*1/2 out of ****
(for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references)
Released: October 1, 2021
Runtime: 89 minutes
Directed by: Andy Serkis
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu
Venom is the worst blockbuster franchise in movies today. Unfortunately, if the mid-credits bonus scene is any indication (and it most certainly is), this monstrosity is just getting started.
The follow-up to the vile and asinine Venom (a surprise hit back in the fall of 2018), Venom: Let There Be Carnage is more of the same but times two. Now, the titular anti-hero from the Spider-Man comic book universe – an alien symbiote that unites with a human host and takes form through it – is joined by an even more vile and asinine villain named Carnage, a nastier red version of the black, oozing, shape-shifting Venom.
Carnage emerges after a blood DNA exchange occurs between Venom’s host Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative reporter, and Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a vicious serial killer on death row.
With a slipshod screenplay by Kelly Marcel (who must’ve submitted a first draft assuming more polishes would follow, only to discover that Sony studios had no interest in coherence, only bombast and a speedy turnaround), the only virtue of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is that it clocks in mercifully at under 90 minutes. (That in itself may have been a savvy marketing requirement by Sony, a cash-grabbing studio angling for as many showings – and tickets – in a given day as possible).
Where the original Venom was rooted in a Jekyll & Hyde construct, the second go-round finds the Eddie / Venom relationship to be more of a split-personality buddy comedy. This feeble attempt at a genre shift is overly simplistic, utilizing sitcom-level wisecracks that aren’t witty, ones that aim to elicit laughs simply because they’re preposterous impulses being delivered by Venom’s deep base, fast-talking, belligerent attitude.
The ongoing, one-note joke is that Venom wants to eat other humans but Eddie never lets him. Countless times during the course of this nonsense, both Venom and Carnage come to the brink of literally biting someone’s head off (it’s the heads they love most) before something stops them right before they do.
Oddly enough, one of the inherent problems with Venom 2 is found in that running gag: the movie is actually too scared to be the full-throated gore fest it wants to be (and teases to be). For as borderline-horrific as this head-eating alien carnivore is (aggressively pushing the boundaries of what a PG-13 rating even means any more), it’s constantly defanging its monsters and their vicious choppers.
That’s a corporate mandate, no doubt, particularly with the publicized desire to possibly incorporate Tom Holland’s MCU Spider-Man into this Venom-verse someday, but it’s also part of what makes this whole endeavor a mess.
In a glaring irony, the Venom movies are toothless.
Looking to overcompensate that shortcoming with more comic lore, Let There Be Carnage adds another villain to the melee: Shriek, a psychologically tormented woman who can scream at shattering, earth-shaking decibels. Played by Naomie Harris (Moonlight, the recent Bond films), Shriek is also the star-crossed lover of Harrelson’s Cletus-turned-Carnage. Smitten since childhood, they’re a comic version of Woody’s Natural Born Killers from back in the day.
The whole drive of the movie is at it appears: Venom still exists, Carnage is created, Venom must defeat Carnage. It’s nothing more complicated than that (save the added layer of romantic tension between Eddie and his newly-engaged ex-wife Anne, played by Michelle Williams, who Venom is also smitten with). That’s all well-and-good, so far as it goes, except that it barely goes far enough to prop up even the most basic of loud, gaudy Hollywood tentpoles.
Despite the fact that director Andy Serkis (yes, that Gollum-and-Snoke mo-cap actor Andy Serkis) and director of photography Robert Richardson (a favorite of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese) give this big budget absurdity a slick, polished sheen, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a classic case of you either dig this nonsense or you don’t. Many seem to. I’m not one of them.