When Venom first opened in the fall of 2018, critics lambasted the Marvel-inspired film, which currently holds a 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But thanks to an all-in performance by Tom Hardy as investigative journalist Eddie Brock (and his man-eating alien parasite pal), audiences turned out in droves to see the film. Venom went on to defy the odds and raked in almost $900 million at the global box office.
Naturally, a sequel was inevitable.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage Doubles Down on Marvel Mayhem
With a second entry in the cards, Sony not only had the opportunity to make a lot more money, it also had a rare second chance to adjust those glaring narrative and character critiques of the original. Unfortunately, the follow-up doesn't take all of that constructive feedback to heart. The pacing is off at times, certain plot beats don't make a whole lot of sense, and there are a few instances of poor dubbing in the sound mix.
Moreover, the script by Kelly Marcel — flying solo after sharing script credit with Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg last time around — the sequel often slips over its own tendrils, eschewing a cohesive product for a more scattershot approach that doesn't give director Andy Serkis much room to amplify his own creative voice. Some of the blame can be laid at Hardy's feet (after all, he shares story as well as producing credit).
Nevertheless, Let There Be Carnage still delivers on the unbridled symbiote-on-symbiote action that fans crave.
Original director Ruben Fleischer was off making Zombieland: Double Tap, so the franchise reigns were handed over to Serkis. The motion-capture veteran who helped bring Gollum to life in Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth saga maintains the devil-may-care goofiness of the first movie (for better and for worse) while considerably upping the anarchic ante. If you ever wanted to see Venom cough up chicken feathers, attend a rave, or cook breakfast to the stylings of Gershwin, this one's for you.
The first movie ended with the promise of Eddie using his razor-toothed buddy to mete out vigilante justice throughout the streets of San Francisco, but Let There Be Carnage doesn't follow through on the concept. Eddie has reversed the decision to let Venom eat people, only allowing the thing from another world that shares his body to feast on hens and copious amounts of chocolate from the local bodega run by Mrs. Chen (a standout Peggy Lu).
Once again, Hardy pulls double duty as the mismatched duo in a one-sided ventriloquist routine that yields some pretty effective dividends on the comedy front. All of the best lines go to Venom, of course (he's like that nagging voice inside all your head that inexplicably urges you to leap off a balcony or perhaps bite off another person's head and eat their brains).
As Brock, Hard mumbles, twitches, and presumably improvs through his lines like a psych ward patient off his meds. But I guess that's the entire point because Venom is clearly driving the investigative journalist up — and sometimes through — a wall. A literal devil on Eddie's shoulder, the alien from planet Klyntar is all id: hungry, destructive, and uninhibited by what one might call normal human morals.
The rule against eating people eventually leads to some serious relationship problems between the two room (and body) mates, who decide to call it quits. Venom steps out of the “Eddie closet” (his words, not mine) for a hedonistic tour across town and Brock tries to pick up the pieces of his life. This breakup recalls that moment in Spider-Man 2 where Peter Parker tries to abdicate his role as New York's friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, only to realize that he can't outrun destiny.
In the world of Venom, however, destiny is a homicidal maniac by the name of Cletus Kasady. Waiting for his number to come up on death row, Kasady comes with a tragic past and a fanatical interest in Mr. Brock. He's played by Woody Harrelson (going from mid-credits tease to major player in a wonderfully dreadful mop of flaming red hair), who seems to be having the time of his life in the wicked role.
Just hours before he's due to be executed, Cletus bites Eddie, ingesting a small amount of symbiote goop that turns him into an unstoppable monster that goes by the appropriate name of Carnage. Kasady's transformations are viscerally unpleasant — like something out of a Lovecraftian nightmare (think the body horror of John Carpenter's The Thing) — and the bloodcurdling roar emitted by Carnage is enough to inspire nightmares in any kid below the age of 13.
The scene in which a newly-birthed Carnage lays waste to an entire prison block is one of the sequel's best set pieces, though it does reinforce why these movies would benefit so much from an R-rating. After breaking out of San Quentin, Kasady sets out to be reunited with his old flame and implied mutant: Frances Barrison (a gleeful Naomie Harris), aka Shriek, from an off-the-books facility. Three guesses as to what her power is.
Given that symbiotes are vulnerable to sound, the marriage of Carnage and Shriek sours almost immediately (the former goes from dangerous bad boy to douchey abusive boyfriend). It all culminates in a big CGI battle at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, where Venom gets to drop the sequel's allotted F-bomb.
Michelle Williams (Brock's ex-girlfriend, Anne Weying), Reid Scott (Anne's fiancee, Dr. Dan Lewis), and Stephen Graham (Detective Mulligan, a cop with a connection to both Kasady and Barrison) round out the cast, but there's not much to for their characters to do. Williams is the best of all three, particularly when she cajoles Venom into reuniting with Eddie to save the day.
Clocking in at a brisk 90 minutes, Let There Be Carnage is on the shorter side of most modern-day comic book tentpoles. That's a good thing because there's no extra fat here and the film doesn't overstay its welcome. And this goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: don't you dare leave during the end credits or you'll miss out on a crowd-pleasing stinger that even has the Lethal Protector salivating in anticipation of what's to come.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens in theaters tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 1).