‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ Review: A Not-So-Marvelous Sequel
In my review of the first Venom, I wrote “The only thing stopping this movie from becoming an immediate cult classic is that it takes nearly an hour for Tom Hardy to go full Venom. If they’d trimmed 15 minutes out of this thing, cut right to the chase, and just piled on the Hardy, Venom would be unmissable ... [Hardy and Venom] is the movie I desperately wished I was watching more of. (Despite the fact that I cannot recommend Venom and even hated parts of it, I would absolutely watch the sequel teased in one of the worst post-credits scenes I have ever witnessed.)”
As a wise symbiote once said “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR EDDIEEEEEEEEE.”
Venom: Let There Be Carnage provides exactly what I thought I wanted out of another Venom movie. This time, Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock and Venom are joined at the ... wherever an alien symbiote bonds with a human from the very first scene. The arduous expository preamble is gone; in fact, the whole picture is over and done with after about 90 minutes.
So why does it suck so bad?
Fundamentally, its creators course corrected from the first movie a bit too drastically. Where Venom was a grim body horror movie with a very broad and sometimes extremely silly comic performance at its center, Let There Be Carnage is practically a romantic comedy between Eddie Brock and Venom; they fight over their incompatible living habits and even contemplate breaking up to see other people (and/or eat their brains). Where Venom got bogged down in subplots and bad guys and nonsense about evil Life Foundations, this movie is cut to the bone so severely that simple, fundamental questions about the story are left totally unanswered and one or two key supporting characters don’t even show up onscreen for the first hour.
Even Carnage himself is late to the party. For a while, he’s just regular old Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer in solitary confinement with a bizarre fixation on disgraced journalist Eddie Brock that the movie never really explains. (It’s not because Cletus knows Eddie is Venom; he doesn’t.) Eddie is the only person Cletus will talk to, and he keeps calling him back to prison for more rambling, psychotic monologues — but then he’s furious when Eddie (with Venom’s help) finds the missing bodies of Cletus’ victims. What did this guy think was going to happen? He’s not going to report on the story?
Eventually, Cletus and Eddie’s meetings result in the birth of Carnage, a symbiote that’s even deadlier and meaner than Venom. Carnage helps Cletus break out of prison and then track down his long-lost love Shriek (Naomie Harris), a woman who’s spent most of her life locked up in some sort of undocumented psychiatric hospital because of her ability to scream with enough force to blow the doors off a police van. Once this modern Bonnie and Clyde are reunited they lure Venom into a trap by kidnapping his ex-fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams). Even though Carnage refers to Venom as his “father,” he also vows to kill him.
Why does Venom suddenly asexually reproduce? Who knows. Why does Carnage want to kill Venom? Who knows. Why is Carnage so much stronger than Venom? Who knows. If Carnage can just open a big gaping hole in his chest when someone tries to shoot him, where does Cletus’ body go inside the Carnage suit? Why should we care about any of this? Who knows. One thing is for certain; the movie certainly doesn’t care about any of it.
Instead, it’s just wall-to-wall Eddie and Venom shenanigans. (Tom Hardy, it may be worth noting, is a credited producer and co-writer on the film.) A few of their battles are amusing but at a certain point, they’re just repeating the same argument over and over. Venom wants to eat humans, Eddie doesn’t want him to, Venom calls Eddie a loser. Eddie insists he’s not. Venom trashes their apartment. Venom goes to a rave and delivers a weirdly sincere monologue about tolerance. (Okay, so that part’s different at least.)
There’s one way in which Venom: Let There Be Carnage is exactly like the first movie: They both have incomprehensible action scenes. In 2018, I wrote that Venom “makes about as much visual sense as two sentient puddles fighting in the middle of a monsoon that’s happening during a blackout.” Somehow, the sequel, directed by Andy Serkis, looks even worse. The big finale inside a church makes so little visual sense they might as well have shot it with the lens cap still on the camera.
It’s possible that the action scenes look so bad because things had to be cut and obscured to secure Venom: Let There Be Carnage’s PG-13 rating. (The lack of subplots or character motivations could also be collateral damage of all the trims.) But this is a movie about two sadistic aliens who murder people and eat their brains for kicks. Carnage creates knives, spears, and axes out of his symbiote slime and uses them to stab, maim, and decapitate people. Why is a movie about that guy rated PG-13 in the first place? If you can’t show the true nature of these characters, maybe you shouldn’t make the movie at all.
-Let There Be Carnage opens with a truly abysmal scene, a flashback to Carnage and Shriek’s childhoods at an orphanage for wayward teens. The year, according to an onscreen graphic, is 1996. High-school age actors play the Carnage and Shriek characters, although their voices are still provided by Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris. Woody Harrelson was born in 1961. By 1996, he’d already been on Cheers — playing an adult man — for 200 episodes.
-Deliberately or not, Venom: Let There Be Carnage takes a lot of cues from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Both films feature heroes who come to believe their alter egos are ruining their chances for a happy life after their true love gets engaged to another man.
-Speaking of which: In theory, a big part of this story is about Eddie Brock still carries a torch for his ex, played by Michelle Williams, who now loves another man. That would be Reid Scott as Dan, who goes from not appearing on camera a single time in the entire first hour of the movie to becoming an essential part of the final battle between Venom and Carnage. Was Let There Be Carnage hacked down from a two-hour rough cut, and all the scenes that were removed involved Dan? Do we need to #ReleaseTheDanCut?
-Sony managed to pull off the first Venom without Spider-Man, but his absence is really felt this time. The Carnage character works best as a dark mirror image of Spidey; he’s all power and zero responsibility. (In most storylines Venom tends to land somewhere in the middle between the two.) Without Spider-Man, Venom: Let There Be Carnage becomes two lunatics trying to out-crazy one another. That gets old pretty quickly.