Venom: Let There Be Carnage. 2021
Directed by Andy Serkis
Starring Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Reid Scott, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, and Peggy Lu
Tom Hardy returns to the big screen as the lethal protector Venom, one of Marvel’s greatest and most complex characters.
A one-note joke has never been so aggressively annoying. In defense of director Andy Serkis (succeeding Ruben Fleischer), Venom: Let There Be Carnage is doubling down on what moviegoers apparently liked about the first tonal disaster. The kindest thing that can be said is that this time the experience is intentionally going for camp and not a confused, baffling mess that saw people convincing themselves it was meant to be silly. However, it’s still a misfire of epic proportions.
Picking up where the first film left off, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is now a somewhat reputable journalist that serial killer Cletus Kasady (introduced at the end of Venom and played by Woody Harrelson) will speak to. Following some grim backstory involving murdering his parents and grandparents played off as comedy, subsequently leading to Cletus ending up in an orphanage finding the love of his life, Frances Barrison, a.k.a. Shriek (Naomie Harris, entirely wasted), whose whole personality comes down to screaming and presumably getting murdered by an officer during one of the psychopathic duos common crimes), a sitdown interview takes place between prisoner and reporter.
Eddie presses Cletus for the whereabouts of the remaining bodies he has slain throughout the years, only to receive riddles. Cletus doesn’t count on or know about Venom’s invisible symbiote, who can instantly solve the clues for Eddie, turning him into a hotshot journalist overnight. As for Cletus, well, he’s about to be executed. But during one final confrontation beforehand, he decides to bite down on Eddie’s hand while drawing and tasting blood. Cletus is also quick to figure out that Eddie does not contain normal human blood. It’s also not long before he realizes he now has his own symbiote inside him (the titular Carnage), prompting him to make a destructively grand exit.
That’s the basic setup for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which quickly turns into a single night of, well, carnage. Cletus figures out that Shriek is still alive and proceeds to bust her out, prompting the pair to rekindle their love and pick up where they left off, wreaking havoc all over the city. Of course, none of this is down with any style or characterization, instead coming across as Andy Serkis (using a script from Kelly Marcel, working the general story outline out with Tom Hardy himself) told Woody Harrelson to do Natural Born Killers but with superpowers. It’s all just an excuse to experiment with the CGI symbiote abilities in a forgettable way that’s not servicing plot or character and certainly isn’t fun. There is an interesting dynamic in that the shrieking is powerful enough to damage the symbiote (fire and loud sounds are its only weaknesses), which, unsurprisingly, amounts to nothing narratively. Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris are stranded and must rely on generating deranged charisma to make something even remotely interesting about their performances, briefly succeeding for a minute or two.
Meanwhile, for what has to be at least half of the mercifully short 90- minute running time, Venom incessantly whines and bitches about being bored and wanting to feed on human brains (he has grown tired of his alternative sustenance of chickens and chocolate). In between that, there’s plenty of lame visual gags, such as Venom making breakfast or taunting Eddie in public to a degree where he usually talks back and looks as if he is a crazy person having conversations with himself. The arguing eventually comes to a head, causing the collective unit to split apart and go their separate ways, unknowingly right before Carnage is unleashed.
A semi-competent film would spend its second act exploring how these characters fare without one another (not that I want to see that given the current quality here). In this rushed and incomplete mess, Venom feeds on a few brains at a club while Eddie realizes what’s happening on the news. As a result, he contacts his former partner Anne (a returning Michelle Williams, who surely has something better to do than spending even five minutes here), who has to get in touch with Venom while Eddie is arrested for seemingly always being near any destruction that arises. And when she is not doing that, she’s usually awkwardly criticized for breaking up with Eddie and being engaged to a doctor played by Reid Scott.
Anyway, the conflict is resolved in a matter of minutes (the structure here is nonexistent and flat-out embarrassing), leading into a special-effects-filled battle inside a cathedral. In a flabbergasting move, Cletus also voices frustrations that no one ever bothered to ask why he murdered his family or learn about the abuse inflicted on him. Venom: Let There Be Carnage takes the most effortless approach in trying to give these characters a shred of depth, and in doing so, comes across as slightly offensive even packaged with all its proud stupidity.
It’s never funny, the climactic fight is largely forgettable outside one nifty-looking shot, and there’s barely a story to speak of; it’s the cinematic equivalent of throwing anything and everything at the wall at 90 miles per hour. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a torturously bad watch from beginning to end.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com