‘Let There Be Carnage’ brings a light touch to a dark franchise
Proudly silly and almost charmingly trite, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a throwback to when comic book movies were unpretentious b-movie nonsense. Its predecessor, Venom, was a disturbingly successful WTF mix of witless snuff energy and looney-tunes slapstick. Course-correcting from that dark, bloated tailspin, this new sequel brightens the mood with unexpected levity, tight pacing, and a firmer moral compass—easier done when the conflicted hero is up against a clinically insane mass murderer.
VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Andy Serkis
Written by: Tom Hardy, Kelly Marcel
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson
Running time: 97 mins
“I’m a real boy and you’re just an amoeba,” snorts Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) to his tar-colored alien symbiote Venom (Tom Hardy’s voice, but deeper and haughty), sprouting from his back like a fungal disease. Both are misfit roommates, sharing the same body and apartment—not an easy proposition when Venom’s preferred dining habit is biting off human heads. Eddie’s house rule, posted on a pizza box: No Eating People. So the weirdly compliant Venom dutifully subsides on chickens and chocolate, since both apparently have the chemical stimulant phenethylamine necessary for symbiotes to survive. Although I think it has more to do with getting Venom to say: “I cannot live on chicken and chocolate alone!” Also for the sight gag of candy wrappers everywhere, plus Brock and Venom owning two pet chickens named Sonny and Cher.
Brock is a faded-star San Francisco investigative reporter who gets a chance at a comeback when psychotic San Quentin inmate Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) offers to tell his life story. Kasady speaks cryptically, Brock seems completely uninterested. Great reporting, dude. Venom is annoyed, too, so he uses his preternatural observation abilities and razor-sharp memory to decipher Kasady’s wall etchings and find dozens of his dead victims. Venom revives Brock’s career, Brock feeds him chocolate and chickens. They need each other!
Kasady gets the death sentence due to Brock’s work, so he requests one last testy meeting with the reporter and chomps on his finger during a tussle. That taste of blood also includes a bit of alien symbiote, naturally, so Kasady gets infected. During lethal injection, Kasady’s body rejects the poison and spasmodically transforms into a Venom progeny that calls itself Carnage. Ergo Kasady’s new catchphrase: “Let there be Carnage!”
Famously bald Harrelson sports a bad chestnut-colored toupee that he trades in for a close-cropped crimson ’do. And adding to the Natural Born Killers vibe of it all, this supervillain Mickey finds his mutant Mallory in the form of mental-ward mutant Frances Barrison, aka Shriek (Naomie Harris). She’s in a soundproof room due to her lethal ability to—you guessed it—shriek. Kasady breaks out Barrison, and the two cause mayhem in a ’66 Mustang convertible while planning their nuptials.
Adding insult to evil-symbiote-inflicted injury, Brock and Venom drive each other so crazy that they break up. “I am out of the Eddie closet!” Venom cries, then goes to an underground rave and wears glowstick necklaces. It’s Halloween, suddenly, so everyone is complimenting his rad-creepy-burly appearance even as he hops from one ill-fitting host to the next. But both Brock and Venom feel oddly out of sorts without the other. Because they’re in a symbiotic relationship!
Perversely, it falls to Brock’s put-upon ex-fiancée Anne Weyring (Michelle Williams, amazingly back for more) to patch up the stubborn duo’s friendship quickly enough stop Carnage and Shriek. Venom has a name for their newfound vigilante identity: “The Lethal Protector.” It’s stupid, and he can’t stop saying it, which is hilarious. Anyway, cue showdown during a Carnage-and-Shriek wedding ceremony at a church conveniently scaffolded for maximum tactical offensives. Best pre-kill catchphrase: “Fuck this guy!”
Hardy is credited as co-producer and co-writer on this installment of this outré Marvel franchise, and this time the director is mo-cap pioneer Andy Serkis—more famously an actor renowned for adding sympathy to dark creatures in The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes. Maybe their input helped pivot the material away from bilious destruction and more towards bromance territory. It’s ultimately a movie about neediness, which gives just the slightest amount of weight to all the toothy extraterrestrial bombast.