed, Kasady somehow gets a bit of the symbiote in him as well and to his utter surprise, it saves him from the death penalty so that he can roam the streets of San Francisco; leaving untold CARNAGE wherever he goes! Oh, but this is no mindless murderer with a one track mind as Kasady has bigger plans involving a friend from childhood who JUST SO HAPPENS to have super powers (Naomie Harris) and has been locked in a secret super-prison that would normally be impenetrable but Kasady’s new powers intend to put that to the test. All while this is going on, Eddie and Venom are going through some growing pains in their relationship as Venom wants to be free to save the world and eat people in spite of Brock’s attempts to keep him safe and hidden; all of which comes to ahead once they learn that Eddie’s ex Anne (Michelle Williams) is engaged which brings whole new dimensions of stress between them. Can Eddie and Venom put aside their differences long enough to stop Kasady from wreaking havoc on the city? What exactly does Kasady have planned after reuniting with his childhood love, and does the symbiote in his body have anything to say about it? You’d think it wouldn’t be THAT hard to keep a space parasite happy when all it really needs is food and validation, but I guess that’s the troublesome nature of relationships and a square peg just won’t fit in a round hole no matter how hard you try.
There’s a general rule of sequels where they will often find something that people liked about the first film and try to expand on that as much as possible. This can sometimes work like how the Purge movies zeroed in on the setting and lore as the primary selling point and expanded upon that in the sequels, but more often than not you get a Pirates of the Carrabin situation where they latched onto something that made the movie pop (Jack Sparrow’s eccentricity and funny punchlines) and so filled the sequel with nothing BUT that. I would argue that this movie is VERY much going for the latter as it’s basically the “LIKE A TURD IN THE WIND” line turned into an entire script, but the thing is that it ultimately ends up in the former camp simply because of just HOW brazenly goofy it gets; like it somehow went so far into lazy sequel territory that it almost comes around into being something refreshing and perhaps even SOMEWHAT subversive. The first Venom skated by on its humor, crunchy violence, and the oddly fun and self-deprecating personality given to the Venom Symbiote; all of which held up a pretty mediocre story and a villain that didn’t stick out much. This film leans so hard into those elements and cuts the script down to so clean to the bone that it just ends up being a party; a somewhat janky but ultimately hilarious joy ride as Sony gives us an interesting take on both Venom and Carnage that may or may not leave fans of the characters feeling miffed, but certainly stands out in a cinematic landscape filled with Disney B+ competency and whatever the heck is still going on with the DCEU.
The movie’s charm is in its interpretation of Venom which sees him less as a bad guy with dark ambitions and instead as a guy who is lamenting his lot in life and yearns to be free from society’s backwards rules about eating people’s heads. He’s got enough of an edge to him that the action works when he needs to get serious, but he’s mostly just hungry for attention and validation; wanting to eat people sure, but also wants to do it in a way so that he could kinda-sorta be heroic at the same time! Contrast that with Eddie who’s perpetually stuck trying to keep him under control lest the black helicopters and Area 51 scientists come calling, and you have a classic odd couple setup; one trying to have fun while the other worries about the consequences. Even that description though doesn’t quite nail how much of a goofball that Venom is in this movie as he seems genuinely interested in being Eddie’s friend as well as a friend to the world; wanting to spread joy and have a good time with only the occasional bloody murder! No matter where the movie decides to take him, and they go ALL over the place in this movie, Venom always comes off as charming and affable to the point that you even wonder why Eddie Brock is being such a wet blanket about everything. Then again, I guess every great comedy duo needs a straight man to give the wacky one something to bounce off of, and considering how well the dynamic works and how much of the movie is focused on it, I wouldn’t want to muck it up with any significant changes.
It’s not just their relationship that kicks things up to eleven though. The plot (as it were) is on the same wavelength of goofiness which makes me wonder if this is ACTUALLY supposed to be a spoof. Of what, I’m not sure as there’s next to no “superhero” content in here aside from Venom’s desperate need for public validation, but the execution is nothing short of a Troma production; albeit it with a larger budget than anything Lloyd could ever get his hands on. Some of it is certainly straight out of the comics as Cletus Kasady does in fact have fiery red hair, but it was the filmmakers’ decision to put it on top of Woody Harrelson who is chewing up the scenery like he’s in a Nicolas Cage movie! It’s clearly a tone that they’ve carefully crafted rather than a happy accident of an incompetent production, and I give them credit for skirting that line. As for Carnage himself, he’s fine for what he is but he doesn’t have the depth of personality that Venom has, and his relationship with Kasady is not all that sparkling. Frankly, it’s what we probably would have gotten with Eddie and Brock in a more “proper” Venom movie (or perhaps how one of the other two big studios would have handled him) which I guess is KIND of a metaphor for the themes of the movie as Kasady and Carnage’s more utilitarian relationship is put in serious contrast to Venom and Eddie’s deeper understanding of each other, but I don’t think we need to stretch that far to find things to like about this monster movie.
Now that’s not to say this movie is perfect; FAR from it in fact. The parts that they just kinda let fall to the wayside are still THERE, and no amount of charm from Venom and Eddie can cover over some of the choppy editing and jarring voiceovers stitching this threadbare plot together. It definitely feels like everything outside of Venom and Eddie was cobbled together in the editing room with some scenes seemingly put together through hasty reshoots. Harrelson ends up having to shoulder the most of this as he’s more or less driving the plot while Eddie and Venom are working out their differences, and while he does what he can it does feel pretty jarring when we find out what the third act final confrontation is about and how utterly token it is. Then again, almost everything in this movie is token (including the inciting incident that kicks off the plot), and I at least prefer this kind of insular storyline with more grounded stakes than the WORLD TERRORIZING CORPORATE SCHEME in the last movie. Still, a bit more structure wouldn’t have hurt and I’m a little bit disappointed at just how the movie kind of ends without resolving any of the plot threads they were setting up. Despite the ending telling us otherwise, we don’t really see Eddie Bock or Venom grow as characters and deal with the issues that were holding them back at the start of the movie. In a movie this intent on being goofy fun it’s not a deal-breaker, but it would have been nice to have a LITTLE more closure!
Sony could have gone a few different ways with this, but going all in on the goofiness certainly made a move that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to. To me, Venom and his struggles are much more interesting as a comedic character than it would if they ACTUALLY took his shtick seriously, and frankly we’re shown this in the movie itself by how much less interesting Carnage is as the serious bad guy; even if he does have Woody Harrelson trying to lighten the mood whenever the two of them are on screen. For the amount of this movie that gets the tone right and focuses on the relationship between Eddie and Venom, it gets an easy recommendation from me. Perhaps a bit less so as an overall package as the plot does kind of just wander aimlessly in fits and spurts until it finds something to do in the third act, but even that has its own absurd charm to it that kept me engaged until we got to the next scene where Venom did something silly. I’d definitely recommend checking this out in theaters if it’s safe for you to do so, but even if you wait for the home release it’s still worth checking out there. Somehow the Venom series, with one okay movie and one EXTREMELY goofy sequel, managed to get my full support and I honestly hope they keep this going for another dozen or so movies; each one sillier than the last. Sure it’d be a bit redundant since the guy is FROM there, but I’d still like to see Venom IN SPACE, and I’m sure we could get there a lot faster than the Fast and Furious movies did!