The original Venom survived the critical clobbering it received back in 2018 to become one of that year’s top-grossing films, paving the path for its sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage. And Carnage, like its predecessor, seems to scratch a particular itch for fans of the superhero genre, as if to exist on the lurid lower-shelves of the local video stores back in the day. Sometimes we don’t want the most polished products that take up the top tiers and explore those titles proudly displaying their rough edges.
While Venom: Let There Be Carnage slightly widens the scope of its comic universe, it is far more interested in giving us time to revel in the relationship between the snaggle-toothed symbiote and his human host Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). Their struggles remain as investigative reporter Eddie trying to adjust to Venom’s inner monologue and quell his penchant for munching human brains.
For the most part, Eddie keeps Venom sated by allowing him to chow down on chickens and dutifully cleans up after his guest’s more messy inclinations in turn for Venom’s superhuman abilities. But where it truly bothers Eddie is the strain it’s put on the relationship between him and his former fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams). When she informs Eddie she is going to marry Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), he finally snaps. The resulting “break-up” of Eddie and Venom lead to some of the best moments of the film that I shall not reveal here but will suggest that Venom’s coping mechanisms are at turns hysterical and surprisingly poignant.
Meanwhile, Venom: Let There Be Carnage establishes the story of its primary heavy: serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who has held a decades-long grudge against Eddie for failing to tell his whole story that landed him on death row. So when Cletus invites Eddie to grant him his final interview, he sees it as a chance to break back into journalism and accepts. The encounter ends with Cletus obtaining some symbiotes of his own only hours before his execution, and thus Carnage is born, literally and metaphorically.
“…Cletus obtaining some symbiotes of his own only hours before his execution…”
Directed by character actor Andy Serkis (Gollum in the Lord of the Rings), he understood the first film’s appeal and does not adjust the dials too much here. Clocking in just a few hairs over 90 minutes, Carnage powers through its runtime and never overstays its welcome. Of course, this does come at the cost of character development. Not only is Anne tossed to the sidelines for the majority of the film, but an entire subplot of Cletus’s love interest takes up less space than the end credits scroll. Poor Naomie Harris plays Shriek, a woman with ear-piercing screams, and bookends the film with roughly a handful of lines. The film has no interest in passing the Bechdel Test.
What Venom: Let There Be Carnage does strangely include is perhaps the largest cast of male characters with distractingly bad haircuts. From Eddie’s perennial rear cowlick to Cletus’ violent comb-forward to Officer Mulligan’s (Stephen Graham) disorienting comb-over, the fellas’ follicles seem to give symbiotes a run for their chaotic abilities.
All that said, this is still refreshingly unpredictable, which is more than can be said of the current Marvel films, which still closely march to a familiar cadence regardless of the character. And its post-credit sequence (only one) still manages to throw a bone to MCU fans wondering where on the timeline this all fits.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage will certainly not acquire any new fans. But if you bought into the messy magic of the first film, you will undoubtedly find much in which to revel with its successor.