CAST: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson, Peggy Lu, Sean Delaney, Larry Olubamiwo
RUNNING TIME: 97 mins
BASICALLY…: Eddie Brock (Hardy) and the symbiote Venom face off against serial killer Cletus Kasady (Harrelson) and the deadlier symbiote Carnage…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Of the many, many superhero movie franchises out there, perhaps one of the most indefinable is the Venom saga. Both films thus far, including this latest entry subtitled Let There Be Carnage, are by all accounts pretty messy, an unholy result of creative talents clogging heads with studio executives, but at the same time you can’t exactly call them boring either. They are bizarre in how all over the place their tones, pacing, editing and performances are, and yet there is an oddly quirky personality to them, almost as though the movies themselves are fully aware of how stupid and nonsensical they are.
It’s certainly a path that’s worked for them so far, since both have done pretty well at the box office despite middling reviews from critics (this one in particular has performed strong, grossing $90 million in its opening weekend in the States which is not only one of the best openers during the pandemic, but is also $10 million more than what its predecessor opened with in much more normal times), and both have developed a loyal enough audience who can appreciate the films for either their bonkers nature or their unintentional hilarity in some of their lesser moments. However, it needs to be acknowledged that both are still pretty dumb movies, with Venom: Let There Be Carnage especially feeling like the kind of stupid blockbuster that, regardless of being self-aware or not, can be pretty hard to handle at times.
The movie wastes no time in setting up its main antagonist, serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) who is facing the death penalty for his numerous crimes, and who insists on talking only to reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) with regards to the bodies he’s kept hidden from the authorities all these years. Brock, of course, is still dealing with being the host of alien symbiote Venom, who is becoming more and more restless under Brock’s insistence that they not kill and eat every human they come across, and whose frustration leads to Kasady biting a sample of the infectious symbiote from Brock, which in turn transforms Kasady into an even deadlier monster known as Carnage. As Kasady/Carnage break out of prison and form a plan with Kasady’s incarcerated lover Shriek (Naomie Harris), it is up to Brock and Venom to sort out their differences and team up to stop them from destroying everything in their path.
Almost right away, you can tell that this was a movie that feels awkwardly rushed, plunging straight into certain dynamics and plot build-ups without so much as a re-introduction; it feels like there is a whole first act of this movie missing, which may be the case since this has been edited down to a rather short 90-minute runtime, presumably under the orders of Sony executives. It’s far from the only example of choppy editing, because from beginning to end Venom: Let There Be Carnage seems wildly unfocused, flummoxing from scene to scene with hardly any smoothness or even a sense of direction, which is odd seeing how this film is directed by Andy Serkis who, given his past directorial credits, seems to at least know a thing or two about moving gracefully from one scene to the next without it seeming like a nightmare to watch. The editing can get so chaotic and fast-paced that sometimes you tend to struggle to even keep up with what’s happening; one minute, Woody Harrelson is cackling maniacally and throwing trucks off of bridges with his newfound symbiote powers, and the next Venom is in a nightclub wearing glowstick necklaces and giving a speech wherein he performs a mic drop. It’s weird to watch, and made even more so by how untidy the editing makes it out to be.
It even intrudes on things about this movie which, honestly, aren’t that bad, and could have worked in a much tighter and more focused movie. Woody Harrelson is having the time of his life as the main villain, with a sub-plot involving Naomie Harris’ Shriek character that almost makes it feel like a Natural Born Killers in one of the Marvel universes, but a lot of it is unfortunately reduced to trimmed-down action sequences where you can’t always tell what is going on, making you yearn for an extended cut where (hopefully) more of these intriguing scenes have been added. Meanwhile, Tom Hardy continues to deliver a wildly goofy lead turn where, again, you can tell he is very into this material and giving his all into the physicality of his performance, and both his Eddie Brock and Venom have some fun banter which is like a squabbling couple you’d find in a sitcom or buddy comedy. However, the movie doesn’t lend enough focus on even this as it constantly flip-flops from one thing to the next, to a point where you even forget that Venom is actually a character in this movie. Other actors like Michelle Williams ultimately serve very little purpose in the movie other than to just be there for the main character to save during the climax, and again you have to wonder if the majority of their scenes also ended up on the cutting room floor. As for the violence, it is disappointingly neutered in the same way that the first one was, with a lot of the grisly deaths occurring off-camera while always remaining oddly bloodless, which for a 15-certificate movie (PG-13 in the States) leaves way too much to the imagination.
The best scene in the movie is, funnily enough, the one that takes place during the mid-credits. It sets up something pretty important down the line for Venom going forward, and is something that people have wanted to see ever since they first announced a Venom movie was going to be made (and certainly got nearly everyone in the audience very excited upon seeing it). Not only that, but it actually has a pace, tone and focus that the rest of the film had been sorely lacking, so to see that technically happen after the movie is over makes it a little more frustrating that we were denied an entire movie like this. Instead, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a messy, silly and sometimes incomprehensible sequel that even a somewhat self-aware attitude can’t stop from being an entirely different kind of carnage.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a messy superhero sequel where even its most interesting elements fall victim to ill-conceived pacing and unfocused editing, which can make it difficult to watch despite some of the more (possibly unintentionally) entertaining qualities to be found.