REVIEW: Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock in VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE — PHOTO: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Directed by Andy Serkis — Screenplay by Kelly Marcel — Story by Kelly Marcel and Tom Hardy.

I thought Ruben Fleischer’s Venom (2018) was pretty bad. As a film, it felt like a product of a different time, it felt outdated, it was surprisingly dull, and all it had going for it was a go-for-broke Tom Hardy performance. To me, it felt like he was in a different film than the rest of the cast. It has become a film that I remember primarily for one absolutely hilarious scene, but it’s also a film that I don’t feel like rewatching. It should come as no surprise to you then that I didn’t feel like rushing out to theaters to see its sequel. In fact, because of the similar critical reception, I’ve never really felt the urge to watch it. That is, until today when I finally ripped off that symbiotic band-aid. Turns out it was almost exactly what I expected it to be. That’s not a good thing, but it’s also not the end of the world. I don’t think it’s good, but it is better than I expected it to be.

Following a flashback to the 1990s (that is intended to lay the groundwork for the motivation of the film’s villain, but which features really unconvincing ADR somewhat awkwardly matched to young actors portraying Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris’ characters), Andy Serkis’ Venom: Let There Be Carnage picks up right where Ruben Fleischer’s film left off. Eddie Brock (played by Tom Hardy), the journalist host of the titular alien known as ‘Venom,’ is set to meet convicted serial killer Cletus Kassady (played by Woody Harrelson, sporting a terrible red wig), who refuses to speak to anyone other than our protagonist. During one of their meetings, Kassady bites Brock’s hand, and thus the deranged serial killer ingests not only some of Eddie’s blood but also a teeny-tiny portion of the Venom symbiote. The symbiote releases new powers within the red-headed killer, who now wishes to break free from prison and reunite with his equally unstable and super-powered ex-girlfriend (played by Naomie Harris).

Let’s start with the positives because there are a few. First, I love that this is a 90-ish-minute superhero film. The film doesn’t outstay its welcome, even though I do question if it needed to exist in the first place after the messy and stale first film. Secondly, I think Tom Hardy is still so much fun to watch in this role, and, most excitingly, it feels like the comedic beats are completely intentional this time around. It isn’t just Hardy that is going for comedy. Rather, everyone is on the same page (from the editing to some of the campy scenes and lines), as is also evident from the absolutely ridiculous plot development where the symbiotic relationship between Brock and Venom becomes this confused romantic comedy. Finally, although this absolutely should’ve been targeting a violent R-rating due to the grisly nature of its villain, I think it was a really smart idea to have his comic book origin be explained through these extended cartoon drawings. It is an interesting way to get around the character’s origin.

One problem with this film was also a pretty big problem for the first film, to me. The thing is that the tone doesn’t quite match the type of characters that they’re trying to build the film around. Carnage and Venom were two of my favorite Spider-Man antagonists growing up, so while young me would’ve been so excited about this movie’s existence, I think the film wastes the on-screen potential of Carnage. While I actually do think this film overcomes my frustrations with the tonal fit because the entire film commits to the comedic, somewhat campy tone, I think the film completely fumbles the Bonnie and Clyde-like antagonists. The third act is a complete mess with exhausting and unexciting CGI action nonsense, the film rushes past character-building, and nothing about Cletus Kassady’s wish to speak to Eddie Brock in the first place makes sense. The film doesn’t really explain why Carnage would be a tough foe for Venom, and the aforementioned antagonist duo of Harrelson and Harris’ characters are paper thin and don’t really share chemistry. Perhaps most frustrating of all is that Carnage is the type of character whose film should be uniquely violent and deranged, but this film feels comedic, generic, and held back.

Is Andy Serkis’ Venom: Let There Be Carnage an improvement on the first film or not? On the one hand, I don’t think the sequel is completely successful, as its third act kind of loses itself, and no moment in the film reaches the comedic high point that Ruben Fleischer’s film got to when Tom Hardy found himself sitting in a lobster tank. On the other hand, I think everyone is on the same page tonally in the sequel, it is genuinely funny at times (in a The Mask sort of way) and I think Carnage is a much better antagonist for Venom, even though Carnage feels somewhat wasted. Down the line, I’m sure we’ll get a third Hardy-led Venom film. Let’s hope it’s much better than these two have been. But I will admit that this sequel is a slight improvement.

5.9 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.