Venom: Let There Be Carnage Review

Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Still sharing his body with intergalactic symbiote Venom, journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is reeling from his break-up with Anne (Michelle Williams). But that’s the least of his worries when serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) bonds with chaotic symbiote Carnage, and sets out to free his super-powered ex Frances (Naomie Harris) from confinement.

by Ben Travis |
Updated on
Release Date:

15 Oct 2021

Original Title:

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

There’s no getting around it: for all its vast flaws, Venom was a massive hit. Despite it being a Spider-Man spin-off with no actual Spider-Man — one which neutered its edgy, horror-inflected, fan-favourite comic-book character in a visually murky PG-13 origin story — audiences turned up in their droves to watch Tom Hardy play Eddie Brock and his alien symbiote alter-ego. Amid the drudgery came moments of amusing, head-scratching weirdness (Hardy jumping into a lobster tank at a restaurant!), and while Let There Be Carnage is more confident in exploring those out-there qualities (the surprising prominence of a pair of chickens named Sonny and Cher!), this sequel is still a dispiritingly weak outing for one of Marvel’s cultiest characters.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

From the first film, it was clear that Tom Hardy has a genuine affinity for both Brock and Venom (whom he also voices in booming, gravelly tones) — a sort of sad-bro Jekyll and his lunk-headed, brain-munching Hyde. Here he’s credited as co-writer alongside Kelly Marcel, and while the looser, more consistent portrayal of the dual role this time around feels driven by Hardy’s personal passion, their goofy banter remains a curious take on the character that slathers the concept’s ’90s gnarliness with cheese.

That PG-13 rating is perhaps the biggest flaw here, leaving Serkis hamstrung. There’s precious little carnage to be had.

There’s a kernel of a good idea here — that Let There Be Carnage is a kind of double break-up movie, as Brock wrestles with his split from Michelle Williams’ Anne (still grossly underused) while also doubting his relationship with Venom. (Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Scenes From A Symbiote Marriage’, anyone?) But while a Venom-Brock romcom sounds fun, the reality is a tonal mishmash of unfunny gags — Venom’s voice-over trash-talk is woefully lame, a watered-down stream of Deadpool-ish, audience-winking irreverence that plays like a symbiotic director’s commentary you can’t turn off — layered on a poorly plotted story with action sequences that don’t hold up to the myriad other comic-book movies out there.

It’s especially disappointing given the talent involved this time out. Ruben Fleischer is out as director, replaced by the great Andy Serkis — but any hopes that the performance-capture genius, behind richly drawn CG creations like Gollum and Planet Of The Apes’ Caesar, might be able to conjure some clarity among the quick-cutting chaos of the dimly lit action sequences are soon dashed. The splodgy-symbiote effects are a marginal improvement over the previous film, but it’s impossible not to ponder what Serkis could have created with a bigger budget and bolder rating.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Once again, that PG-13 rating (an extraordinarily mild 15 here in the UK) is perhaps the biggest flaw here, leaving Serkis hamstrung with a titular promise that simply cannot be delivered upon — there’s precious little carnage to be had. Woody Harrelson’s incoming villain, serial killer Cletus Kasady — mercifully shorn of the bizarre Mick Hucknall wig he donned in the last film’s cameo, now replaced by a creepy crew-cut — trades on Zodiac-coded creepiness but never feels threatening, and when his symbiote parasite (named ‘Carnage’ for no discernible reason) takes over, any trademark head-chomping is left to the imagination. Even an implied poultry massacre takes place off-screen.

Throughout, there are brief glimmers of a better film. In an early confrontation between Brock and Kasady — which the script bends over backwards to accommodate — the convicted murderer gestures to our uncomfortable fascination with true-crime (“People love serial killers!”); there’s a striking animated sequence depicting the horrors of Kasady’s past; Peggy Lu’s scene-stealing shopkeeper Mrs Chen shows how fun Venom’s body-swapping conceit could be. But it’s frequently frustrating, too — the mega-talented Naomie Harris picks up the squandered-talent baton from Riz Ahmed as Kasady’s equally evil lover Frances; the very nature of Carnage is ill-defined; Williams’ Anne largely spends the final act gagged and bound in a box.

Against the mildest of expectations, Venom: Let There Be Carnage doesn’t exactly under-deliver — and fans of the first film won’t grumble. But if this is the bar for cinematic comic-book carnage, it’s low. A literal world away from the consistent quality of Marvel Studios fare, pray that Venom never latches onto the MCU proper.

There’s a little bit more polish this time, but for all the talented people involved, Let There Be Carnage still has the whiff of a turd in the wind. 
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