‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ Basks in Its Sheer Silliness With Snarling Laughs
Who wouldn’t want a friend like Venom? Sure, he may be an alien “symbiote,” but he’s eternally loyal to the point of being attached to your body 24-7, instantly heals any broken limbs, can climb any tall building and dispenses dating advice. The only sour note is his cravings, which tend to veer towards human heads. It’s absolutely absurd and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” knows it. In the same spirit of its predecessor, 2018’s “Venom,” this is a Marvel-Sony title that basks in being funny. Director Andy Serkis, best known as the modern pioneer of performance capture acting, doesn’t try to elevate the material. He’s out to make another quick-consumption, oddball buddy flick.
Picking up slightly from where the first movie left off, scruffy journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), still wanders San Francisco with his attached, oily alien other, Venom, who is growing restless because Eddie won’t let him eat human brains. For now the best Venom’s human host can offer is a combo of live chickens and chocolate. Venom also liked stopping villainous madmen in the last movie, so he wants to get out there and fight crime, but Eddie is hesitant. Then he receives an invite from San Quentin State Prison, where serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), would like an audience with the reporter. After Eddie meets with Kasady, Venom helps him decipher some of the killer’s drawings, which leads them to discover where Kasady had buried some missing victims. There’s a boomerang effect where because of these revelations, the governor reinstates the death penalty and now Kasady is back on his way to the execution chamber. Enraged, he demands another meeting with Eddie which results in a piece of Venom transferring over to the psycho, thus infusing him with a new, savage symbiote, Carnage. Kasady will now seek to also free the love of his life, a mutant held in a psych facility, Frances (Naomie Harris) aka Shriek.
That’s the basic premise of “Let There Be Carnage,” and in terms of action there’s not much more than that set-up. The real heart of the movie is the evolving relationship between Eddie and Venom, which takes on the tone of a twisted friendship/love affair. Venom needs brains, but Eddie won’t let him, Venom wants to change career paths and be a hero (or anti-hero) but Eddie is afraid of such a change. The two constantly argue like a couple, with Venom being the one usually apologizing and trying, in his own messy way, to make breakfast for Eddie. Michelle Williams is back as Anne, Eddie’s ex-fiancé who left him after getting fired thanks to his reckless behavior in the first movie. The screenplay by Kelly Marcel does something refreshing by not using predictable romantic clichés. Eddie remains in love with Anne, and she cares for him genuinely, but she has still moved on and is engaged to Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott). Venom meanwhile is the buddy who practices the bro code and hates Dan, egging Eddie on to keep getting close again to his ex. The B-movie brilliance is that when one mentions Venom and his advice, it really means his gooey, floating face streaming out of Eddie’s body to chat.
This is all so absurdly entertaining that it nearly overshadows the whole storyline involving Carnage and his desire to kill Venom, while his host Kasady wants to reunite with Shriek. She is the only person who has ever shown him love throughout an abused, scarred existence. Woody Harrelson is manic danger as the red-haired psycho Spider-Man fans remember so well from the comics, also channeling a little of his darkness from “Natural Born Killers.” Naomie Harris, famous as Moneypenny from the Bond films, is unrecognizable as grungy Shriek, who emits a banshee-like scream to disable enemies. The two are like a looney Bonnie & Clyde, riding a vintage car and then seeking to get married at a cathedral where Venom and Eddie will eventually crash in for a big showdown. It’s all superb talent at the service of a movie that never takes itself seriously, which is what makes it work in an odd, engaging fashion. Tom Hardy again plays Eddie Brock with a rugged, down on his luck attitude. The cinematography this time around is by Robert Richardson, who for years worked exclusively only with directors like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. He gives “Let There Be Carnage” an even slicker palette than the one another master cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, gave the first film.
By now it is a given that anything with the Marvel brand in its roster will have a post-credits bonus scene. The one in “Let There Be Carnage” is worth seeing because it offers more than just a throwaway epilogue. Let’s just say it connects to a highly anticipated Marvel title just around the corner. On its own this movie defines quirky escapism. Don’t even walk into it as a comic book purist, expecting it to be a faithful adaptation of the original Venom storylines. “Let There Be Carnage” isn’t for everybody, just for the kind of viewer that would find it funny when an angry Venom leaves after a fight with Eddie, attached to the back of a motorcyclist while throwing an oily middle finger. Some movies are bad because they’re so absurd, this franchise gets a pass precisely because it knows what it is and doesn’t care.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” releases Oct. 1 in theaters nationwide.