Like an alien symbiote without a host body, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a mass of bonkers ideas swirling around without a story to hold them together. What it does, and does even better than the so-bad-its-good 2018 film, is capture the bizarre odd couple relationship between Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiote, the two engaging in what can only be described as an acid trip of a friendship. But the story otherwise is surprisingly mediocre, with only two truly memorable moments, and seems to have excluded an entire middle chapter where we could get the most out of Woody Harrelson as the ultra-violent Carnage.
For many fans, finally getting a chance to see the homicidal red symbiote Carnage on the big screen will be the major draw. To Harrelson’s credit, he plays serial killer Cletus Kasady with a maniacal edge we haven’t seen from him since Natural Born Killers, clearly an inspiration for the performances from him and co-star Naomie Harris, who plays Casady’s sonic-powered lover, Shriek. However, what we get of them, while totally off-the-wall and violent as far as PG-13 can go, it simply isn’t enough.
The film finds Eddie Brock, floundering San Francisco reporter, essentially where we left him. He’s under investigation by the police, in particular detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) who just won’t get off his back. Eddie’s still get an icy relationship with his ex, Anne (Michelle Williams), and there’s still a murderous alien creature living within him. The screenplay by Hardy and Kelly Marcel really leans into this crazy pairing, and for good reason. It was the best part of the first movie, for one thing, but also it’s a way to deflect from the fact that Venom is an alien who lives from feeding on human brains. Make him funny and it’s okay. So he’s developed a taste for chocolate and chickens, except for the pair of feathered-friends he’s forced Eddie into accepting as roommates.
When Eddie has a chance to get his career back by interviewing imprisoned serial killer Cletus Kasady, the tables get turned. Not only does Cletus play Eddie like a fiddle, but he takes a chomp out of his hand…”I’ve tasted blood and that’s not it!” Cletus has absorbed some of the symbiote into him, and later during his lethal injection the toxic chemicals mix with it to cause Carnage to emerge.
The emergence of Carnage is incredibly cool, with the red demon causing a literal whirlwind of bloodshed. With motion-capture pro Andy Serkis behind the camera, the CGI symbiotes are vastly improved visually. The action moves better and doesn’t look like a bunch of muddy blobs splashing against one another. If nothing else, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a massive upgrade in the effects department, and I’d love to see Serkis stay in the realm of comic book films for a while.
Squabbles between Eddie and Venom over the latter’s hunger and feeling that he’s been unappreciated, cause for them to split. While Eddie gets himself into trouble with Cletus, a fight he definitely cannot win alone, Venom has a bizarre, and absolutely hilarious sidetrip, complete with an underground rave (with glo-sticks and everything) and a public speech about diversity and acceptance that surely nobody on his home planet would understand.
The two reunite for a climactic battle during a frightful Red Wedding ceremony that underwhelms tremendously. The first time Venom and Carnage throwdown is the ONLY time they throwdown, depriving us of the symbiote vs. symbiote madness most of us are there for. It truly feels as if someone forgot to write a second act, in an effort to keep the runtime at 90 minutes. Adding Anne into the fray, this time as a damsel in distress, doesn’t do much to up the stakes. However, Shriek’s sonic powers causing friction between Cletus and Carnage, who has a weakness to such thing as all symbiote’s do, was a complication that played out exactly as it should with so many baddies working together.
Hardy wanted to up the insanity levels on Venom: Let There Be Carnage and he successfully did that. Somewhere along the way, he forgot that it still needs to be more than that, though, and simplifying the story does not mean getting rid of one altogether. And that will make what happens next very interesting, because that other memorable thing, which comes during the post-credits, is going to have fans’ heads exploding. Venom will need to be more if that’s going to work the way Hardy and Sony need it to. This film might not have worked, but if it leads to the epic fan service that it teases at the end, it will have been worth it.