Venom: Let There Be Carnage [2021]

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Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams & Naomie Harris
Directed by: Andy Serkis

Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Release Date: October 2021
Running Time: 97 mins

Synopsis: Eddie Brock is still struggling to co-exist with the shape-shifting extra-terrestrial Venom. When deranged serial killer Cletus Kasady also becomes host to an alien symbiote, Brock and Venom must put aside their differences to stop his reign of terror.

Bucking the trend of extended run-times seen in recent comic book movies, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a succinct and streamlined affair, cutting away the excess to deliver a fast-paced 97-minute symbiote-filled romp. As expected from the title, the story is heavily influenced by the first-ever Carnage story-arc, with elements of Maximum Carnage and the Venom: Lethal Protector miniseries included. As a result of the film’s brevity, the plot is rather uncomplicated and revolves around Eddie and Venom learning to live with each other so they can reunite and defeat Carnage. By doubling down on the ‘odd couple’ bromance between Eddie and his parasitic partner seen in the first film, director Andy Serkis makes it the focus of this sequel, almost to the point of side-lining Carnage as a credible threat.

Woody Harrelson is an inspired casting choice as crazed serial killer Cletus Kasady, and this sequel wisely trims down the outlandish haircut that was glimpsed at in Venom’s post-credits scene. Harrelson has an intensity to his eyes that helps convey the barely-restrained insanity bubbling beneath the surface of the incarcerated Kasady, although it is difficult to believe that he and Naomie Harris’ Shriek were childhood lovers given the noticeable age gap between the two actors. Whilst the comic book counterpart of Cletus Kasady has an abusive romantic relationship with Shriek, it is played more earnestly in this incarnation with most of Kasady’s motivations stemming from a reunion with his lost love. Once the pair are reunited, their relationship is reminiscent of another of Harrelson’s films, Natural Born Killers, with the Carnage symbiote positioned as a jealous third wheel.

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Tom Hardy continues to portray Eddie Brock as a disaster of a human being, which is a refreshing alternative to most superheroes. This, along with his awkward interactions with his ex-girlfriend and her current fiancée Dan, are the most inventive elements of the film and I enjoyed the scenes that developed the bizarre love triangle (or perhaps love square) between Eddie, Anne, Venom and Dan. Michelle Williams gets a lot more to do in this film beyond being the object of Eddie’s affections, and I enjoyed the fact that we don’t see Eddie reunite with Anne, or that Dan isn’t written off as the typical jerk boyfriend. It’s really enjoyable to see this typical rom-com storyline enhanced with the addition of possessive killer aliens. Even, Carnage has to deal with the romantic intentions of his host – although his approach is more deadly than Venom’s.

The fight scenes are more stimulating than in the first film, although it still amounts to a symbiote vs. symbiote CGI scrap-fest. Carnage is only really distinguished from Riot (the antagonist from Venom) through his blood-red colouring and his jagged blades. However, I do hope that the eventual third film doesn’t continue to use symbiotes as the main villains for Venom to battle with. There is a tease that Stephen Graham’s Patrick Mulligan has inherited some sort of symbiotic powers at the end of this film, and given that his comic book counterpart becomes Toxin, the son of Carnage and grand-son of Venom, it seems to indicate yet another clash of symbiotes in the future. Personally, I’m hoping that the third instalment of Venom either brings Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man into the mix as there have been hints that this film takes place in his universe, or some non-symbiote threat is introduced (perhaps Vermin or Morbius?)

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In the comics, Carnage is an extremely dark and nihilistic psychopath with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and while Venom: Let There Be Carnage flirts with the idea that he is a deadly unpredictable serial killer, it also waters him down considerably to maintain its PG-13 rating. When compared to the villains from the Marvel Netflix shows, such as Jessica Jones’ Killgrave or Daredevil’s Kingpin and Bullseye, he lacks any real presence or menace. Harrelson does a good job at channelling Hannibal Lecter during the incarceration scenes, but he lacks the same chaotic evil qualities that Carnage embodies. His only reason for wanting Eddie dead is because he subverted his plans to send a message via the press to Shriek. His whole schtick is this socially awkward serial killer, as opposed to a true agent of chaos who wants to make the world bleed red. However, it would have been difficult to maintain such a dark and grim tone against the more clownish comedy of Venom and Eddie sharing an apartment with some chickens.

An improvement on the original film, Venom: Let There Be Carnage still struggles to achieve the right tone, veering from dark grittiness to slapstick comedy between scenes. At times it feels like it is channelling the likes of The Crow and Spawn, but then switches out to The Mask or Turner and Hooch. Introducing a watered-down version of Carnage makes sense for this particular incarnation of Venom, but I would love to have seen a grittier take on the characters that was more akin to the serial killer / detective genre. Maybe something like Zodiac with Eddie Brock trying to help solve the killings alongside Venom?

Venom: Let There Be Carnage builds upon what was popular in the first film and delivers more of the same, but still fails to create any memorable set-pieces. As much as I enjoy Tom Hardy’s domestic take on Eddie & Venom, it just doesn’t amount to anything iconic and leaves the whole franchise feeling a bit mediocre and flat. Hopefully, a third film will give Venom a foe worth fighting and a storyline that actually engages audiences.

Score – ★★★ ½

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Amazon UK, as well as available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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