Venom: Let There Be Carnage Is A Big Budget Bromance Featuring A Lot of Death (Review, No Spoilers)
Three years ago, Woody Harrelson’s Cletus Kasady promised there was gonna be carnage in a credit scene for Venom. As of this weekend, that promise has been fulfilled. As seen in the trailers, Carnage is born when Harrelson’s Cletus Kasady bites Eddie Brock/Venom before he is to be put to death. This movie has a simple plot, and more than anything is once again a showcase for Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom. He’s constantly either in a state of panic, bickering with himself, or in the middle of an intense action sequence.
Hardy spends the entire movie going for broke. He once again proves he is great at acting with only himself, which is something we should know not only from the first Venom, but from his excellent turn in 2014’s Locke, which saw him in a car by himself for the entire runtime. However, in this sequel, his absolute commitment to bickering at himself as Eddie (and the voice of Venom) is a blast to witness. The film finds Eddie trying to navigate keeping Venom from eating people, even though he promised Venom he could eat bad guys (at least Woody Harrelson kept his promise). Eddie tried to satisfy Venom with chickens and chocolates, but Venom is desperate to become the Lethal Protector of San Francisco.
That doesn’t mean Harrelson is a let down. Far from it. Cletus is as over the top crazy as you’d expect, and Carnage is a vicious killing machine (there is a *lot* of death in this movie). The CGI for Carnage is also downright impressive, and looks much improved on the effects of the last film. As expected, Woody gives all of himself to playing Cletus/Carnage and the result is something similar to Natural Born Killers, which ironically also started Harrelson. Part of this is due to the addition of Naomie Harris as Shriek, the love of Kasady’s life. These two have a bond that goes back most of their lives, and adds just enough motivation and heft to keep it all interesting. Their scenes together showcase a twisted couple who care for little else besides each other and causing carnage (couldn’t resist). Harris is a welcome addition to any project, and I only wish she was given a little more to do as he character definitely is one note.
Meanwhile, Eddie is trying to keep Venom a secret from his ex-fiance Anne (Michelle Williams), who has been told the symbiote died at the end of the first film. However, Anne reveals that she and Dan (Reid Scott) are getting married, which adds fuel to the odd couple war between Venom and Eddie. The symbiotic relationship gets heated, and even leads to several physical altercations. Hardy crushes these scenes. Everyone in the cast is having fun and plays their roles in a manner that best fits the tone of the film. A surprising standout is Stephen Graham, who plays Detective Mulligan. Mulligan is given a decent amount of screentime, as he asks Brock to get close to Cletus in an effort to help find the missing bodies of Kassidy’s victims. He works as a straight man for Hardy to play off of, and as a decent vessel for much of the plot.
The movie is definitely more focused than the first, and moves at a clip because it can’t afford to waste any screentime (it only clocks only 97 minutes with credits). That’s good for folks who like short movies or who have a limit on how much of this weirdness they can take. For me, the movie could have been ten to fifteen minutes longer. Carnage could have been fleshed out a bit more, as we barely get into the baby symbiote’s head. We discover that Cletus and Carnage don’t always think alike, and that apparently makes them not as good a match as Venom and Eddie, who spend most of the film bickering and at odds, so some more digging into that would have lent more dramatic weight and narrative sense.
However, I know that these movies aren’t exactly going for that. They’ve tripled down on the goofiness and odd couple dynamic, as evidenced by Carnage literally saying “let there be carnage” in the third act. While watching the third act progress, I did have some mixed emotions. Some of the conclusions to various storylines feel as if they’re being rushed and there are a few decisions that took me some time to process as a fan of these characters from prior mediums. I applaud the filmmakers for having fun with this material and believe this was another nice stepping stone for Andy Serkis as a director. If you liked the first, you’re sure to like this one. At its core, this is the story of two self-proclaimed “losers” who come to love each other. It’s a bromance between the human Eddie Brock and the slimy symbiote Venom that yields surprisingly sweet results. They’re a bizarre, fun duo.
The more time has gone on the more I actually like the movie. This is not a movie for everyone and it’s by no means trying to be anything but fun. Yet it’s a marked improvement over the first because everyone is on the same page and the tone always feels intentional. In the first Venom, it felt like Hardy was molding the movie to his will on set. This sequel follows his lead completely and everything is in sync. Heck, Hardy even has a “story by” co-credit on this one. Let There Be Carnage also takes advantage of the one “f bomb” allotted by its PG-13 rating, and it was well placed. Harrelson was near perfect casting as Cletus, and while I wish he had a tad more screentime, and more depth at that, he helped make this movie incredibly watchable. I’m excited to see it again.
Oh yeah….and that mid-credit scene is an all timer. Don’t miss it no matter how you feel about the movie. And don’t let anyone spoil it for you. It’s just too good of fun the way it’s executed.
For my thoughts on the first Venom, which I recently re-watched, click here.