Review: VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, Tom Hardy Aside, A Must-Miss Superhero Flick

Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Williams star in the action-adventure, directed by Andy Serkis.

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
Review: VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, Tom Hardy Aside, A Must-Miss Superhero Flick

Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the semi-anticipated sequel to 2018's surprise box-office hit, Venom, the adaptation of a longtime Marvel Comics favorite character, answers the age-old, Shakespearean question: To carnage or not to carnage. It answers that question definitively and conclusively in the affirmative.

There, is in fact, more than a modest amount of carnage in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, so points for truth in advertising and/or title choice. Like its pre-pandemic predecessor's PG-13 rating, though, Venom: Let There Be Carnage woefully restricts the onscreen spectacle to bloodless beatdowns, physics-defying falls from great and middle heights, and predictable bursts of weightless violence. Sadly, director Andy Serkis (Breathe), stepping in for Venom director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), deliberately hides the promised carnage behind videogame cut-scene quality CGI, murky night-time photography, and hyperactive editing.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage picks up roughly a year after the events of its predecessor. Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) may have saved the world from an alien invasion of the parasitic kind, but alas, no one knows about it, meaning Brock/Venom can’t capitalize on their inadvertent superheroics. While Brock continues pining for his ex-fiancee, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), she’s moved on, accepting a marriage proposal from Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), a symbiote-free, medical doctor with a steady income and a dull, unexciting demeanor, leaving Brock to spend his days and nights attempting to keep his ravenous alter ego from going on a neighborhood-wide head- and brain-eating rampage.

While Venom wants to break free and do his killing thing (“bad guys only”), Brock sees a chance to restore his professional reputation as a reporter by agreeing to interview an infamous serial killer, Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), at San Quentin Prison. It works. Brock gets his reputation restored, brings some peace to the families of Kasady’s victims, and even manages to makes a little money in the process.

A later, second interview with Kasady on the eve of Kasady’s execution, however, doesn’t go as planned. It goes predictably awry, leaving Brock/Venom somewhat shaken (not stirred) and Kasady the host of an all-new, ultra-nasty symbiote, Carnage (as in “Let There Be…”), that reflects, refracts, and amplifies Kasady's propensity for motiveless murder.

Cue a not insignificant body count of little consequence except filling out Venom: Let There be Carnage’s relatively brief running time before Venom and Carnage meet in a church-set deathmatch with the lives in the balance of Anne, Dan, a random, off-the-shelf priest, and Kasady’s longtime lady friend and like, Kasady the lifetime victim of major government malfeasance, Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris). She’s a super-powered freak of nature with a predictably tragic past and the ability to create earth-shaking tremors with her voice (code name: Shriek). In a minor wrinkle that gets less play story-wise than it should have, Shriek’s vocal abilities conflict with Carnage and his vulnerability to high-decibel noise, a trait he shares with all symbiotes, including Venom him- or it-self.

To its somewhat modest credit, Venom: Let There Be Carnage spends little time in set-up mode, light-speeding through character introductions, setting, and backstories before settling down after Kasady/Carnage makes his escape and goes on a mid-budget rampage through the not-so-mean streets of San Francisco (and London, apparently). That retro, B-movie quality both helps and hinders Venom: Let There Be Carnage, helping in skimming through exposition to the “good” stuff (Venom and Brock’s falling out, Carnage’s rampage), but also hinders by delivering nothing more than surface-deep thrills drowning in under-rendered CGI. Not surprisingly, Venom: Let There Be Carnage lacks the novelty or originality of its predecessor, leaning heavily on Hardy’s gonzo performance as both Brock and Venom (or his voice, anyway), without adding any new twists or turns to Brock/Venom’s narrative journey beyond a potentially series resetting, mid-credits button.

A two-minute, mid-credits scene, though, is far from enough to elevate Venom: Let There Be Carnage from the merely serviceable to must-see status. Likewise with the contributions from Hardy, Harrelson, Harris, or even Williams (wasted here): They’re all professionals, delivering tone-perfect performances this side of camp, but with such thin, undemanding material, there’s little any of them can do individually and collectively to salvage Venom: Let There Be Carnage from turning into a forgettable, disposable entry in Sony’s isolated corner of the Marvel universe.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens in theaters on Friday, October 1.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

  • Andy Serkis
  • Kelly Marcel
  • Tom Hardy
  • Tom Hardy
  • Michelle Williams
  • Naomie Harris
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Andy SerkisKelly MarcelLet There Be CarnageMichelle WilliamsNaomie HarrisTom HardyVenomWoody HarrelsonActionSci-FiThriller

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