Venom: Let There Be Carnage – A Film for Nobody


Sony Pictures Entertainment

Tom Hardy in Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Action, horror, rom-com, buddy-cop, cartoon—you may not think these genres would often interact, much less come together to form a cohesive product. And in the case of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, you’d be absolutely right. Let There Be Carnage is everything you’d expect to see in a sequel to 2018’s Venom, but the movie stumbles in attempting to find its own voice.
A large part of the first Venom’s appeal was that clearly, nobody behind the scenes knew what the hell they were doing. The film took itself dreadfully seriously, and ended up being so bad, it was good (or at least entertaining); ironically, it ended up a smash hit. Venom: Let There Be Carnage has a new director, Andy Serkis—a veteran in the CGI characters department—and he seems to fully understand how absurd the first film was. He takes that energy and swings for the fences.
Let’s start off with what works: the performances—mainly, Tom Hardy’s chemistry with Tom Hardy. The scenes between Eddy, a journalist, and Venom, his alien symbiote partner who lives inside of him, are what make this movie. Serkis uses his motion-capture expertise to make Venom’s expressions feel human (in fact, more human than some of the film’s other characters). The film opts for the classic sequel trope—executed flawlessly in Superman 2 and Spider-Man 2—of the hero losing his powers because he loses sight of what a hero is, and has to regain them to fight the villain. But they freshen up this trope with the “losing the powers” scene as a cheesy rom-com breakup between Eddy and Venom that leaves the two separated. This works.
The other performances, as out-of-place as they sometimes seem, are undeniably fun. Woody Harrleson hams it up as Cletus Kasady, a serial killer obsessed with our hero. He grins, he dances, he kisses, he cries. You can tell he has no more craps to give and wants to make the most from this paycheck. Naomi Harris portrays Shriek, the Harley Quinn to Kasady’s Joker, and you can tell she put more thought into her character than the film did. She knows the character’s power is a sonic scream and emulates it with a creepy, croaky voice throughout the film. Although it makes her sound more like a frog than a human, I’m glad she enjoys the role. And Michelle Williams, whom you might know as the sad wife to the male protagonist in every movie, gets a chance for once to not be so somber. At one point, she seduces Venom out of an old woman’s body, and it’s quite simply so weird that you just can’t look away.
The film knows you aren’t here to watch an Oscar-worthy sprawling saga, and it wastes none of your time. Conversely, the original Venom spent an entire first act establishing Eddie as a main character while simultaneously telling us nothing about him. Nobody really cared. This film jumps straight to the action, and instead of a computer-generated clump of unintelligible mess, you can actually see what’s going on. Not only that, but they snagged Director of Photography Robert Richardson (Kill Bill, Hugo, Platoon), who brings his masterful eye to make the shots in Let There Be Carnage not only tolerable, but also sexy.
Now let’s talk about the bad. Buckle up. The film tries to be so many things, but it can’t commit to any of them. First, let’s discuss action. There’s a scene that has a 20-second zoomed in shot of the “Ducati” logo on Eddie’s motorcycle, which should give you a glimpse into the film’s target demographic: college-aged, motorcycle-riding dude-bros who want a night out with the boys to get drunk and watch aliens bite off people’s heads. And you would think a film with the name Let There Be Carnage would have gore as its number one priority. But because Sony has no spine, and needs to make sure the film has an audience as broad as possible to financially keep up with the first movie, the film is rated PG-13, and all the violence happens off-screen.
These choices bring me to my biggest problem with the movie: It’s such a corporate shill that it just can’t go all the way. One of the most entertaining aspects of this movie is that it rarely ever takes Eddie and Venom’s relationship seriously. There’s a scene in which Venom serenades Eddie as he makes him breakfast using his slimy tendrils. In another scene, Venom goes to a rave where everyone thinks he’s just wearing an elaborate costume and he declares, “I’m out of the Eddie closet!” (How an entire room of writers managed to write a scene where Venom goes to a rave with full knowledge that his weakness is loud noise is beyond me.) But the film still takes itself too seriously because it pretends that Eddie Brock has an actual personality. It does take one step forward in acknowledging that Eddie sucks; the first film pretended that he was actually a good journalist (he wasn’t), and this film has Venom do all the investigative work while Eddie just takes all the credit. But why does Eddie love being a journalist when he’s so awful at it? We’ll never know. What’s his moral compass? Don’t eat people. That is, unless he suddenly decides it’s okay, and in that case, do eat people.
Let There Be Carnage suffers from the same issue with Carnage himself. Admittedly, Carnage is infinitely more interesting than the first film’s villain: a Jeff Bezos wannabe who was really into experimenting on homeless people. It was all over the place. But a serial killer with a symbiote? That’s cool. However, the film doesn’t know how cool it wants Carnage to be. At some points, he tries to be terrifying, devouring off-screen the families of all the victims he’s murdered in the past. But at other times, he’s just as cartoonish as Eddie and Venom; he writes a letter that, when Eddie reads it, turns into a hand-drawn animation on screen. He spins around so fast that he makes a tornado. He even sticks his goopy tendrils into a laptop and “hacks” it to find secret government information, a plot point that probably hasn’t been used since the ‘80s. All this goofiness would be absolutely fine with me if they stuck with it, but they just couldn’t. They can’t have it both ways.
In brief terms, I would classify Venom: Let There Be Carnage as one big missed opportunity, mainly because it’s riddled with them. Eddie and Venom spend so much time talking about all the crimes they fight, but we never see them fight a single criminal until the third act. Kasady’s girlfriend’s sole ability is a sonic scream, which is Carnage’s one weakness. This could have been a nuanced relationship worth exploring, but instead, he basically just tells her to stop using her powers, and she listens. Boring. Finally, the missed opportunity that hits hardest for me: The most appealing aspect of Carnage’s character in the comics is that he isn’t two personalities in one body like Eddie and Venom. He has one personality—that of a giddy serial killer with no moral restrictions—in the body of a symbiote. We are deprived of this in the movie because, for some reason, they give the Carnage symbiote a different personality than Kasady—a monotone, uninteresting one at that. To top it off, this film’s Eminem song is significantly worse than the last one.
Go see this movie if you enjoy sitting back, turning off your brain, and watching some mindless, not-that-violent violence. Stay for the post-credit scene if you want this movie to matter. The best thing I can say is that this movie brings you back to the excessively cheesy days of the superhero movies from the early 2000s. Its message seems to be that what makes Eddie and Venom so much better than Cletus and Carnage is that they love each other. They might not always get along, but when worst comes to worst, they always have each other’s backs. Unfortunately, Venom: Let There Be Carnage doesn’t have its own back. Or its front. Or anything in between.