Venom: Let There Be Carnage amps up the comedy and camp to deliver an unsatisfying but suitably entertaining sequel as a B-list superhero flick.
Though the first Venom was panned by critics, the film found success with fans thanks to Tom Hardy’s committed (lobster-gobbling) performance and willingness to give 110% in an otherwise unremarkable superhero film. Doubling down on the unhinged nature of Hardy’s performance that drew so many to the original film, Venom: Let There Be Carnage dials up the comedy and camp but still can’t quite manage to escape the lackluster narrative issues that plagued its predecessor – resulting an enjoyable turn-your-brain-off monster movie for anyone on the hunt for a wicked good time.
Starring Tom Hardy, Venom: Let There Be Carnage follows Eddie Brock (Hardy) in the wake of having helped put infamous serial killer Cletus Kassidy (Woody Harrelson) behind bars, with the help of the Venom symbiote (also voiced by Hardy). Putting Kassidy away has helped rehabilitate Eddie’s public perception as a journalist, but still hasn’t helped him win back the love of his life, Anne (Michelle Williams) who is engaged to clean-cut Doctor Dan (Reid Scott). But when Eddie inadvertently helps Kassidy escape death row by unwittingly giving him the Carnage symbiote, he must race against time to stop Kassidy and his paramour Shriek (Naomie Harris) before they can wreak havoc, all while trying to win back the affection of Venom, who vacated Eddie’s body after the two fell out.
To the film’s credit, Venom: Let There Be Carnage learns from the mistakes of its predecessor and ditches many of the first film’s efforts at having the franchise follow in the footsteps of ‘grounded’ superhero films like The Dark Knight or even Iron Man. Where Venom felt like standard superhero fare with shimmers of personality, Let There Be Carnage is the exact opposite: nearly all comedy, camp, and gnarly symbiote fight scenes, with a paper-thin plot moving Eddie and Venom from scene to scene.
Admittedly, the flimsiness of the plot does impede rewatchability – though the concept of Eddie and Venom falling out like a bad rom-com breakup is amusing and poses some interesting ideas about the nature of their symbiotic relationship going beyond just the physical, the film isn’t quite sure how to explore this idea in any meaningful way, and instead turns to comedic hijinks in lieu of character work. Sure, seeing Venom ‘come out’ at a rave is funny, and the film clearly enjoys playing with the idea of Venom and Eddie being in a pseudo-romantic relationship, but it’s a relatively one-note gag that’s played over and over again, leaving us to wonder in the film has anything else to say about its characters besides ‘Venom and Eddie need couples therapy’.
Also in dire need of some couples counseling are Cletus Kassidy and Shriek, whose Bonnie and Clyde act is cut short with the revelation that Carnage (like Venom) has a vulnerability to sound – not exactly the trait you’re looking for in a body-sharing symbiote when your girlfriend’s superpower is the ability to emit sonic screeches. Kassidy and Shriek’s relationship is remarkably believable – thanks in major part to Harrelson and Harris, who more than match Hardy’s tenacity and commitment. Their love story is at times more compelling than Eddie’s personal journey (or lack thereof), which makes for an odd dynamic when Kassidy is unceremoniously offed in the film’s final moments followed by an F-bomb from an animated symbiote.
As frustratingly shallow and over-reliant on comedic beats as Venom: Let There Be Carnage is, though, it’s still a film that’s self-aware enough to know exactly what kind of movie it is – cutting the runtime to a mere hour and a half, and not wasting any time trying to punch higher than its weight class. The script is certainly frustrating and the narrative not all that thrilling, but Venom has the good sense to deliver more of what audiences loved about the first film: the Eddie/Venom dynamic and hijinks, as opposed to try and redeem itself through a more grandiose narrative.
Though it’s lacking in any significant emotional stakes and makes frustrating underuse of Anne and Dan, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is an enjoyable bonkers sequel that should satisfy the appetites of any rabid Venom fans.