Movie Review: Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Sony Pictures)

“We should be out there, protecting the city. Lethally.” Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a 2021 Sony Pictures release in association with Marvel Studios. It’s directed by the acclaimed […]

“We should be out there, protecting the city. Lethally.”

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a 2021 Sony Pictures release in association with Marvel Studios. It’s directed by the acclaimed actor Andy Serkis, off a screenplay by Kelly Marcel who wrote the story with Tom Hardy. Let There Be Carnage is a sequel to the surprise hit, Venom, which was the 7th highest-grossing movie of 2018. Tom Hardy returns as the gadfly journalist, Eddie Brock, alongside Michelle Williams as Brock’s ex, attorney Anne Weying and her fiancé, Dr. Dan Lewis, again played by Reid Scott. Joining them is Woody Harrelson as the psychotic serial killer Cletus Kassidy and Naomie Harris, who plays the mutant, Francis Barrison, also known as Shriek.

The character of Venom has a long and convoluted backstory that started with a talent competition held by Marvel Comics in the early eighties. A sleek, new Spider-Man redesign was submitted by Randy Schueller, and Marvel snatched it up. Writer Jim Shooter and artist Mike Zeck introduced the new costume during Marvel Comics Secret Wars in 1984, and the idea that the costume was a sentient, symbiotic organism came later, baked in by artist Ron Frenz and writer Tom DeFalco. Once Peter Parker became aware that his costume was alive and manipulating him, he rejected it. He was able to remove the costume with the assistance of the pealing bells of the church tower where his attempt was made because one of the symbiote’s vulnerabilities is to extremely loud noises. The symbiotic suit fled the scene, forcefully bonding itself with reporter Eddie Brock, who had just been fired. He blamed Spider-Man for his job loss and the symbiote, suffused with rage over Parker’s repudiation, felt a kindred spirit. Eddie was created by writer David Michelinie and artist Todd McFarlane, who also designed his alter-ego, Venom. After toying with Parker for several years, Venom makes his first full appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #300, in 1988. Anne Weying was created by Michelinie and artist Mark Bagley, as was Cletus Kassidy and Venom’s insane offspring, Carnage who debuted in 1991’s Amazing Spider-Man #345. The character of Shriek was crafted by DeFalco and artist Ron Lim.

Although exposing and bringing down the corrupt Life Foundation has rejuvenated his career in journalism and made him famous, at the opening of the film, Eddy Brock’s (Hardy) personal life is in shambles. He’s the rope in the tug of war between his alien symbiote, Venom, and his ex, Anne, (Williams,) whom he still has strong feelings for. After Anne announces that she and Dr. Dan (Scott) plan to wed, a crushed Eddie just wants to do his job and get on with his life. Venom, on the other hand, has galvanized his love of Earth and (some of the) earthlings after spending so much time bonded inside Weying and Brock. He wants to be out there, on the streets, eating the bad guys and protecting the neighborhood. Lethally. Eddie, however, is trying to keep the notion that he’s hosting an alien super-being within him under wraps. He needs Venom to abide by a few simple guidelines, like “no eating people”, and “chicken and chocolate are your friends”. This causes friction within their symbiotic relationship, and their bickering often has a David-and-Maddie vibe from the ’80’s TV series, Moonlighting.

Cletus Kassidy, (Harrelson), a hitherto remorseless, serial-killing, death-row inmate reads of Brock’s exploits and decides that he will speak to Eddie and no one else. While he taunts Brock, hoping to use the missing bodies of his many victims to gain legal leverage, Venom notices a pattern in the contrived chaos of Kassidy’s cell using Eddie’s eyes. Together, he and Eddie are able to decode the detritus and determine the whereabouts of several more corpses. These newly-recovered bodies cause Cletus’ execution to be made imminent. Once again, he only wants to talk to Brock, though now Kassidy seethes with hatred for him, as Eddie has ruined his scheme.

Kassidy argues with Brock, telling Eddie how the two are deeply alike, an assertion that Brock tries to dismiss offhand, but it gets under his skin. He and Venom lose their cool. They get too close to the isolation cell as Venom lashes out, and Cletus bites Eddie.

Right away, Kassidy notes something odd with Brock’s blood, and he swallows the tiny section of symbiote he’d sliced off along with the blood drawn when gnawing on Eddie’s hand. Eddie and Venom both blame each other for the outburst, Eddie believing, (not incorrectly) that behavior like that could cost him his job (again) and leave him back on the bottom. This leads to a big blow-up between the pair and a break-up of cosmic proportions.

Meanwhile, Kassidy’s execution is proceeding as planned until it doesn’t. Eddie’s blood has impregnated Cletus with Venom’s progeny, and he violently transforms into the monstrous, murderous symbiote who calls himself Carnage. The newly-bonded pair escapes after a colossal killing spree through the prison. They then divert to the military facility at Ravencroft, where a mysterious government organization is holding Kassidy’s childhood love, Francis Barrison, (Harris) the mutant known as Shriek. After freeing Francis, Carnage, and Kassidy both agree that there’s only one thing to do: find Eddie and Venom, and make them pay.

Can Eddie get his shit together, patch things up with Venom and save the world from this psychotic, symbiote serial-killer from outer space?

Venom: Let There Be Carnage was a fun movie that sails along at a brisk 90-minute pace which keeps things busy but leaves a sense of significant stuff lost in the editing bay. Andy Serkis’ direction is supple and smooth. His Raimi-Esque camera-work often twists through the sets but his focal point is always clear and composed. Tom Hardy is really enjoying his turn as the jittery, awkward Eddie Brock, a character he has made his own. He also performs Venom’s dialogue and has invested the growling symbiote with a personality that is all Id. Michelle Williams reportedly took the role of Weying in the first film just so she could have the opportunity to work with Hardy. They have amazing chemistry and she is an extraordinary actor, even though she has so much less to do in this film. She’s playing things straight, but there’s a wink and a twinkle in her eye that’s contagious. Hardy and Williams should make a series of romcoms. They’d make bank. Woody Harrelson more than holds up his end, though his role seems a bit old hat for him, drawing heavily from his character, Mickey, from Oliver Stone’s 1994 feature, Natural Born Killers.

The movie pauses partway through the runtime and shifts to a beautifully animated but bone-chilling scene that delves deeply into Kassidy’s backstory and origin. It’s a move that mirrors an opening sequence that strives to humanize Cletus and give us something to sympathize with. The problem is, while this information is given to the audience, the material is never imparted into any of the main characters in a timely fashion, where it could make a difference to the plot.

The PG-13 rating hurts. The lack of blood hurts a lot. How can you have a movie about serial-killing alien symbiote called “Carnage” that spends the runtime biting people’s heads off and ripping them apart, but no blood splash? There are bodies torn to shreds. Bodies dropped hundreds of feet to unyielding concrete, no splatter. Bodies shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, impaled, with decapitations galore. Not one instance of arterial spurt. Altogether too neat for a purported horror film, but that’s also part of the problem.

The movie is another tonally-disjointed hodgepodge of various genre elements squeezing together in an awkward and not-quite-successful symbiosis. Gothic horror segues to investigative thriller. Thriller morphs into a romantic drama which blips into superhero antics. Screwball romance segues into sci-fi super-people containment. Then it rolls over into a silly rave scene that shifts to the sterility of the death chamber. Kassidy’s bust-out provides a brutal action beat, and then we’re right back to jokes, giggles, and on-the-nose dialogue. Venom had a solo, six-issue limited series in 1993 called Venom: Lethal Protector and the movie needs you to know that the symbiote REALLY wants to be the protector of the neighborhood. Lethally.

The first feature caused a bit of a stir in the LGBTQ+ community as many people saw the relationship between Eddie and Venom to be quietly queer-coded. The sequel leans into that notion with several “happy” homemaking scenes with the pair as well as more on-the-nose dialogue. Venom yowls after their break-up about how Brock was ashamed of him and how now he is “Out of the Eddie closet”.

It feels like many parts of this movie are missing. Major elements in the movie spring out with no set-up. There is a mysterious government organization dedicated to the imprisonment of super-humans; The fact that there ARE super-humans is out of the blue when in the first film, the only supers were symbiotes from outer-space; The fact that there are mutants in this movie. Marvel Studios has been struggling with how to incorporate mutants in their cinematic universe for quite some time now. This movie just does it. Bang. Done.

Most crucially, the movie never explains why Carnage hates his father, why Venom fears his son, who is twice as powerful as he. Why is that? The comics have an elaborate explanation for it, one that’s been retconned a few times, most recently with the stories of Knull, the King in Black. It’s an odd absence of exposition. The movie just says that Carnage is red, so he’s more powerful, just because he’s red. It’s silly. Someone should call Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

Criticism aside, this was a fun, silly movie with strong performances from the principal cast. It is a good, goofy popcorn movie for the Halloween season. The mid-credits sequence is genre-shaking, HUGELY important, and should not be missed by ANY stretch of the imagination.

Venom: let There Be Carnage opens in theatres Friday, October 1st.

Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko from a design by Jack Kirby.
Venom/Eddie Brock was created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane.
Carnage/Cletus Kassidy was created by David Michelinie and Mark Bagley.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.