Tom Hardy - Eddie Brock/Venom
Woody Harrelson - Cletus Kasady/Carnage
Michelle Williams - Anne Weying
Naomie Harris - Frances Barrison/Shriek
Reid Scott - Dan Lewis
Stephen Graham - Patrick Mulligan
Peggy Lu - Mrs. Chen
Genre - Action/Adventure/Science Fiction/Horror/Comic Books
Running Time - 97 Minutes
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) attempts to reignite his career by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who becomes the host of the symbiote Carnage and escapes prison after a failed execution.
Despite the lack of praise critically and the fact that a film for this character was made without the more popular Spider-Man being involved in its origin story, 2008’s VENOM still managed to be a surprise box office success. It scored over $800 million at the global box office, which showed the strength of this popular 90s comic book character and the franchise potential that could be built around Venom. The mid-credits scene for the first film had teased the film I’m reviewing here today, VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE [or VENOM 2 as I’ll call it for the rest of the review], which had a lot of fans excited for what’s to come.
As someone who actually owns the comic with Carnage’s first full appearance from 1992 [ka-ching] due to the cool look of the character, I was super geeked for this movie. While I did have reservations about Woody Harrelson playing Cletus Kasady, he’s not a stranger to playing quirky, serial killer types. And while the PG-13 rating irked me, considering how super violent Carnage is, the idea of motion-capture legend Andy Serkis directing a CGI superhero fest was definitely appealing. Unfortunately, VENOM 2 didn’t really click for me completely due to many factors. But at least it’s silly, stupid and fun.
There’s really two big plot lines going on in VENOM 2. The obvious one is the introduction of Cletus Kasady, as he eventually becomes Carnage due to a sloppy move by the alien symbiote Venom, who leaves a piece of his offspring with Kasady to continue his serial killing rampage. Even though the film is probably shorter than it needs to be, the script does allow time to get into Kasady’s backstory - from being abused as a child, to meeting a superpowered meta in Frances Barrison and falling in love with her and to Kasady’s eventual need to reunite with her after both have been separated. While there’s a lot going on to explain who Kasady is, I do feel it’s done well enough to understand who he is and what his motivations are. Feeling a connection to Eddie Brock, Kasady sort of uses Brock to make himself more famous - which backfires when Venom figures out where Kasady’s victims are buried, leading to a quicker death row date for the serial killer while making Eddie Brock a hot reporter. This animosity leads to Kasady transforming into Carnage and wanting revenge on Brock and his symbiote. It’s pretty typical superhero movie premise 101, which is fine with me.
The other plot line involves Eddie Brock and Venom having relationship issues with one another, turning VENOM 2 into a love story of sorts between the symbiote and its human host. Serkis compared it to The Odd Couple and I definitely can see that comparison. Even after sharing a body for a while, both parties still want to live separate lives. Brock not only wants his ex-wife back [as does Venom], but he’s trying to build back his reputation as a journalist through Cletus Kasady. By suppressing Venom, he feels he can accomplish his goals and stay out of trouble. Venom, however, wants freedom to do what it wants. Venom wants to be the city’s Lethal Protector. Venom wants to kill Anne’s current boyfriend, Dr. Dan, in order for Brock to get back with her. Venom wants the freedom to eat human brains instead of chicken brains. When Venom solves Kasady’s case while Brock takes all of the credit, the two start arguing who is the better detective, which leads to a separation with both parties going their separate ways. Brock ends up trying to survive Kasady’s eventual pursuit for him, while Venom goes from body to body until he comes out to a party crowd how much he loves Brock. And Brock realizes his life is kind of boring with the symbiote. It’s an interesting take on this relationship and one that probably triggered a certain group of people against the so-called “woke” agenda of Hollywood. But I didn’t mind it because it’s used pretty well in the story, since the only ones who really understand them are each other.
As for the rest of the screenplay, it’s pretty by-the-numbers. While Brock and Venom are going through their thing, Carnage is reuniting with his lover Frances [aka Shriek] - a woman who has powers of sound frequency. If you know anything about the symbiotes, you’ll see exactly where this is going. While the two characters are usually a pair in the comics and do show a bit of affection towards the other, the film kind of treats the pair as a homage to 1994’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS considering it’s one of Harrelson’s most popular roles. We know Cletus and Frances love each other through flashbacks and exposition, but we barely get to see the two of them together in the present to really care about their relationship. The moment she uses her shriek power, the Carnage symbiote is already verbally and physically abusing her - even threatening to kill her if she ever uses her powers around it again. This creates a bit of sympathy for the serial killer, as he pleads with the symbiote not to hurt her. It should create tension and conflicting moments for the characters and the audience. But there isn’t enough time devoted to the relationship prior to the Carnage symbiote taking over Cletus to really create a contrast between the old and the new.
And that’s the main issue with VENOM 2 - it’s way too short for what it tries to accomplish. Unlike most sequels, the film may be badder but it’s not bigger since it’s about ten minutes shorter than the first film. And when you’re introducing new characters while continuing established stories, you’re going to need a bit more time to connect it all. While I appreciate Andy Serkis not wanting too much filler and exposition, I feel like the film did need a bit of that to feel more complete. Frances feels like a side character compared to Carnage, even though I feel like she has more of the interesting character arc between the two. She was kidnapped as a child, shot by a cop, and then hidden away in this secret facility while they had her locked up while experimenting on her. And when she’s finally free, she’s being sassed by an alien who hates her power, while her boyfriend is trying to keep the peace. Unlike a Harley Quinn, for instance, Shriek never feels like a fully fleshed character but a prop to show that Cletus and his symbiote aren’t as much of a match as Brock and Venom are. And while the character shows potential by the film’s end, it’s just too late for the audience to really care.
As for the other characters, Anne and Dr. Dan are around for comic relief and damsel-in-distress stuff in the final act. They pretty much play the same roles as they did in the first film, not really showing much growth as characters honestly. There’s also Detective Mulligan, who has an interesting backstory and a hostile relationship with Brock. I feel like he’ll have more to do in the next film, but he’s really just around to be another obstacle for Brock and Venom.
And if anyone is expecting an epic battle between Venom and Carnage like in the comics, you’ll probably be disappointed. While it’s better than the final battle in the first film, I was really expecting more considering the action and CGI was a lot better in this movie. I guess what we got out of it was pretty cool as a comic nerd, but I wish there was more conflict between Venom and Carnage as almost a cat-and-mouse type of thriller. While I understood the motivations of the villains, it sort of felt old hat and didn’t really do much in terms of execution. But it was fine for what it was.
Andy Serkis does fine as a director, considering how much of a great motion-capture performer he is. But he’s worked with so many filmmakers, you figure he learned a thing or two from each director he has worked with. Unlike Ruben Fleischer, Serkis isn’t afraid to take on the weirdness of the situation. He uses a lot of physical comedy and goofiness to tell the story, creating interesting visuals in the process. Sometimes the comedy doesn’t always hit, especially when it tries to shield away the horror that Carnage brings to the table - gotta keep that PG-13 rating. But Serkis definitely brings a fun, comic book style energy to the film with his quick pacing and CGI spot fests to amuse audiences for the most part. While I wish the film had a more serious tone going for it considering who the main villain was, Serkis makes sure we’re entertained by the stupidity of it all. I’d like to see what he can do with a stronger script.
The acting is also very good. Tom Hardy seems to be having a blast playing both Eddie Brock and Venom. I felt he was trying to figure out how to balance the roles in the first film, but Hardy seems totally comfortable and game for anything here. Also getting a story credit in the film, it’s obvious he’s all in on the Venom character. He’s honestly the best part of these movies. Woody Harrelson gets to play a PG-13 version of his NATURAL BORN KILLERS character in Cletus Kasady and Carnage. I’m still unsure how I feel about his casting, but he seems to be having fun as well and gets a lot of cool things to do. I think in a longer film, he would have been able to do more with the role. Naomie Harris is fine as Frances, but I think she should have been given more interesting things to do. I really found her character interesting, only because of all the relationships she had to deal with. Again, a longer movie would have benefited her. Michelle Williams and Reid Scott do what they can with what they’re given as Anne and Dr. Dan. Stephen Graham is probably going to get more to do in future installments as Detective Mulligan, but he’s good here with what he’s given. And Peggy Lu is a highlight supporting character as Mrs. Chen. A solid cast for sure, but would have excelled more with a better script.
Let’s be honest - the only thing anyone is going to remember is the mid-credits scene. I won’t spoil it, even though I’m sure many know what it is by now. But I’m very excited to see where it takes this franchise because the potential is huge for VENOM 3 to be a really good sequel if done right.
THE FINAL HOWL
VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE is pretty much on par with the first film. It’s not a superhero film masterpiece, but it’s dumb, fun and never boring. While it’s cool to finally see Carnage on the big screen against his nemesis, I do wish the screenplay was stronger and had done more to really elevate the tension between the two characters. In fact, the biggest flaw with this film is that it’s too damn short to let things breathe, let characters get developed and make the final act’s confrontation mean more than it does. But the “love story” between Eddie Brock and Venom is fun and the NATURAL BORN KILLERS-lite between Carnage and Shriek is a nice homage to Woody Harrelson’s past. Andy Serkis does a decent job with a big budget feature, which I’m sure he’ll get better with in time. And the actors, especially Tom Hardy, all seem to be having a lot of fun with the silliness of it all. Plus, that mid-credits scene - huge potential for future installments. But VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE should have been a bit longer and maybe should have had a stronger rating [I mean, it’s Carnage after all]. Not the “Maximum Carnage” it should have been, but it was a decent way to waste 90 minutes in a theater.