There’s a scene mid-way through Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the sequel to 2018’s Venom, where the titular symbiote finds himself at a costume party rave after separating from his usual host, Eddie Brock. The party-goers assume the 7-foot-tall, demonic-looking, muscle-bound Venom is just a guy in an elaborate costume as he takes the microphone from the performer on stage and gives a stilted, bizarre speech about being free from Eddie’s control that the crowd mistakes for an impassioned plea for equality and self-confidence. He ends it with a mic drop, the crowd goes nuts, and it soon becomes apparent that nothing about this sequence was truly necessary or enlightening.
And sadly, that’s kind of the whole film in a nutshell. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Carnage once again features Tom Hardy as journalist Eddie Brock, host for the alien symbiote Venom (also voiced by Tom Hardy). Eddie and Venom argue constantly, mainly because Venom wants to eat people and Eddie doesn’t want him to. The two have to work through their differences when the symbiote Carnage emerges, having attached itself to Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer on death row that Eddie had been writing about. Once Kasady breaks free, Only Venom has even a change of stopping his rampage of violence.
If you enjoyed the first Venom, especially the interplay between Eddie and Venom himself, then you are very much in luck. If you didn’t enjoy the first Venom, your luck may have run out. Let There Be Carnage doubles down on the first film’s more outrageous aspects, leading to a film that’s simultaneously both more enjoyable than the first one while also being shallower and more frustrating. It’s a terribly odd dichotomy that makes it hard to penetrate the film’s shell.
It essentially embodies the phrase “don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” It’s as if this is an edit that removes all the slower story bits to focus entirely on the set pieces and Big Moments. Clocking in at 90 minutes, including credits, it moves at a breathless pace but goes almost nowhere. The new characters are under-developed, the returning characters get very few new angles, and Venom himself never, ever shuts up. Every so often, a call back to the first film will appear as if to prod the audience by saying “Hey! Remember when you loved this the first time?”
This is especially true when it comes to the Eddie/Venom dynamic, one of the previous film’s true positives and something Carnage wastes no time in trying to kill. The first 15 minutes is heavy on the arguments brewing between Eddie and Venom, which end up overshadowing the plot points that the film is trying to set up. The banter is so omnipresent, and often reaching far too hard to for humor it never really finds, that it quickly becomes exhausting.
You can assign blame to screenwriter Kelly Marcel, who’s script is as thin as the paper it was printed on, but also to director Andy Serkis. Serkis handles action scenes fairly well, but he has a very hard time trying to find an even balance and a pace that feels at all natural. It’s like he’s trying to cram as much as he can into 90 minutes, regardless of whether it actually fits or not. There’s almost no humanity to this film; it’s all product. It’s action figures in motion, a kind of rushed, shallow superhero film that we might have seen in the late 90s.
And sometimes, that’s not an entirely bad thing. There’s something to be said for turning your mind off and just watching the PG-13, MPAA-approved carnage. (Seriously, people: give us that R rating.) But in an era where superhero films have become their own genre and have proven that they can handle complex characters and explore complicated themes while still being a thrilling spectacle, this seems like a transparent throwback that can’t decide if that vintage vibe is intentional or not. Is it an homage to a time when superhero films were action for it’s own sake, or does it just end up coming off like that because of a lack of care and development? I honestly don’t know, and after 90 minutes of this film, I’m not sure I care.
What makes the film rise slightly above, though, is Tom Hardy’s dual performance as Eddie and Venom. Much like in the first film, Hardy is the film’s heart, its sustenance, and the main reason to watch it in the first place. Hardy has a story credit to his name, and it really seems like the subplot about Eddie and Venom’s odd-couple bickering came from him. Hardy truly seems like he understands both these characters very well, and Eddie especially plays to a lot of his strengths as an actor. Sadly, he doesn’t have a writing credit, and he can’t always make Marcel’s simplistic, surface-level dialogue work. Bless his heart though, he never gives up trying.
The rest of the cast actually does fairly well, too. Woody Harrelson is great as Kasady, and like Hardy, he’s playing a character that taps into his strong suits. He gets more than a few monologues that border on high camp, but he sells them effortlessly. Plus, he no longer has that hateful, Ronald McDonald-on-crack wig he wore in the previous film’s mid-credits scene. He’s joined in his roaring rampage by Naomie Harris as Kasady’s girlfriend Shriek, a mutant with a sonic scream power. Harris, like Harrleson, is great to watch as the character, but the script ensures that she never comes off as anything more than a generic villain. Of the returning cast, the most notable is Michelle Williams as Eddie’s ex-fiance Anne. Williams seems more receptive to the film’s craziness this time around, and her performance is much more open and enjoyable. And like Harrelson, her wig game has significantly improved.
I feel like we’re reaching the point in the review where I point out that there are some good things going on in this film. The action scenes are enjoyable for the most part, and the CGI for the symbiotes comes off very well, especially when it comes to depicting Venom himself. Serkis’ distinct focus on action over everything else does make the film ideal for turning your mind off and living vicariously through the symbiotes’ rather gleeful love of destruction. As a straight-up, no-chaser actioner, there’s little to argue about here.
But as a narrative, there’s very little to appreciate. Almost nothing goes below the surface, character motivations are often randomly generated (especially when it comes to Kasady), and it’s almost a complete failure at world-building. It’s literally only Tom Hardy’s performance that keeps the film going in-between set pieces, and he single-handedly keeps the film alive at times. Without him in the lead, the whole thing would collapse.
In that last respect, nothing much has changed between films. At least the film doesn’t overstay its welcome, even if it’s compressed runtime makes it feel rushed and hollow. Its action scenes are more audacious, and the battles between Venom and Carnage are leaps and bounds more exciting than the Venom vs. Riot moments in the first film, but in the end it just seems like it’s more concerned with spectacle than story. And if that’s your thing, then by all means let there be Carnage. If not, you end up leaving the theatre feeling like a certain symbiote has been snacking on your brain for 90 minutes.
FBOTU Score: 5 out of 10 / C