By Reed Ripley
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
- Action/Sci-Fi | PG-13 | 2 hr
- Exclusively In Theaters
Venom: Let There Be Carnage takes what worked in its predecessor and doubles and triples down, resulting in a veritable blast of a film.
Tom Hardy returns as Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist based in San Francisco who happens to share a body with an alien symbiote named Venom (also voiced by Hardy). The two have a strained relationship, with Eddie wanting to focus on his journalism and enjoy his moderate success in peace, while Venom wants to enjoy the simple things in his life; namely, eating bad guys’ brains. When one of Eddie’s subjects, deranged serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), gets a taste of Eddie’s blood (and with it, a symbiote of his own named Carnage), Eddie and Venom must mend their relationship and work together to prevent total carnage.
The primary driver of the film is the relationship between Eddie and Venom, as it needs to be. The intimate bond between the two is the reason the characters work so well in the comics, and leaning into it works just as well on screen. 2018’s Venom took way too long to introduce its titular symbiote, but Carnage gets right to it, and the film is littered with the duo’s fun and witty banter. It paints Eddie and Venom as a legitimate couple from the jump, and much of the film follows the familiar format of a rom-com, with a bit of extra flair; “I’m coming out of the Eddie closet” is a real thing Venom says. A bit on the nose, yes, but that is the whole point.
To that end, this film knows exactly why its predecessor made so much money, and it is not because it was good. Carnage knows it is ridiculous, understands its audience knows the same thing, and takes every opportunity it can to lean all the way into it. Intentional camp is a tough line to walk, but here, it works.
Something that does not work so well is Harrelson’s villain, Cletus Kasady. The performance itself is delightful, as Harrelson absolutely knows what movie he’s in, and he Goes For It, as Harrelson is wont to do. However, Kasady is a homicidal maniac with no redemptive qualities whatsoever, and, despite the film’s attempt to humanize him a bit with a background of childhood abuse, there is no sympathizing with the character, and the stretches that focus solely on Kasady and his childhood love interest, Frances Barrison a.k.a. Shriek (Naomie Harris, who isn’t given much to do) leave the viewer aching to get back to Eddie and Venom.
The action sequences also leave something to be desired. It improves on the first film, probably thanks at least in part to Serkis’s extensive experience with CGI, but it still does not totally avoid the symbiotes’ tendency to look like splashes of sentient ink.
The film’s saving grace is its runtime, and that is not meant as a dig. One can only stay at a 10 on the bonkers scale for so long, and at a tight hour and a half, the film flies. That also helps with its flaws, as it moves too quickly to linger. To be clear, this film is not for everyone. It is over-the-top, violent, and at times, disgusting. But for those with which it clicks, it will really click.