for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references.
Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham
Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, Amy Pa
Sony Pictures on
If 2018's Venom felt like an afterthought, then the sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, feels like an afterthought to an afterthought. With its short running length, this drunk-on-CGI production is less a movie and more the outline of something ambitious that was stripped of nearly all narrative-related aspects in order to present 90 minutes of money shots. The budget is all on screen and, with motion capture maestro Andy Serkis at the helm (his second directorial stunt -- he made his debut with the period piece/love story Breathe, which was a less natural match for his talents than this one), the special effects look better than in Venom. In the end, however, the movie is more like a second-rate Deadpool with a much lower successful jokes-to-attempts ratio. It's not exactly unpleasant but those who didn't see its predecessor may find themselves lost from the opening scene.
Let There Be Carnage follows directly from the previous film. The most engaging aspect relates to the Odd Couple relationship between Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and the symbiont living within. The two argue about morality, crime-fighting, chickens, chocolate, and decapitation. While Eddie and Venom are struggling to compromise, the movie introduces Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer who is about to meet his end via lethal injection. A brief flashback recalls a time when Cletus was in love with a mutant named Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), who was taken by the government. Cletus has been pining for her ever since and, now that he has learned she is still alive, he wants to reach out to her. To that end, he asks to see newsman Eddie, promising an exclusive interview if Eddie will print an obtuse quote. During one death row visit, a momentarily violent encounter results in Cletus biting Eddie, thereby ingesting some of his Venom-infused blood. This allows a new symbiont, Carnage, to develop inside Cletus. In order for the new creature to achieve autonomy, it must destroy its "father," so Cletus and Carnage reach an agreement: first, find Frances; second, kill Venom.
The threadbare story is designed to highlight elaborate battle sequences and other action-oriented sequences. Serkis keeps character-building to a minimum. Outside of the Eddie/Venom interplay, the only other significant interactions are between Eddie and his quasi-love interest, Anne (Michelle Williams), and Kletus and Frances. Even in those cases, there's a sense that the filmmakers incorporate only what's necessary to keep things semi-coherent. There seem to be numerous missed opportunities to do deeper, more interesting things with the basic framework but that wasn't in the mission statement.
Although I'm sure both actors were handsomely compensated for their participation, the material wastes Hardy and Harrelson. Hardy gets a story credit (along with screenwriter Kelly Marcel, whose previous efforts include Fifty Shades of Grey, which she has since disowned) and Harrelson gets to mug for the camera a lot, but it goes without saying that both actors have done better work. In fact, it might be hard to find examples on their resumes of less inspired performances. (An argument can be made that Hardy and Harrelson are at their best in Let There Be Carnage when doing the voicework for their CGI-created symbiotes.)
The Venom sequel checks all the generic comic book movie boxes and, if all one expects from a film adaptation is a straightforward translation with motion and live actors, it's hard to knock Let There Be Carnage. But, in an era when most superhero productions are becoming increasingly complex, challenging one another for greater depth and storyline intricacy, the shallowness of both Venom movies stands out in an unflattering fashion. Fans of the first movie will likely be satisfied this time around as well -- the movies are peas in a pod -- but the wider audience may feel let down by everything that's missing from Let There Be Carnage.
© 2021 James Berardinelli
Cinemas About Town