Review: Venom: Let There Be Carnage Is Lean, Mean, and Pointlessly Cruel

The title is an assurance that the most action-packed sequences will be defined by loudness, incoherence, and pointless cruelty.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Photo: Columbia Pictures

In an era of omnipresent comic book movies that are hobbled by their bloat, Venom: Let There Be Carnage’s 97-minute runtime practically constitutes an act of defiance. But while the film boasts a narrative that’s been pared down to the cuticle, its lean approach to story is about the only restraint that it displays. In fact, Let There Be Carnage’s title isn’t only a promise of so much destruction to come, but also inadvertently an assurance that its most action-packed sequences will be defined by loudness, incoherence, and pointless cruelty.

The film picks up where 2018’s Venom left off, with journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, who shares a story credit with screenwriter Kelly Marcel) now living with the alien symbiote Venom residing in his body. With Andy Serkis at the helm, Let There Be Carnage is perhaps inevitably more adept at depicting this, well, symbiotic relationship than its predecessor. There’s a satiric edge to the portrayal of Eddie and Venom’s relationship as a marriage, right down to the lampooning of the minor crises and conflicts that can strain long-term relationships.

The film is in its comfort zone observing Eddie and Venom within a familiar cocoon of coupledom. Both tire of one another’s quirks, and both make tender concessions to appease the other. They also both feel strangely incomplete when the other isn’t around, namely after Venom jumps around between other hosts following a squabble with Eddie. The filmmakers bring humor and visual inventiveness to some of these early scenes, most notably one where Venom tries to make breakfast for a downtrodden Eddie, only for the symbiote’s tendrils to completely trash Eddie’s apartment as they shoot in every direction trying to grab items.

That codependency between Eddie and Venom is a thematic underpinning that allows Let There Be Carnage to stand apart from its ilk, at least for a while. The film, in the end, is a comic book adaptation, and as such it isn’t immune to gaudiness, which starts to take hold around the introduction of the big bad: Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), an incarcerated serial killer first glimpsed in Venom’s mid-credits scene. Interviewing the man prior to his death sentence, Eddie and him have a confrontation that ends with Venom swooping in to protect his host, only for Kasady to absorb part of the symbiote and transform into Carnage.

Once Kasady escapes prison and sets out to track down his long lost love, Frances (Naomie Harris), a dangerous inmate holed up in a secret facility, you may find yourself missing the more playful approach that Serkis takes to the depiction of Eddie and Venom’s relationship. Each stop on Kasady’s quest is marked by deafening wanton destruction that leaves a bad taste in the mouth every time the evil symbiote kills some innocent bystander or minor character.

This rampage also leans into depicting Carnage’s—and eventually Venom’s—innumerable shape-shifting and weaponized tendrils as a relentless assault on seemingly everyone and everything in sight, and to the point of overkill. Namely, more than a few scenes, including the climactic showdown between Venom and Carnage in a church, passes by as a flurry of disorienting CGI effects. Let There Be Carnage’s latter half, then, represents a stark tonal shift from the more elegant and playful approach of the first. It isn’t exactly pleasant, but it does feel like a fitting metaphor for a film that’s ostensibly but not thoughtfully about a man torn between his human condition and his calling to cause as much rowdy mayhem as possible.

Score: 
 Cast: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, Reid Scott  Director: Andy Serkis  Screenwriter: Kelly Marcel  Distributor: Columbia Pictures  Running Time: 97 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2021  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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