It’s not wrong to expect that a sequel to a film with a bar as low as “Venom” could possibly be worse, but “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” succeeds in all of the wrong ways. This is what happens when a film with poor critical and audience reception domestically somehow does gangbusters in China, leading to the studio believing that the character of Venom is somehow their new cash cow.
Add to that this new found obsession with turning every villain into some kind of anti-hero, and you’re left with “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” That’s not to say the film doesn’t have things to enjoy. It’s simply that this sequel never quite equals the sum of its parts, with everything from the direction to the writing to the overall plot never really deciding on what it wants to be. “Carnage” is part comedy, part action movie, part sequel trope, part buddy cop, part rom/com, part superhero film. But the true folly isn’t necessarily being so overcrowded with genres. This particular film is so poor in its overall execution it never really does any one of these elements well enough to warrant existing as a film in the first place.
There’s a lot to unpack here when it comes to what went wrong with this sequel, so let’s start with what DOESN’T contribute to train wreck. Once again, it’s Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom that steals the show, proving that he is perfectly cast and up to the challenge of carrying an entire movie literally based on Tom Hardy arguing with Tom Hardy. The banter between Brock and Venom is likened to an old married couple struggling with communication and differing wants and needs, ultimately culminating in their inevitable “symbiosis.” Luckily, there’s much more believable dialogue between the two, and someone competent stepped in and said, “No….no more turd in the wind lines…just…stop it.” We’re all the better for it, and Hardy really does shine in this sequel as someone who truly enjoys playing and understands the character(s). Likewise, Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady/Carnage does the best with what he’s given (which unfortunately isn’t a lot). Though his character is pigeonholed and very poorly written, Harrelson really does his best, remaining consistent as an actor who, regardless of material, will give it everything he’s got.
The last thing that works in the film is Michelle Williams and Reid Scott, both characters who are kind of shoehorned into the film to further connect it to the first one but absolutely steal the show in their limited screen time. Williams in particular is delightful, as she is able to shed her more dramatic side she’s known for and let her comedy flag fly free. She seems very much like she was only on set for a day, but decided to show up a little tipsy and spent the time between takes making cocktails for everyone else. I mean all of this as complimentary, too. Williams is as free as she’s ever been, clearly having a blast and it is a breath of fresh air for her and I kind of hope she stays on that “let’s just have fun” train in the future. Reid Scott may only have like 5 lines in the entire film, but he’s a character you don’t expect to give two shits about and by the end kind of wish he was around the whole time.
Sadly, that’s about all that works for “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” and even some of those successes are marred by a poor story, lazy writing, strange directing and downright bizarre editing. Directed by Andy Serkis with a story by Hardy and screenplay by Kelly Marcel (“Venom,” “50 Shades of Gray“), there’s a lot that should have worked and simply did not. The combination of Serkis and Hardy should’ve been a knockout, as Serkis understands duel role/CGI/arguing with themselves characters better than anyone and Hardy is more than capable delivering a top notch performance. Sadly, this match made in heaven really never comes to fruition, with Serkis not really understanding how to let the story unfold organically. Everything feels forced and “check the boxes,” and while not all of that can be shouldered on Serkis as there is clearly a lot of studio meddling (more on that later), it’s hard not to wonder what the film would look like were it in a more capable and prolific director’s hands. Then again, Marcel’s script is somehow worse than the first one, even without lines like “turd in the wind.” And no, I won’t even let that go, by the way. Not for “Venom” or “Venom: Let There be Carnage” as it’s easily one of the worst lines ever put to paper that has made it into a film. It deserves all of the ridicule and I will continue to harp on it at every opportunity.
The script is all over the place, stretching across multiple genres and heavy handed tropes and subplots that never quite come together as a cohesive film. There are so many elements and subplots that never really go anywhere and bog the film down as well as make the viewing experience more jarring than enjoyable. I don’t think there was any part of me that watched the original “Venom” and thought, “You know what I really want? Venom at a rave! THAT would be aweome!” or “You what Cletus Kasady/Carnage needs? A girlfriend. Just make him a lovesick puppy who just wants to get married! That’s true Carnage!” If this sounds ridiculous, know that “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” has all of it, and makes terrible use of a great villain and a great actress like Naomie Harris (who is completely useless and wasted here, basically implanting her Tia Dalma from “Pirates of the Carribean” with the only thing missing is her turning into crabs in the final act). There are just so many other, better narratives and subplots that could’ve contributed to a better, more cohesive film than what we get here. Hell, even the relationship between Brock and Cassidy is underdeveloped I spent a majority of the film asking myself if I had missed something in the previous entry.
This film struggles not just with identity, but also with how that story is executed. The film is more presumptive than explanatory, and cut up and edited in a way that honestly makes you do more double takes than you should. The final straw in the missteps for this sequel is with the films editing. It is very clear that “Carnage” was a much longer film, but the studio desperately wanted to deliver a shorter run time that barely tops 90 minutes. The film still feels long, but that’s because it also feels rushed and uninteresting. The editing goes beyond inexperience and dips into an obvious two and half hour film cut down into 90 minutes. Films being edited down is a staple of all films, but this fails to disguise it, and makes these cuts and gaps incredibly obvious. You really should not be spending the majority of a film wondering what you missed even as its unfolding. It’s not like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is some kind of mystery ala “Momento” where that confusion is purposefully with a payoff. The editing unfortunately becomes obvious to even the most casual of filmgoer who normally misses it altogether. We don’t necessarily need MORE Carnage, but we definitely need more GOOD story that is sorely missing here.
Look, I wasn’t necessarily championing this film and were it not for my requirements as a film critic I probably would’ve skipped this one altogether. “Venom” was fine, and wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected it to be, but it was largely forgettable and never really left any kind of impression on me, good or bad. Naturally, a sequel to it didn’t really do anything for me, but I like Hardy and Harrelson, and I generally enjoy works by Serkis. Unfortunately, none of those things make a better film. “Venom: Let there Be Carnage” may do well to let Hardy shine, but the film as a whole fails on just about every level. The end result is that the only really carnage is the film itself.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” should be better than it is, but ends up being more like a turd…in the wind, personified.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is now playing in theaters.