It wasn’t much of a surprise to see 2018’s “Venom” rake in over $850 million at the box office. The carnivorous amorphous antihero has been a popular Marvel character since his proper inception into the comic book world back in 1988. And while not considered a part of the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe, Venom’s connections to Marvel (and more specifically Spider-Man) certainly didn’t hurt the movie’s chances of success.
Equally to no one’s surprise was the inevitability of a sequel. In today’s Hollywood you don’t make $850 million against a $100 million budget and not have a sequel, especially in the superhero genre. So after a one-year delay thanks to COVID-19, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is finally here.
“Venom” was an entertaining but flawed movie that stayed afloat in large part thanks to its star Tom Hardy. The shaky origin story, the dull villain, the hit-or-miss digital effects all contributed to the movie’s issues. But Hardy made for a solid Eddie Brock, an independent investigative reporter who finds himself the host of a super-powered alien symbiote. Hardy did a good job melding terror with humor and he clearly has a deep affection for the character.
While the first movie didn’t exactly leave me hungry for a sequel, my appetite changed dramatically thanks to one single word – Carnage. As many comic fans know, the Carnage symbiote is a terrifying villain especially when attached to the sociopathic sadist Cletus Kasady, a serial killer with tendencies towards extreme violence. Bringing Carnage to the big screen is an idea ripe with potential. The question became, would Sony and director Andy Serkis give Carnage the dark and savage treatment the character deserves or would they mimic the MCU blueprint and give us something too lighthearted for such a gruesome villain? All the pieces are there for something memorable, but would the absolute need for a hit movie leave us with a more conventional superhero flick?
Well, it has been several hours since I watched the film, and I’m still not sure how to define what I saw. I don’t think I can put it any more succinctly than this – “Venom 2” is a disappointing mess. It doesn’t do enough to feel fresh, and it skips past too much to be called formulaic. It ends up being this surprisingly bland and shockingly shallow exercise that never seems sure of its story or of how to tell it.
You have to feel for Tom Hardy. Once again he gives 110% and he is easily among the best things about the movie. Unfortunately he’s hitched to a truly bad script (penned by returning screenwriter Kelly Marcel) that plays like a barebones outline for a story that never had the details filled in. It’s astonishing how little it does with its characters and how many questions go unanswered in the paper-thin plotting.
Storywise, Hardy’s Eddie lands an exclusive interview with imprisoned serial killer Cletus Kasady (played by a satisfyingly deranged Woody Harrelson). Eddie needs the scoop to jumpstart his lagging career. A local police detective (Stephen Graham) wants Eddie to use his meetings with Kasady to discover where the killer hid the bodies of his completely nameless victims. Why Kasady wanted the interview is still a mystery to me (there is one weird line at the end that might explain it but who knows).
In an early scene, Eddie and Venom discover the location of the bodies (in the most absurd way imaginable) which upsets Kasady. During their last interview Cletus bites Eddie’s hand, contracting (is that how it works) the alien symbiote. Soon after he morphs into the feral and vicious Carnage. From there Kasady/Carnage breaks out of San Quintin and goes looking for his mutant-powered old flame Shriek (Naomi Harris) so the two can get married in a creepy old cathedral. Seriously. That’s the gist of Carnage’s story.
Ok, so maybe there’s a little more to it. The prison break is easily the film’s best scene with Carnage unleashing a barrage of eye-popping PG-13 violence. There’s also a pretty good action scene at an abandoned orphanage and (of course) there’s the final showdown at the cathedral which the movie rushes towards at a breakneck pace. It too looks really good in spots, but there are parts of the battle that Serkis cuts to pieces and (once again) he’s clearly handcuffed by the rating. And that’s really it for Carnage’s angle. No wrecking havoc across the city. No terrorizing the citizens. Just a psychopath with an alien parasite wanting to marry his girl. I admit, I was hoping for more.
So if the movie isn’t spending its time building its villain and unleashing him as a real threat, what is it doing with its time? Well, a lot it is spent on the Odd Couple relationship between Eddie and Venom. The pair’s banter is lightly amusing at first but grows exhausting over time. So much so that I was happy when the two actually separated following a particularly numbing spat. Unfortunately that sets up a mind-boggling nightclub scene that defies everything both movies have told us about Venom. It’s weird, out of tune, and an instance of silliness not only clashing with the film’s darker elements but undermining them as well. It’s one of several miscalculations where the movie’s desire to be funny comes at the wrong time or is presented the wrong way.
I could go on, but the more I think about what this movie could have been the more frustrated I get. Hardy makes it watchable with an all-out effort; doing what he can with what he’s given. The rest of the cast has a harder time. Harrelson gets a meaty character but no meaty material. Meanwhile Michelle Williams is wasted and seems understandably bored out of her mind.
Some may be able to coast through the 93 minutes ignoring the movie’s glaring flaws. I wish I could. Instead I kept seeing glimpses of the movie I wish this had been. Admittedly, the CGI Carnage looks amazing and the anticipated bursts of violence upped my heart rate a bit. Just not enough for me to get onboard with this head-scratching misfire. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is out today in theaters.