REVIEW: Venom: Let There Be Carnage [2021]

Rating: 5 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 97 minutes
    Release Date: October 1st, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Marvel Entertainment / Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia Pictures
    Director(s): Andy Serkis
    Writer(s): Kelly Marcel / Tom Hardy & Kelly Marcel (story) / Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie (characters)

Responsibility is for the mediocre.

I’m pretty sure there’s more exposition in Venom: Let There Be Carnage than there was in Venom. It’s not without reason. At the time of the original’s inception, Sony had their hands tied. The Marvel characters they had—namely those from the Spider-Man universe—couldn’t integrate with the Marvel Cinematic Universe at-large without an agreement like the one that allowed Spidey into the Avengers. And since Spider-Man was an Avenger, he couldn’t interact with those characters either. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) was therefore on an island alone with his newfound BFF symbiote. Everything had to be handled with kid gloves so as not to paint themselves into a corner and thus the storyline proved one where everything got tied into a bow without any loose threads to pull.

Enter chapter two and screenwriter Kelly Marcel has nothing to really build on besides the relationship between her schizophrenic antihero’s dual selves. Maybe that could have been enough to deliver a captivating drama devoid of any need for concrete external forces, but studios don’t bankroll superhero films to play like a mid-budget independent. They want explosions, computer-generated chaos, and good versus evil. They want a Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) to chew scenery and provoke their lead. They want, for lack of the need to think of a different word, carnage. Our not knowing him, however, means they also need backstory. Why is Cletus on death row? Why does he kill? How can Eddie stop him? Should we even care? I’d argue that last answer is, “No.”

That’s not to say Andy Serkis‘ film is a complete waste of time. It’s not. I had fun with it. The rapport between Eddie and Venom is often hilarious and the return of the former’s ex-fiancé (Michelle Williams‘ Anne) and her new fiancé (Reid Scott‘s Dr. Dan) as straight men to their absurd clownery is an added comedic bonus. Add the ramifications of the mid-credit scene (Spoiler alert!) showing the wide-ranging and cross-licensing potential of a post-Thanos “blip” moving to the multiverse and the overall purpose of Let There Be Carnage becomes a bridge between worlds, so to speak. Could that have been accomplished in a five-minute web-short? You betcha. I know this because there’s only about five minutes of pertinent information housed within its ninety-minute runtime.

There’s not much to talk about then. Cletus is a serial murderer on death row who grew up in a cathedral home for unwanted children with his true love (and don’t use the word mutant because you legally can’t) Frances (Naomie Harris). He misses her and thinks she’s dead. She’s in fact alive and incarcerated in a black site hospital/prison so she cannot use her powers on the public. Cletus exploits Eddie to pass her messages (in the hopes she is alive) by specifying certain phrases be used in his exclusive interviews. Something happens (Venom is so brain-as-food-motivated that he proves himself to be quite the expert detective) to make Cletus hate Eddie, a bite transfers some symbiote juice into his bloodstream, and Carnage is born.

He needs to be stopped. Frances’ power is a “shriek.” And anyone who watched the first film knows that only two things harm a symbiote while connected to its host: fire and extreme frequency sound. You can start to guess why Cletus’ exposition also includes Frances’ exposition even though the pair tend to bog the pacing to a crawl. Not that the first sixty-minutes of Eddie and Venom bickering about whether chicken and chocolate is a suitable substitute for human brains isn’t also mostly boring. It’s all a slog punctuated by quick bursts of humor until the inevitable climactic meet-up brings everyone—including the cop who shot Frances decades ago (Stephen Graham‘s Mulligan)—together for a giant spectacle of mayhem and destruction proving to be the main draw.

You should therefore hope those last thirty minutes are your cup of tea because that’s going to make or break the whole. Everyone is talking about the rave scene where a newly detached Venom body hops and says he’s “out of the Eddie closet” as an LGBTQ metaphor, but I find it a stretch with context (although I’m cishet and might be missing crucial nuance). Venom wants an equal say in what he and Eddie are doing and has a point considering he does most of the work. Eddie needs to remember what it’s like to not have a safety net that makes him virtually immortal before he begins to listen to the valid points being thrown his way. Does everything surrounding that conversation enhance those sentiments? Maybe?

Carnage is a formidable enough foe to give everyone pause to check their egos and save the day, but it’s all a bit circumstantial. Hardy (who earns a story credit) and Marcel wanted to delve into the central dynamic and crafted a generic villain to facilitate it superficially en route to his obvious demise. The result is thus a carbon copy of its predecessor only with most of the exposition dealing with the expendable character rather than the titular one. Does Serkis succeed at delivering what we expect from a film like this? Yes. Hardy and Harrelson are entertaining, the action is effective, and we get to the destination Sony, et al. desired. Does it begin to exit that box and give us something worth investing in? No.

[1] Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock/Venom in Columbia Pictures’ VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE. PHOTO BY: Courtesy of Sony Pictures COPYRIGHT: ©2021 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.
[2] Eddie (Tom Hardy, left) interviews Cletus (Woody Harrelson) in prison in Columbia Pictures’ VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE. PHOTO BY: Jay Maidment COPYRIGHT: ©2021 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.
[3] Anne (Michelle Williams) tells Eddie (Tom Hardy) she is engaged in Columbia Pictures’ VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE. PHOTO BY: Jay Maidment COPYRIGHT: ©2021 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.

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