Still trying to cope with the bothersome alien symbiote known as Venom living inside of him, Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock is attempting to reignite his journalism career by interviewing maniacal serial killer Cletus Kasady, played by Woody Harrelson. But, after an outburst from Venom during one of their meetings, Kassidy becomes the host of a new, more powerful symbiote known as Carnage.
Screenwriter Kelly Marcel gives the well-worn Jekyll and Hyde dynamic a romantic comedy twist
Tom Hardy shines once again as both a despondent Eddie Brock and the voice of a toddler-like Venom. Fortunately, the overall lobster-tank-jumping weirdness of the character is toned down to a far more palatable level this time around. You empathise with Eddie’s pain as he struggles to balance controlling Venom’s insatiable appetite with his normal life. Yet Let There Be Carnage’s brisk pace never lets these elements breath for long enough to really care about them. Opposite Hardy stars Woody Harrelson: if you were hoping that he might channel his Natural Born Killers character to portray Cletus Kasady then you’ll be left largely disappointed. While his performance isn’t necessarily bad, when you consider that Carnage was originally devised as “The Joker with superpowers,” Harrelson’s routine mass murderer is somewhat underwhelming. Deserving of a special mention, Stephen Graham is excellent in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. He delivers a committed performance as Detective Mulligan, a character rightfully suspicious of Eddie with a personal connection to one of the antagonists.
One of the weaker aspects of the original was how poorly the film’s different elements were balanced. Its blend of horror with superhero action and goofy comedy was messy, in no small part due to the fact that those aspects didn’t work individually, so making them work together was a virtually impossible task. In Venom: Let There Be Carnage, relative improvements have been made. In the scene where we first meet Carnage, there is a palpable sense of tension which only heightens as more prison guards disappear with a terrified scream into smoke. This then transitions into a somewhat murky action set-piece designed to show just how dangerous Carnage is. With Andy Serkis now in the director’s chair, one would have hoped that the master of motion capture would have imbued the action sequences with a more visceral heft than in the previous film. Alas, the fights still feel weightless and therefore without consequence, despite the notable efforts of the sound design team.
The comedy works a lot better in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, as it has the benefit of Eddie and Venom’s established relationship. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel gives the well-worn Jekyll and Hyde dynamic a romantic comedy twist, complete with bickering, a break-up and an eventual reunion. It’s incredibly silly, occasionally bordering on the asinine, but nevertheless quite entertaining. Eddie’s problems with Venom mirror his issues with his ex-fiancé Anne, played by a returning Michelle Williams; whilst Anne doesn’t have a great deal to do in the film, acting as the damsel in distress for the third act, their story ends in a way that nicely subverts genre tropes yet still feels satisfying.
Cletus Kasady is not without relationship troubles either. Following his bonding with Carnage, Kasady spends the majority of the film in search of his long-lost girlfriend Frances Barrison, the villain Shriek. Her powers being deadly to Carnage gives her and Cletus’s relationship an intriguing wrinkle, yet nothing is done with it. Naomie Harris is wasted in the role as she amounts to little more than a glorified henchman.
The latest film in Sony’s ‘Spider-man Spin-off Universe,’ Venom: Let There Be Carnage, is undoubtedly a bizarre film, awkwardly meandering just beyond mediocrity while still not quite being good. Nevertheless, the sequel is a marked improvement on the original and a surprisingly entertaining film. Whilst it’s still miles away from matching the quality of its contemporaries if you're looking for a spry 90-minute superhero romp that you don’t need to have seen 20 movies to understand, then Venom: Let There Be Carnage might just be what you’re looking for.