Venom: Let There Be Carnage hits theaters on Oct. 1.
Director Andy Serkis describes Venom: Let There Be Carnage as a love story (which it definitely is) between Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Venom (also Tom Hardy). That idea is skillfully reflected through the lean script and directing choices. Serkis gives us a sequel with entertaining action sequences, a more personal approach, a lot of humor, and a thrilling final showdown between Eddie/Venom and Cletus Kasady/Carnage (Woody Harrelson).
Picking up after a passage of time only marked by Kasady’s sleek new haircut, Let There Be Carnage has an unhinged villain whose motives are vengeful and driven by pain. As Eddie and his police detective partner put together the pieces of his killing spree, we see a dramatic pivot from the sci-fi conspiracy of the first movie to something that plays like a comic-book movie hybrid of serial killer thrillers like Seven or Zodiac (yes, really). Of course, those movies are brilliant, so it is a fine template to work off when handling a villain similar to so many of America’s real-life monsters, had they been granted some really terrifying superpowers.
This really is a bizarre hybrid of monster and murder movie, but Serkis efficiently balances various tones, visual spectacles, and humorous performances to surprisingly make it work. Much like Eddie does, the sequel lets its weirder side out and the symbiote is given more time to shine. Venom’s one-liners cut through tense moments as comedic relief, resembling a combination of Clayface from the HBO Max Harley Quinn show and the MCU’s Drax. Or, as Eddie describes him, a “pig-dog horse-duck.”
The people around him, however, do care for this lethal giant and provide excellent connective tissue between characters. We’re given a much smaller, yet efficiently used supporting cast with Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham), Anne (Michelle Williams), Dan (Reid Scott), and even Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu). All these characters interact and intersect over the course of the movie, emphasizing a smaller world and scope to navigate in, as well as a more personal threat to Eddie’s social circle.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage Movie Images
Serkis’ experience as a motion-capture artist comes through as he directs more active and physical scenes. His trust in practical and computer-generated visual effects hammers home Venom’s physical presence and destruction in impressive and tangible ways, like when Venom tears up Eddie’s kitchen in a scene that seems straight from Fantasia’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The active camera movement matches the cold-blooded, chaotic energy brought on by Carnage and Kasady. Their motives cannot be reasoned away; their twisted feelings of justice empower them to savage acts of violence. We witness this fully in the only fight between Venom and Carnage. The battle is packed with feral, creative limb-slinging between the two symbiotes as Carnage jabs with grotesque spiked arms and Venom defends with an instinctive survival mentality, an explosion of CGI monsters and pyrotechnics that’s gripping to watch.
It’s good that it scales back to focus on finding its voice.
Let There Be Carnage’s strongest assets are our villains: Kasady, Carnage, and Shriek (Naomie Harris). They are antagonists with style and showmanship, something lacking in many of Marvel’s movies, reveling in the disaster they leave in their wake. As Kasady, Harrelson channels his Natural Born Killers character, Mickey Knox, fighting against the abusive systems of his past. When he’s reunited with someone who’s just as smart, brutal, and remorseless as he is and their chemistry takes hold, it’s actually hard not to root for them to burn everything to the ground. You can tell that they’re having fun pushing the PG-13 rating with the bodies they lay waste to. I mean, in the middle of admiring their havoc, I wrote in my notes, “They’re freaky. I love them!” It’s a shame that we don’t get more of Harris in Let There Be Carnage, not only for her magnetic performance, but also to get any context for her powers and much of her backstory. However, given what we know about symbiotes, this dynamic presents their relationship with a troubling caveat, emphasizing a star-crossed romance between the two.
Even still, the main relationship that’s tested through this rampage of mayhem is between Eddie and Venom. While Let There Be Carnage has fun implying a romance between the two, their relationship is still more like a beleaguered pet owner and untrained puppy, with exasperation painted on Hardy’s face. Now that neither have to worry about a whole alien race trying to take over the planet, Venom can act more like the impulsive goofball that he really is, which is the opposite of Eddie’s own urges.
Like many ill-fated relationships, Eddie and Venom have a lot of communication issues, which is what gets them into this mess with Carnage. Compared to how quickly Kasady and Carnage teamed up, it seems like Eddie and Venom will never see eye to eye (*Venom voice* since he will always be the bigger person). While they both eventually realize that they need each other and compromise to stop a bad guy, neither really learns what makes the other important – not truly. But they’re building a symbiotic relationship meant to be sustainable, so we’re rooting for those two crazy kids to make it work!
All that said, while Let There be Carnage has a structurally sound plot meant to redirect the franchise, it’s still one that’s playing catch-up to where superhero movies are now in 2021. It plays it pretty safe, and doesn't take the kind of exciting swings that thrilling contemporaries like The Suicide Squad or Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have. It’s the conventionally perfect length for a film, clocking in a little over 90 minutes while it slavishly follows the typical hero’s journey. And that’s fine! This story started off too big and too complicated in the first movie, so it’s good that it scales back to focus on finding its voice.
There is no arguing that this movie doesn’t have stellar villains who followed through on their threats of bringing utter chaos and carnage to those who have wronged them. With its otherwise safe decisions, it was reassuring to see the ending and post-credits scene lay out a new direction for the Venom series, and it’s exciting to think about what happens to our duo next.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage finally pairs Venom and Eddie with a worthy villain in a story that embraces its weirder side. Andy Serkis directs a fun and action-packed sequel that highlights Venom as his own character and features Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris as breakout villains with excellent chemistry. Taking itself less seriously and having more fun, its relatively short runtime is packed densely with plenty of action, character development, and campy humor. At the same time, it’s a love story about relationships evolving and learning to grow and trust each other. Venom as a series is working through its growing pains, but it looks like it’s uphill from here.