Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
Even with the Walt Disney company completely dominating cinema with its Marvel films, plenty of other studios dig into their superhero properties hoping to achieve the same success. Disney has managed to buy back most of the wayward Marvel franchises, yet Sony Pictures continues to cling to the Spider-Man intellectual property. The iconic Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy aside, Sony hasn’t had a firm grasp on what their cinematic universe plans are, as they essentially just throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. The most surprising of which was Venom (2018), a critically panned film which still managed an $800 million haul at the worldwide box office. With that kind of success a sequel was inevitable, which of course brings us to Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021).
Following the events of the first film, disgraced reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is still bonded with the alien symbiote, Venom. The pair are trying their best to live together harmoniously, as Venom wants nothing more than to feed on all the ‘bad guys’ he can find, while Eddie is unwilling to kill anyone. Meanwhile, infamous serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) is scheduled for execution and has requested that Eddie write a story about him, which he intends to use as a means of communicating with his equally psychotic girlfriend, Shriek (Naomi Harris). Following an altercation with Eddie, Kasady is accidentally bonded with a piece of the alien symbiote, transforming him into the villainous Carnage.
It must be said right off the bat that Venom: Let There Be Carnage has the difficult job of being a sequel to a thoroughly bizarre film. The original Venom’s story and structure doesn’t stray from any genre tropes, but the direction, editing, script and performances failed to coalesce, resulting in a nonsensical and cringeworthy experience. Strangely, Venom’s messiness seemed to connect with audiences, as most just took the film as a goofy comedy (despite it clearly not intending to be). This time around, Sony Pictures is committed to replicating that unintended tone, as it unapologetically leans into the absurdity. Director Andy Serkis doesn’t ask the viewer to take Venom: Let There Be Carnage seriously, which makes for a more enjoyable ride even while retaining the original film’s many narrative shortcomings.
Despite the free-wheeling, cartoony tone, it’s important to note that Venom: Let There Be Carnage‘s plotting is littered with endless holes and lapses in logic. While none of this takes away from the enjoyment, it ends up putting the viewer in a position where they are laughing at the film rather than with it.To be fair, that line is very thin and probably contributed to the original film’s success in the first place. The reason this is a problem is because pivotal character moments and story threads rely on plot elements that aren’t explained, resulting in a feeling that things are happening for no reason. You need to leave logic at the door if you’re going to enjoy this insanity.
Happily, Serkis keeps the film at a brisk 90 minutes, meaning you don’t need to endure it for too long. This is a genuinely good thing, as there’s not a single ounce of fat on it. Within the first 10 minutes, we are acclimatised to Venom’s world, introduced to the principle players and adequately grasp what the character arcs are. In a weird way, this is no-nonsense, to the point filmmaking, which should be praised. However, the quick pace does take away the film’s personality, given there’s not enough time to develop its unique points. The original film was a mess, but its final moments promised greater things in the sequel. Sadly, Venom: Let There Be Carnage fails to deliver what the original promised, instead just (once again) laying the groundwork for another sequel to do it.
As far as the action sequences are concerned, Venom: Let There Be Carnage does what it can within it’s (relatively) family friendly constraints. You probably wouldn’t want to show it to little children, but the film’s violence has definitely been sanded down to make room for younger audiences. The content is definitely calling for a higher age restriction, as the action sequences are filled with what appears to be many (incredibly gruesome) murders. This puts the film in a weird place, as it doesn’t feel like it’s suitable for the age range it’s intended for, nor will it fully satisfy age appropriate fans. Regardless, the action sequences are still relatively well staged and definitely live up to the “carnage” promised in the title.
Conversely, Carnage himself (as played by Woody Harrelson) leaves something to be desired. To be clear, Harrelson is a consistently fantastic performer and commits to the role, but the characterisation of Cletus Kasady and Carnage is non-existent. Unless he’s onscreen, you kind of forget he’s supposed to be a terrifying presence because you’re never adequately afraid of him. It’s certainly not for lack of trying, as there’s extensive (and creative) exposition explaining his tragic backstory. Even with that effort, we never get a sense of what makes him tick, thus forcing Harrelson to dig into his eccentricities from Natural Born Killers (1994) to give Kasady personality. Thankfully, Tom Hardy picks up the slack with his hilarious depiction of Eddie Brock and Venom as quarrelling lovers.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is just as messy, confused and idiotic as its predecessor, only this time it feels vaguely intentional. That being said, just because the film is going for absurdity, doesn’t necessarily mean it automatically succeeds on its own merits. It’s still a thoroughly entertaining cinema experience, but that entertainment value comes more from a place of bewilderment as opposed to genuine cinematic satisfaction.
Best way to watch it: While blind drunk.