Director: Andy Serkis Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, Reid Scott Running Time: 97 minutes
The experience of watching the original Venom was an exercise in realising that its chaotic energy, slapdash editing, nonsensical plot and over the top (of the lobster tank) performance by Tom Hardy, all of the things that would in theory make it Not Good, in fact made the film a breath of fresh air. Venom, the Xtreme muscle-bound badass who kills and calls people turds in the wind while he does it, may be a relic of the 90s, but improbably his film and Hardy’s go-hard acting successfully revisited the factors that made that kind of character popular in the first place, and at a stage of superhero films where even the gun-wielding raccoons are looking mournfully into the middle distance and feeling the toll of being a Hero, it’s fun and freeing to watch a comic book character that’s pure Id unleashed. Let There Be Carnage embraces and expands on the previous film’s reception. A wild, weird ride, this sequel is nothing less than a full on, fully sincere coming-out party for the symbiote.
Let There Be Carnage picks up nebulously quickly after Venom‘s after-credits scene, where Cool Motorcycle Journalist Eddie Brock, now an unwilling Odd Couple partner with his brain-eating alien goo pal, visiting wildly wigged Woody Harrelson, serial killer Cletus Kasady, in prison. The exact timeline and current relationships between characters is a little hard to pin down at first, Hardy and director Andy Serkis’ muse not fettered by such inhibiting factors as ‘plotting’ and ‘coherence’. If that sounds like a dig, it’s honestly not in this context. Modern comic book movies are so firmly rooted to a similar structure and a safe framework of direction, whereas in this film the form follows function in a way that’s rare in blockbusters. It moves at a breakneck pace, its focus on its human characters and their motivations is hazy and fleeting, and Hardy has seemingly been given free reign to sit in a recording booth and record as many Venom voiceover asides as his heart desires. The movie feels informed by its main character, like there’s a symbiote loose in the film stock, let loose regardless of who will find it fun or who will find it alienating. And to be clear, this is Sony and this is Marvel, and this has been Reddit-focus-tested. The laissez-faire air isn’t a given and isn’t easy to accomplish, but comes through thanks to Hardy’s commitment and Serkis’ comfortably hands off approach.
Why is Cletus Kasady so interested in Eddie Brock? How does Venom, through contrived circumstances, ‘birth’ new, more brutal symbiote Carnage in Cletus? What exactly is going on in the secret sanitorium/government facility where Cletus’ lady love Francis Barrison is being kept? How does she have sonic-shrieking super powers? It’s not that Let There Be Carnage doesn’t want to answer these questions, it’s just not particularly concerned if it remembers to, or if its answers satisfy the audience. The attention is much more focused on the burgeoning love between Eddie and Venom. Really. The honeymoon period is over, Eddie is finding it harder to deal with Venom’s constant negative voice in his ear and Venom is finding it harder to deal with Eddie’s “no eating people” rule. Serkis not so subtly sneaks a romantic comedy into the superhero sequel, and it shouldn’t work. The calypso Joy Division cover shouldn’t work. Venom clubbing covered in glow sticks shouldn’t work. But oh how it all does.
Hardy’s Seymour Krelborn meets Charlie Kelly take on his character is relatively reigned in compared to the first film, making him more of a straight man, again relatively speaking, to his silly spooky voice Venom. They argue and go their separate ways, ultimately finding that they need each other and as stupid and slapdash as it all may seem, Let There Be Carnage ends up being more insightful, on a character level, than many of its modern counterparts.
As a character, in his fear of being “a loser”, his yearning for praise and constant questioning to Eddie about why they can’t just do whatever they want, whenever they want, all mean that Venom is much more emotionally open than your average superhero. He is honest about what he wants and culpable when he falls short. Honestly, a role model for us all. There is something undeniably enviable in the freedom of a monster, and in showing that, while also developing Venom’s desire to be a hero, the movie manages to have its brains and eat them too. When Venom makes an impromptu speech about accepting everyone, its worth ten Captain America pep talks. He doesn’t hide from his nature, he explores it, he’s direct but fluid. As a chaotic, clueless himbo monster, Let There Be Carnage repositions the 90s comic book antihero. No longer a grimdark brooding killer, it’s now about being less self-serious and corporately sanitised than his contemporaries.
Is it a perfect film? Far, far from it. And it can’t fully escape its IP masters. But it’s the perfect version of what it is trying to be. Woody is a natural born killer on a sugar rush. Michelle Williams remains utterly divorced from anything resembling her usual grounded, complex characters. But you know, divorced in a “4 tequilas deep on a post-court Ibiza trip” kind of way. Naomie Harris takes a non-character and spins it into Evil Azealia Banks gold. Venom, again, goes clubbing. Footloose and fancy free, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the Boy Meets Alien Snot rom-com you never knew you needed, a delightful romp that says “I love mess” and means it.(4 / 5)