Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – Eddie Brock attempts to reignite his career by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes the host of the symbiote Carnage and escapes prison after a failed execution.

My Take – Released in 2018, Sony‘s first solo spin-off from their colossal roster of Spider-Man characters, Venom, received quite a divisive reception. Though most critics found director Ruben Fleischer’s film bloated, unwieldy and incoherent, the audience on the other hand lapped up the symbiote anti-hero’s handling on the screen, especially in comparison to his atrocious portrayal in Spider-Man 3 (2007), and most importantly Tom Hardy’s performance in the titular role, resulting in a worldwide take of $856.1 million.

While superhero sequels, following the protagonist’s undertaking of the titular mantle, usually double up the scope and extending on their universe, this one shockingly approaches the concept quite differently.

Running at 97 minutes, while conjuring up more outlandish action, this Andy Serkis directed sequel is surprisingly more simplified, more focused and even more intimate than its predecessor, employing only a handful of characters to create a brisk and delightful non-Marvel-like film. Here, director Andy Serkis along with writers Kelly Marcel and Tom Hardy takes the most successful aspect of its predecessor, the silly banter between Venom and Eddie Brock, and completely doubles down on it, never leaving the pedal in this high-octane escapade.

Sure, the film isn’t going to go down as one of the best of the genre, mainly due to its employment of immature yet hilarious humor, but right from its first promo the sequel promised a good time, and on that account it completely delivers. Especially taking into account the post-credit scene that raises the bar for the future of the character.

Set a year after the events of the first film, the story once again follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an intrepid journalist, who has been leading something of an unconventional life being a reluctant host to the malevolent extraterrestrial symbiote named Venom. Being together all the time, the pair often find them tussling over almost everything, as Eddie wants to lead a quiet life as he is still struggling to get over his ex-fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), but on the other hand the carnivorous alien is growing tired a life in the shadows subsisting on chicken and chocolate, and yearns to once again feast on the flesh of bad guys.

An opportunity comes knocking when Brock is summoned to San Quentin prison, where incarcerated serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) offers him an exclusive tell-all interview. Unfortunately, due a provoked event, Kasady gets infects with Brock’s symbiote-laden blood, resulting in the manifestation  of his own symbiote form named Carnage, who not only breaks Kasady out of prison, but also agrees to help him reunite with his also incarcerated childhood sweetheart Frances aka Shriek (Naomie Harris). Resulting in a chaos only both Brock and Venom can stop together.

As with the original film, stopping the bad guy plays second fiddle to Eddie and Venom’s prolonged lover’s quarrel. Although the plot is pretty straightforward for a superhero flick, the strength of the film is undeniably in that push and pull relationship between Venom and Brock, with many laughs to be had as the parasite talks back and voices what Eddie is keeping locked inside. Eddie resents Venom’s controlling behavior while Venom longs to be out and proud, so to speak. They argue about morality and diet. There’s an old married couple vibe not just in the dialogue but also their actions, for example, Venom makes Brock breakfast while singing to him when he’s upset.

The push-and-pull between the Carnage plot and the Eddie/Venom story-line is apparent in the film’s haphazard editing. Scenes simply arrive and exit with no regard for motivation, rhythm, or narrative cohesion. Like the scene where Venom ends up at a rave and ends up giving a speech about tolerance and acceptance. It’s completely ridiculous, has nothing to do with the plot, and is easily the best scene in the film. In more story-driven movies this kind of editing style would be headache inducing, but since the film doesn’t particularly care about its own plot it’s content to simply bring us along for the ride as it flits from scene to scene at a madcap pace.

And considering the fact Andy Serkis, best known for his performances as Gollum, King Kong and Caesar from Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, is at the helm, there is a substantial improvement in the CGI over the first film. There is a clarity to the fight sequences that was sorely lacking in the first film, while Hardy’s frequent scuffles with himself are choreographed to comic perfection. The third act is definitely satisfying once the two sentient aliens finally battling it out.

However, Marvel Comics fans hoping to witness a battle for the ages will likely come away disappointed, as the final brawl, though quite dirty, wraps up rather quickly and tidily. Also probably due to its shortened run time, the film fails to serve all of its characters. They have potentially intriguing roles but don’t get much development beyond some hasty plot beats and they end up being the story’s weakest links. Especially Detective Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham), whose core sub plot seems to have been chopped off. Anne Weying and her new fiancée Dan Lewis (Reid Scott) appear only for a few minutes, while Shriek, despite the hype, is bizarrely underutilized. None of the supporting characters are given enough time to feel vital to the story despite being the only people besides Eddie and Venom to get screen time.

Nevertheless, like its predecessor, Tom Hardy‘s performance is what carries the film. Hardy, who holds producer and story credits in addition to top billing, has found his signature role in Venom, a persistently over-the-top anti-hero who overshadows previous roles. True to form, Hardy has sought out a complexity in the character, or characters, which he wrestles to the screen in a schizophrenic, physically overwrought performance that garners sympathy not only for Brock’s heartbroken journalist, but more impressively, Venom’s homicidal yet similarly rejected alien.

Like Hardy, Woody Harrelson too fully embraces the film’s quirky, often absurd tonality and certainly enjoys playing the antagonist. Together, they make some of the apparent plot holes easier to ignore. While Naomie Harris, despite an underutilized role, plays her character with gleeful comic book villainy, Michelle Williams, Reid Scott, and Stephen Graham are appropriately alright. On the whole, ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ is a delightful self-assured superhero sequel that is surprisingly more simplified and intimate than its predecessor.

Directed – Andy Serkis

Starring – Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Stephen Graham

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 97 minutes

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