Review of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”

In the gooey 1970 tragic romance “Love Story,” Ali MacGraw’s doomed Jenny Cavilleri tells her doe-eyed lover Oliver Berrett IV, played by Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Having been married 35 years, I can tell you this is a load of horse biscuits. Everyone, male, female and non-binary, act like selfish children on occasion. It is a basic instinct to act in one’s own self-interest. This thing my partner wants me to do seems boring or falls outside my comfort zone or will include others I’m not a big fan of, so I choose not to do it. It takes away from “me time.” I’d rather stay home and watch the sportsball, play a video game or treat myself like an amusement park. My partner really wants me to accompany them. I resist, make excuses or say I don’t want to. Feelings are hurt, relationship dynamics are thrown into disarray, and no one walks away happy. This is the time a well-placed “I’m sorry,” could go a long way to repair the damage and allow the relationship to move forward. This is the lesson learned by one of the occupants of Eddie Brock’s body in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” I know, it sounds strange to me also.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is having a hard time getting journalism jobs after his Life Foundation story became a disaster. He’s also being eyed by the police as several headless corpses show up in his vicinity due to the alien symbiote Venom (voiced by Hardy). San Francisco police detective Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham) contacts Brock and tells him convicted serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) want to give Brock his life story exclusively. Mulligan hopes Kasady will give up the burial location of his suspected other victims. Brock visits Kasady in prison and is given a message to print. If he prints the message in the paper, aimed at Kasady’s childhood love Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), then Kasady will tell him everything. Before he leaves, Brock investigates Kasady’s former cell with scratched artwork on the wall. Venom, remembering all the details, takes over Brock’s body and recreates the drawings, figuring out where Kasady’s victims are buried. The discovery of all the bodies makes California’s governor overturn a moratorium on the death penalty and Kasady is fast tracked for execution. Kasady is furious and demands to see Brock again. During the confrontation, Brock gets too close to the cell and Kasady grabs a hand and bites him. The transfer of blood contaminated with the symbiote causes a transformation of Kasady into a variation of Venom that calls himself Carnage. Kasady/Carnage escape the prison with a plan to grab the sonic mutant Barrison, aka Shriek, and begin exacting revenge on all they see as their enemies or the loved ones of their enemies.

While many loathe 2018’s “Venom,” I gladly admit I enjoyed the introduction of a race of violent, alien, bodysnatching, brain-eating symbiotes. It wasn’t perfect. I thought Michelle Williams character of Anne Weying was woefully underwritten with not a lot of thought given to her character and her reactions to the unusual events facing her then-fiancé. The movie was also very predictable and kept to the usual superhero tropes, but I still found it entertaining and looked forward to another installment. While it was delayed a year, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” learned some lessons from the weaknesses of the first film while also repeating some mistakes from the past.

The most egregious mistake was with the character of Anne Weying. Michelle Williams is again reduced to an understanding, give-it-a-go, now-former fiancée tasked with saving Eddie and Venom from themselves. She acts as an intermediary and voice of reason when both lifeforms, alien and Eddie, are acting like children. Being the adult in the room, or the movie, is a thankless task and that goes to the only non-criminal female character in the film. Williams gives it her all, playing a role that would have gone to Katherine Hepburn in the 1940’s and 1950’s. She’s the plucky, never-say-die, fixit for the situation Eddie and Venom fall into. Of course, she’s also a damsel in distress in the film’s finale. In the comic books and briefly in both films, Weying gets to play She-Venom. I’d like to see Willliams get to be something other than Eddie’s fixer, perhaps his savior, in the next film.

Woody Harrelson seems to be having fun chewing the scenery as Cletus Kasady. The unhinged serial killer’s urge to reunite with his much-loved Frances is most of his motivation. Of course, the desire to kill and create more carnage plays a big role. Oddly, other than property damage, Kasady and the symbiote don’t kill that many people. Plenty are slung up against walls and impaled on projections from Carnage, but the symbiote and the serial killer don’t bite off that many heads or rack up many more notches on the tally sheet. Perhaps that’s due to the film’s PG-13 rating and the need to move the story along briskly. Still, I would have liked a bit more killing from the duo.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” runs a tight 97 minutes, including the credits, about 15 minutes shorter than the original. Superhero movie fans expect at least two hours in their films. We want spectacle, majesty, soaring sequences of flying and a bunch of stuff blowing up! Oh, and fights! LOTS OF FIGHTS! Except many of these CGI fights get boring after a minute of two. We mostly know the outcome (if it’s early in the film, the hero will lose and if it’s later, the hero wins), we just want to be surprised and amazed by the journey. There isn’t much wasted time in the film. Director Andy Serkis knows the story he wants to tell and doesn’t take too many deviations in telling it.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” manages to sneak in a bit of deviation from the standard superhero journey by borrowing from the rom-com playbook. I don’t want to give away a major plot point, but there is a breakup and a reuniting that is played both for laughs and as a truly personal moment between two characters. It works in a surprisingly emotional way.

Naturally, we get all the required destruction and mayhem. A former orphanage, the secret Ravenscroft facility and a cathedral are all either destroyed or severely damaged. Considering the level of surveillance of modern society, I don’t know how Eddie thinks Venom can remain a secret. Especially after his appearance at a rave where the symbiote makes a speech about acceptance and love in front of a crowd of 20-somethings all armed with smartphones. Still, Eddie and his toothy buddy are unknown to most of San Francisco, a town where you’re encouraged to let your freak flag fly. It doesn’t make any sense, much like the rest of the movie, but it is what it is.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references. Venom and Carnage have a long climactic fight that shows them being impaled, set on fire, buried under debris and more. I don’t recall any suggestive references. There are at least two bodies where it is implied Venom or Carnage has bitten off the head. There are also animated murders of adults by a child shown. Foul language is mild except for one use of the F-bomb near the film’s end.

Make sure to stick around for the mid-credits scene. It implies a webby future for the symbiote, possibly caused by the events of “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” There is no post-credits scene.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” has many of the same issues as “Venom” but it flies by at such a pace you may not notice them. It is a fun, funny, daft superhero movie that’s searching for a place within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not easy to do since Spider-Man and all his associated characters’ movie rights are owned by Sony. Yes, they are working cooperatively with Disney and trying to have their cake and eat it too, but I wonder if a single creative team could do a better job of telling a story for this symbiote with a heart of gold. This effort isn’t bad but could have been better.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” get four stars out of five.

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