Venom: Let there be Carnage (2021) is the sort of film I’d often find myself avoiding. Not because I’m some sort of film snob who only dines out on the finest of cinematic gourmets. My taste in film often veers toward the more clichéd and bombastic blockbusters, even at the best of times. No, my reason being, I’ve never quite found myself interested in the idea of a Venom movie. He’s a character that looks neat in an aesthetic sense of the word, plus I’m certainly taken by his origins within the Spider-Man comics, but as a hero as a standalone feature, he’s never really made much sense to me.
Much to my surprise, I found myself enjoying the Andy Serkis sequel a lot more than I’d initially predicted. For what it is, this is a lot of fun. It’s surprisingly funny and occasionally creepy in places too. I laughed way more than I’d expected. It’s ridiculous and noisy and existences primarily for cynical, money-making purposes. Despite all this, the fact it knows exactly what it is and understands what areas it worked last time around makes for a surprisingly enjoyable romp.
Let there be Carnage takes all the workable elements from it’s unbalanced predecessor, making them front and centre of the feature. The offbeat gags in which Venom (Tom Hardy) climbs into a fish tank, not to mention the sci-fi odd couple vibe between our protagonist and his symbiotic buddy, which peppered spuriously throughout the first are promoted to establish the overall tone of this sequel. Whereas the first film was a sprawling mess with a few bizarre japes punctuating the main plot, this time around, that peculiar humour is the main driving force of the story. It’s present in almost every scene from start to finish.
Serkis has trimmed the fat from the project, refashioning the second chapter into a streamlined odd-couple comedy that refuses to take itself seriously at any stage. The whole premise is ridiculous and pointless. The main difference this time round, is it knows this. It isn’t trying to be a big blockbuster that occasionally tries to take itself seriously or ham-fist emotional subplots that force the film to feel date. This is a short, daft movie that leans as far into the fun as it can get away with. The fact it understands this and uses it to its advantage makes everything all the more enjoyable.
Even the action sequences, in which two CGI monsters go at it from time to time, are put together in such a fun-loving, “isn’t this all utterly ludicrous”. Being a master in the arts of visual storytelling, Serkis understands the tone and structure these sorts of fight scenes need to be in so that they can work, and for the most part, they absolutely sing here. Much like the overall tone, Serkis understands the nature of these fight sequences; opting to have as much fun as he possibly can with such boisterous moments. And they look a heck of a lot better this time around. I’m not going to go ahead and claim any of the fight scenes are brilliant, they aren’t, yet they feel clean and thought out for the most part. Big grisly monsters hitting one another isn’t an easy type of action to pull off, despite Hollywood’s persistence to make these sorts of movies. Serkis gets around this problem by executing them more like they are well choreographed sequences lifted directly from a Saturday morning cartoon show and adapted for cinema. This injects such moments with a thrill and dazzle whenever our protagonist and antagonist clash.
Many will know Tom Hardy as an actor of considerable versatility. He’s played a withered Picard-Clone; a foul-mouthed Charles Bronson; a mumbling seatbelt-wearer commonly known as Bane; he’s even played the charming & erratic Cray twins during his character. He’s a man of many talents, including when it comes to starring in daft flicks such as these Venom movies. I think it’s easy for a lot of people to turn their nose up at Hardy and accuse him of selling out when it comes to playing Eddie Brock. I’m not so sure that’s a fair claim. He seems to be enjoying playing the part quite thoroughly. If he likes doing this role, I don’t see any reason why he should avoid playing it. All renowned actors have played parts that don’t sync with their prestigious nature throughout their career. He certainly does a good job of playing the whole Eddie-Venom duo dynamic in this one. Plus he’s getting chance to flex his comedy chops, which makes this quite a fun ride to venture on. Doubling down on the weird and ridiculous doesn’t just work on a storytelling level, it does so on a performance level too.
The same can be said for Woody Harrelson’s take on Cletus Kasady (aka Carnage). Let’s not try and sweeten a stinker here, the character is utterly ridiculous. At least he is here. Kasady is a straight up clown of a villain. Except this isn’t as bad as it could have been. Far from it. Harrelson has had an extensive career spanning both comedic and villainous roles. He’s quite good at playing the badguy, just as much as he is at playing the fall guy. This experience pays off well here, allowing Harrelson to channel a creepy-yet-absurd antagonist for Eddie Brock to bounce off of. There are times when he’s disgusting, frightening, and even laughable. Both director Serkis and actor Harrelson know full well the type of film they’re making. Kasady is a one-dimensional villain. The awareness and confidence to play the part in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously helps this work like a charm.
All of this, topped off with a scaled down runtime that knows exactly how long it needs to be before it out welcomes its stay, makes for an entertaining romp. Venom: Let there be Carnage feels like a revised draft of its predecessor, one that’s able to learn from its mistakes and recognise the parts that worked the first time around. This certainly isn’t a ground-breaking piece of work, but it’s well-made for what it is. Lots of fun, surprisingly funny, and far too inoffensive to dislike.
- In addition to trimming back what didn’t work the first time around. I’m glad they didn’t try to revive the whole romantic subplot between Eddie Brock and Anna Weying (Michelle Williams). I think one of the many reasons the first one felt so dated for a 2019 movie was down to them trying to shoehorn a romantic story amidst the silliness of a Venom movie. Shifting Weying to becoming a side-character as opposed to a potential fling works way better.
- Although I admire the film’s decision to scale back and flesh out the elements that made the first film work, I think the character of Frances Barrison/Shriek (Naomie Harris) felt a little in the way at times. While they made the right move axing Brock’s romantic subplot, they kind of let themselves down by doing the same thing on Kasady’s side. Having said that, I get the impression her inclusion was to try and open this universe up to characters beyond the symbiotic kind. Seeing as Sony are looking to make their villain universe very much a thing, I guess this is there way of opening the gates for other non-Venom projects set in this timeline.
- The internet has proper kicked off about the post-credit sequence. I guess it’s a fairly big deal that they’ve suddenly thrusted Eddie into the MCU after the film. Though it does raise a number of questions. Does this mean the other Sony Universe movies will take place in the MCU? Or are they kicking off over in Eddie’s original universe? I’m assuming it’s the latter of those two options, what with Shierk’s presence in this movie. Also, surely this doesn’t mean he’s in No Way Home? It certainly looked like Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) portal wizardry working its charms outside Eddie’s hotel room, but there’s so much going on in that movie, surely another character isn’t going to have room in that absolute gut-buster of a movie. Then again, seeing as Marvel have made absolute belters out of films containing 60+ characters in recent history, a Spider-Man movie with more villains/anti-heroes in isn’t necessarily a guarantee for disaster.
- While on the subject of ending on a multiverse cliffhanger, perhaps this explains why Kevin Feige pulled an expression like a kid who’s mum just found out he smokes when Amy Pascal talked about Sony’s and Disney’s movies being connected all them years ago. I’m guessing a plan to interlock the two universes has been part of their plan for quite some time now.