Venom: Let There Be Carnage ticks the biggest box there is: it is markedly better than its predecessor. Is that enough? For fans of Venom it certainly will be, and the dynamic between Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his alien symbiote BFF is more entertaining than ever. And yet there is still too much that takes away from what could be – and beneath the surface, is – a fascinating exploration of personal demons.
Eddie and his parasitic pal might be going through something of a rough spot in their friendship, but they must put aside their differences to stop Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who is now the host of a particularly nasty symbiote by the name of Carnage. Cletus and Carnage wreak havoc on San Francisco on their mission to save Cletus’ old flame Frances Barrison, AKA Shriek (Naomie Harris), and get their revenge on both Venom and Eddie.
The relationship between Eddie and Venom is even more of a riot than before, the pair’s near-constant bickering thinly veiling an obvious affection for one another. Hardy’s skittish take on Brock is still difficult to enjoy, but happily the two are let loose to a far greater degree by new director Andy Serkis. Their at times bizarre story is one about coming to accept the worst aspects of yourself, and not letting them stop you from reaching your potential and living a good life.
Both Eddie and Venom have to come to terms with what they have done wrong and what they have lost in order to move on with their lives (Venom even goes clubbing, gets drunk, and delivers an emotional speech down a microphone). This simple message gives Let There Be Carnage a peculiar but welcome amount of emotional grounding, with genuine heart and sincerity to be found amidst the pair’s infectiously funny antagonism.
Harrelson meanwhile gets some of the most interesting lines of dialogue, channelling all of his Natural Born Killers energy infused with even more barbarism and recklessness, not to mention a new hairdo. His transformation into Carnage brilliantly illustrates his differences to Eddie. While Venom drapes himself over Brock like a slimy dressing gown, Cletus’ transformation into Carnage is a carnal mutation taken straight from a John Carpenter body horror. There is most definitely queer subtext to Cletus’ actions and behaviour as well, his dynamic with Brock proving to be the most fascinating part of the film.
The foundations are laid for a fantastic and surprisingly brave superhero film… until it all falls on its face. There just isn’t any real, well, carnage. As with Venom, the head chomping occurs frustratingly out of shot, and even Carnage’s rampage lacks the animalistic intensity you know that this character is capable of. With Venom and Carnage taking centre stage, there is no room left for either of the women in their lives – even a pair of chickens get more screen time than them, Sonny and Cher proving to be the finest onscreen hens since Chicken Run. Harris is far too talented for the role she has been landed with, which the film could have ticked by without; meanwhile Anne Weying (the returning Michelle Williams) is yet again left out of most of the action. Coupled with an ending that is sadly just another mess of heavy-handed CGI and whiplash editing, and Let There Be Carnage loses any potential it had to be something special.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is happy being weird, at least giving the film some character when the storyline is too poorly executed to pick up the slack. Eddie and Venom are yet again an utter joy to watch, a welcome result of Hardy’s personal investment in the dual role. But Carnage is too tame and the plot too packed for the film to work as well as it should, a film that does its utmost to keep the fans happy and leaves just enough clues to remind you of what might have been.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is out in cinemas now.