Synopsis: Eddie Brock tries to reignite his career in journalism by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes the host of the alien symbiote spawn of Venom, named Carnage.
Stars: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, Reid Scott, Peggy Lu
Director: Andy Serkis
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: If you’ve been a long-time reader (thank you!) you know that I like to include a small plot synopsis in The Facts section of my review to get some of the nitty gritty details out of the way. I hate just spending ¾ of the review rehashing the story and, to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, I give it a good scrub first to make sure nothing major is given away. Usually, it’s easy to find a summary either through an official studio press release or some other internet source and often I must trim it way down. Only rarely do I run into problems like I did with Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Try as I might, there was only the briefest description of the sequel to the 2018 film out there, basically saying “This is a sequel where the main character comes back.” I scrolled through several pages looking, and this was even after the movie had screened for critics. There was no place that had a sliver of a plot description available.
This should give you some idea of the problems inherent in the follow-up film to the surprisingly divisive original which found star Tom Hardy having quite the identity crisis as an investigative reporter infected with an alien from another planet. Hardy’s performance was the true revelation of Venom, softening an actor known for punishing roles into a more malleable bit of clay. Thankfully, that sense of fun carries over into this sequel (Hardy is credited as a producer and creating the story, along with Cruella screenwriter Kelly Marcel) but not a lot of it makes much sense, eventually turning into a mishmash of goopy special effects and hammy performances from actors unsuccessfully trying supervillainy on for size.
With his career as a hard-news journalist dwindling, Eddie Brock (Hardy, This Means War) is called to death row by special request of convicted killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me). The police hope Kasady is ready to reveal the location of his victims, but Kasady just plans to toy with the media again, hoping a coded message finds its way to his girlfriend Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris, Skyfall) who has been locked away in a sound-proof chamber in the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane. Brock has Venom on his side, though, and he spots clues in Kasady’s cell which leads Brock to break the story wide open and solve the remainder of his crimes, allowing the state to proceed with executing the serial murderer. Before they can lethally inject him though, Kasady manages to become infected with his own symbiote after biting Brock in an altercation. As Kasady becomes Carnage, he quickly frees himself and Barris to begin a murderous rampage through the city and it’s up to Brock and Venom, two sides of the same coin locked in an ever-present battle of the wills, to stop them.
Taking over from previous director Ruben Fleischer, Andy Serkis (Breathe) knows a thing or two about actors conveying a performance through a computer-generated creation so it’s no surprise that the scenes where Brock is fully Venom (and even when the two are simply talking back and forth) land with a greater ease here. It’s not just a stronger familiarity with the character, there’s a different understanding Hardy seems to have with his relationship with Venom and while the theories of bromance or even real romance are endless, the two are absolutely the yin to each other’s yang. Harrelson doesn’t succeed as well but, then again, he doesn’t quite feel like he’s as committed to anything in the movie as much as Hardy is.
At 90 minutes, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is 22 minutes shorter than the original and the last fifteen minutes are chock full of action excitement, the kind you buy your popcorn for and get excited to witness. The rest of the time leading up to that is sort of bewildering and I’m halfway convinced the film lost a huge chunk in the editing process to keep things moving along. Why else would there be such little character development for the Barrison character apart from her having a profound scream? Harris wouldn’t bounce from being Oscar nominated to a Bond movie to this secondary, cut-rate character. No, something was definitely omitted, and her role suffered because of that. Audiences suffer too because Serkis is so concerned about getting to the action that anything that isn’t nailed down gets completely missed.
I also would be willing to put money down that we hit the accelerator to get to Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) that much faster. As it is, Williams fans might be nervously tapping their foot around the 40-minute mark when the previous leading lady hadn’t shown up yet. Even then, one wonders if she’s there for good or just fulfilling her sequel requirements. (Have no fear, she’s more than participatory later.) Aside from Williams absence at the front part of the movie, it’s hampered by some weird technical choices…like dubbing in Harrelson and Harris over the voices of younger actors playing them as teens. Are we supposed to think a 17-year sounds like 60-year-old Harrelson? Voices change over time…audiences will track who these characters are. It’s just another sign of lousy editing that this dubbing occurred. Someone along the way felt like the film moved too quickly to the adult actors and viewers wouldn’t get the connection and there was no footage that explained it well enough, so the older voices were used.
As sequels go, Venom: Let There Be Carnage will likely please the fans of the original that craved another round with the wise-cracking, gallows-humor of the titular alien and if you stay through the closing credits, you’ll see why Marvel Studios would want to keep this character going just a tad bit longer. I’m hoping if there is a third appearance by Hardy and company that it’s does the proverbial job of charming me because so far, it’s just passing muster when it should be slam dunking it. The star is invested…now get a booster shot and make the rest of the Venom world feel right.