Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) Review
SOON COMES CHAOS, CHAOS SOON COMES!
In 2018, Sony Pictures released Venom, a superhero origin movie that was to focus on the classic Spider-Man villain. Directed by Reuben Fleischer, the film, which starred Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed, follows new journalist Eddie Brock, who unwillingly gains superpowers after becoming the host of an alien symbiote, who calls himself Venom, whose species plan to invade earth. The film received generally negative reviews from both critics and moviegoers alike, with many finding criticisms the film’s messy narrative, inconsistent tones, and lacking a strong connection to Spider-Man universe. Although, many praised Tom Hardy’s performance throughout the movie as Brock / Venom. Still, looking beyond those points, Venom was considered a box office success as the feature grossed roughly $856 million, becoming the seventh highest grossing movie of 2018. Because of this, Sony Pictures saw the benefit of expanding upon this particular character and decided to greenlight a sequel to the 2018 film. Now, several after the movie’s release, Sony Pictures, Marvel Studios, and director Andy Serkis the follow-up film with the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Does this next chapter improved upon its predecessor or is it just another inconsistent and haphazard superhero endeavor?
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is attempting to reclaim his career status as a journalist, selected to write a story on one Cletus Kasady Woody Harrelson), a psychotic serial killer who’s living out the rest of his days on death row. At the same time, Eddie is also trying to mange Venom, the alien symbiote parasite that lives inside him, and the abrasive creature is hungry for humans again and growing tired of eating chickens and chocolate. During a prison visit, Venom comes out of Eddie when confronting Cletus, with the sentenced deranged man biting symbiote being flesh, infecting his system with a new symbiote being that he names Carnage. Breaking out of captivity, Cletus uses Carnage’s powers to make his way to the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, looking to free his girlfriend, Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), from a special glass encased cell that prevents her use of a super-scream. While Cletus returns to murdering the innocent and wreaking havoc, Eddie is having a personal crisis with Venom, with the pair unable to balance their relationship with each other, turning to his ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams) for help. Unfortunately, forces collide and a showdown looms with Eddie vs. Cletus or rather Venom vs. Carnage.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It goes without saying that the cinematic age of superhero blockbuster is here and is starting to show it weary. Yes, the endeavors make money at the box office and are crowd pleasers, but the ideas are starting to blend together and its hard to come up with something new and exciting within this genre. Case in point….2018’s Venom. I was definitely interested in seeing this movie, especially after the poor reception of the iconic Spider-Man villain in 2007’s Spider-Man. Yet, at the same time, I was a bit leery about the project. It looked like it wanted to be dark and edgy, but the film’s promo / marketing for the feature didn’t entice me as much. The result of the film’s final cut leaves a lot to be desired as I found Venom to be a messy superhero endeavor. I did like Tom Hardy in the movie as he basically threw himself in the role and was completely committed to playing the role of Eddie Brock. In fact, it was kind of amusing to see Hardy, who always play a straightforward and / or multi-layered character persona in his career, playing such a wacky and “out-there” character. It definitely amusing to see, but it was hardly my favorite role he’s played in his acting career. However, pretty much everything else about Venom was pretty bland and “meh” to me. Everything just felt clunky and haphazardly messy, with the film struggling to find its place amongst the age of superhero blockbusters. Thus, in the end, 2018’s Venom seems like a missed opportunity. It has a few redeeming merits, but its overall execution hampers the feature from being truly memorable…. or rather a good superhero flick.
Of course, this brings up the point about talking about Venom: Let There Be Carnage, a 2021 superhero film and the sequel installment to the 2018 film. As I mentioned, I wasn’t super keen on the first Venom, with the movie’s secret ending teasing a sequel with an iconic villain for the Spider-Man / Venom comic book universe (aka Carnage). Of course, this fueled the interest in seeing the movie, but I was still quite leery about this upcoming project. Would it be better the first film? Will they do the character of Carnage (or even Venom) justice and presented in a better light? These are just some of the questions that I pondered upon as a year or two passed by, with the sequel project being briefly mentioned here and there (via online). After that, the film’s movie trailers began to appear and showcased what was in-store for Venom 2 (soon to be called Venom: Let There Be Carnage) and was a little bit intrigued by the footage, but still had some reservations about the film. Still, I decided to check out the movie, with the classic notion of “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst”; watching the movie during its opening weekend. Now, with a few days of from work, I decided to give my personal thoughts on Venom: Let There Be Carnage. And what are they? Well, my suspicions and reservations about the movie are well-founded as Venom: Let There Be Carnage plays fun within its self-aware humor and madcap superhero antics, but struggles to maintain a solid / follow-up sequel narration. Some parts work, but its tonally and structural a haphazard mess.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is directed by Andy Serkis, who’s mostly known for his portrayal of various CGI characters like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Caesar from the Planet of the Apes trilogy, and King Kong in 2005’s King Kong. Thus, while he’s masterful actor within the realm of motion capture (as well as other live-action roles), Serkis has been known to dabble within the director’s realm, with such projects like Breathe, The Ruins of Empires, and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. Thus, given his background in directing, Serkis makes Let There Be Carnage his most ambitious directorial project to date; approaching the material with sort of the same vibe that the first Venom had. Naturally, like with many sequels, Let There Be Carnage gets a lot of the introductions out of the way very quickly and jumps right into the thick of the story’s narrative, with Serkis presenting the main villains of the movie and heading right into the action. Serkis also demonstrates the overall absurdity and craziness that the movie’s world has to offer; embracing the oddity of Venom’s setting and certainly amps it up from the first film. This makes watching this sequel a bit more fun to watch as that madcap adventure that follows is a bit easier to swallow and makes the whole premise more playful. Serkis gives viewers what they kind of want, so it makes for a more enjoyable ride. What perhaps Serkis does best is in the capturing the bonding relationship between Eddie Brock and Venom. While the first Venom feature introduces us (the viewers) to the two characters, Let There Be Carnage has a more playful manner with the pairing of these two, with Serkis playing up the “odd couple” relationship that they share, which generates probably the best laughs in the film’s comedy aspect. Thus, the witty back and forth banter that Brock and Venom share are the movie’s best highlight has to offer and I think that was intent by Serkis, who seems to focus a lot of the film’s time by examining their on-going relationship.
Serkis also a more fun in staging several big moments in the movie, especially in the birth of Carnage sequences, which first showcases the violent and destructive nature of Cletus Kasady’s symbiote partner and certainly setting the stage for the final showdown between Venom and Carnage during the climatic third act battle, which is also another dramatic moment for the movie’s action. In addition, Serkis makes Let There Be Carnage have a much leaner runtime, with the film only running 90 minutes and moving at a brisk pace. This is kind of a “double edge” sword type of scenario with the movie (more on that below), but it keeps everything moving and never feels like a drag.
The presentation of Let There Be Carnage is solid as it plays within the realm of the superhero blockbuster. It doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of large-scale superhero cinematics (sitting comfortably within the industry standards of an endeavor like this), but it is still decent enough to make the movie feel evenly keel and presentable as a film to be released in 2021. The movie certainly has the same tonal / vibe background setting as in the first Venom, so I think that definitely works well. Thus, a lot of the film’s “behind the scenes” main members such as Oliver Scholl (production design), Jonanna Eatwell (costume design), and the entire art direction team deserve credit for their efforts made on this movie’s visual background aesthetics throughout. In addition, the film’s cinematography work by Robert Richardson is also pretty good and helps create several very cinematic moments throughout the film. The CGI visuals in the movie are a bit of a “hit or miss”. Most of the effect shots are pretty good, especially during the fight Symbiote fight sequences, but there are few times that have a bit of sloppy CGI shots. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Marco Beltrami, is pretty good and has a lot of dramatic grandiosity to the feature’s proceedings, which amps up the film’s visual look and appeal as well as the bigger moments that are conveyed on-screen.
Unfortunately, Let There Be Carnage falters when it comes to its execution, the feature having some glaring problematic areas of which neither Tom Hardy nor Andy Serkis can overcome. How so? Well, for starters, the movie’s pacing is all over the map. Of course, while I do praise the film for moving at a brisk pace and right into the “grit” of the action, the movie feels incredible rushed as if a lot of storytelling material were left on the cutting room floor. Because of this, Let There Be Carnage moves fast and never slows down; finding the film’s pacing to be highly wonky and incredibly off. This is super odd to me as Serkis, who has been in the director’s chair before, should know better and instead makes the whole endeavor zoom by insanely quick. There’s very little time to that the movie actually slows down, which makes the entire endeavor woefully flat and only having that “surface level” throughout the film’s runtime. This makes the movie run from plot point to plot point at break neck speed, which results in a lot of fragmented scenes and ideas that are almost cobbled up together to make the film’s final product. Again, it’s almost like the movie had some ideas, but Serkis and his team decided to scrap them in favor of a more “leaner” runtime. I suppose the “trimming the fat” mantra was main shtick for this sequel project, but this just hinders the feature completely and renders the entire movie in a very haphazard mess.
Coinciding with that notion, Let There Be Carnage feels unbalanced within its tone, which becomes increasingly problematic as the movie moves forward. Of course, I kind of expected the film’s comedy to be the frontrunner to everything that is going on, so I wasn’t too upset nor concerned about. What I’m actually talking about is the dark, edgy tone that Serkis and his team want to portray with Let There Be Carnage. There is an underlining feeling throughout the movie that the story of this sequel wants to be R-rated, especially with the scenes that involve Kasady / Carnage. However, as many know, Let There Be Carnage is PG-13, which is a bit of a groaner. I’m not saying that a PG-13 rating is a handicap as there are plenty of movies that come with that rating and still manage to sort of “push the envelope” of the PG-13 realm. Let There Be Carnage certainly does push the limits of the PG-13 range, but I personally felt that the movie wanted (and should’ve) gone further with a more R-rating, especially after the success found with James Gunn’s Suicide Squad movie, which received an R-rating and was praise for it. Let There Be Carnage has its bouts of violence and mayhem, but doesn’t exactly quite cross that threshold…. even though the film desperately wants to be. Because of this, the film’s darker elements come off as wonky and a tad clunky and how it wants to be portrayed in the movie. I definitely think that this movie should’ve been R-rated and would’ve been beneficial the film’s appeal.
Also, the movie’s action is a bit limp. Yes, there are some cool CGI visual effect shots that showcase plenty of superhero antics and entertainment, but those are only really delegated to two major scenes. Of course, those two scenes are fun, but its only two, with a large portion of Let There Be Carnage filled with dialogue sequences, which do have a tendency to be boring, which is strange because the movie does move incredibly fast. Thus, there just needed to be more action in the movie than what was presented (and I think many would agree with that). Plus, as a minor complaint, I felt that the movie just seems to be rehashing the main bad guy from the first one. What do I mean? Well, yes…. I know that the characters of Carlton Drake and Cletus Kasady are two vastly different characters, with Kasady being the stronger / compelling villain to watch. However, what I’m talking about is the symbiote villain. Basically, the first movie is Venom vs. Riot and in Let There Be Carnage is another symbiote fight with Venom vs. Carnage. It’s almost like I’m watching the same movie all over again…. just a watered-down version. There are some things that are different, but the imagery, the fighting, and some of the display of weakness of defeat are all the same and just feel a bit lazy to rehash another symbiote fight. I understand that Carnage is an iconic comic book character within the Spider-Man universe, but it just seems like lazy writing to me.
Adding to this, the script for the movie has that half-baked feeling and underutilized its own plot. With the script being penned by Kelly Marcel and Tom Hardy, it’s clear that the story of Let There Be Carnage is one that needs a lot of “beefing” with context and substance throughout the entire film. For all the hype and talk that Hardy provide in co-writing the screenplay for the film, the actual story for the feature feels quite generic and formulaic. Yes, there’s a lot of potential that the movie has to offer and certainly provides a playful manner within its own narrative, but there’s not a whole lot that actual happens. Again, it almost feels like large chunks of the script were cut / omitted from the final cut of Let There Be Carnage, which (again) results in a messy and unbalanced story that struggles to find a proper medium within its cinematic execution. Parts of the story are glossed over and rushed through, especially in characterization of Cletus Kasady as well Frances Barrison, who almost seem like “cookie cutter” caricature villains, with the script spending little time on their development in the movie beyond their initial setup. It’s corny and almost a bit cartoony in way that becomes a bit distraction, which sort of hampers the film’s villainy and almost undercut the dark, edgy vibe that Serkis (as well as Marcel / Hardy’s script) that the movie is so desperately trying to be. This even extends to several narrative beats, especially when the story / movie moves from the second to third act. Everything happens waaayyyyy too fast and so conveniently that it almost tries to get past all the “boring stuff” and step right into the action. I get why Serkis and his team would want to do this, but not at the expense of storytelling. Also, the film’s script lacks the necessary complexity that a narrative plot like this needs. Sure, a little bit superhero nuances and some darker elements as well as some blockbuster flair is what is called upon for such an endeavor like Let There Be Carnage, but the script is just lacking and carries little weight (or meaty substance), which is disappointing.
What definitely helps overcome those glaring points of criticism is the film’s cast, with the selected cast of acting talents up to the task of bringing these particular comic book characters to life. Unfortunately, almost all of these particular characters suffer from being thinly sketched or just simply lackluster, with their problems being rooted into the film’s flimsy script-handling and / or weakly developed character development throughout the film. Perhaps the only shinning bright star of Let There Be Carnage would be actor Tom Hardy, who plays the central protagonist role of Eddie Brock / Venom once again. Hardy, who is known for his roles in Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and Warrior, has become quite a capable actor over the years; amassing a credible acting career and a sizeable list of memorable characters that he has portrayed. As mentioned earlier, Hardy’s involvement in the 2018’s Venom was solid, and I appreciate how committed he was to embrace the zany / crazy antics that were found within Eddie Brock’s entanglement with an alien symbiote (i.e., Venom) living inside of him. It wasn’t his best role as I still found the role to be a tad wonky at times, but I still applaud Hardy for playing the role and sticking to it. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Hardy is just fun and amusing when he reprise the character of Eddie Brock in Let There Be Carnage. While most of his past character roles are very serious and / or straight-forward, Hardy’s Brock is fun and entertaining; watching the actor basically go comical and act a little bit of a goofball as he wrestles with such a twisted relationship that he has with Venom. As mentioned, the relationship between the pair is the main crux of the movie and Hardy embraces that well. There’s not much of character growth that Brock, which is the big letdown, as there was more development and well-roundness found in the first Venom film than this one. However, Hardy is committed to the role, and one does certainly have to appreciate that. Thus, while it isn’t his best role, I do find that the Hardy’s Eddie Brock and Venom is certainly the main selling point of this film’s sequel, with the actor literally carrying the movie on his shoulders from onset to conclusion.
Connected to Hardy’s Brock character is the character of Anne Weying. Eddie’s ex-girlfriend and who is played by actress Michelle Williams. Known for her roles in Oz the Great and Powerful, My Week with Marylin, and The Greatest Showman, Williams is a capable actress and has shown that throughout her career. Yet, her involvement in the first Venom movie was a bit wonky. Still, for better or worse, she gave what she could for the project and with the material that was given to her; making Anne is middling supporting character. Naturally, Williams is back in the character for Let There Be Carnage and it’s pretty much the same feeling. The movie treats the character in rather clunky manner; forcing the character to participate in the movie’s narrative is a poor execution. Thus, the script handling for the character is quite messy, with Anne’s involvement in the film rather weak. Plus, Williams struggles to find purpose in reigniting her character role; making for some bland performance. Again, like the previous film, the on-screen chemistry between her and Hardy is incredibly weak as the pair don’t have that “spark” to fully buy into the relationship of Anne and Eddie. Heck, Eddie and Venom have a better relationship than this one. Thus, I like Williams as an actress, but I felt that her portrayal of Anne in Let There Be Carnage is bland and rather forgetful.
In the villain category, Let There Be Carnage showcases a better villain than the character of Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake / Riot from the 2018 movie, with actor Woody Harrelson stepping into the antagonist role of Cletus Kasady / Carnage. Harrelson, known for his roles in Cheers, Zombieland, and War for the Planet of the Apes, always been a good character actor, but has always leaned towards the more eccentric roles, which certainly does play to his strengths. This is probably why he was selected for the role of Cletus Kasady and, for all the faults that surround this movie, I think that it was right decision for Harrelson to play such a role. He definitely can create the twisted / psychotic gleam in his eye as well as the overall eccentric creepiness, which is felt in almost every time he’s on-screen. Additionally, Harrelson has the finesse (in his acting talent) to walk a fine line of balancing making a character larger-than-life and over-the-top, which is the case with Cletus as well as his portrayal of Carnage. It’s just a shame that there isn’t much substance written to make the character a substantial worthy foe for Brock / Venom to face off against. Physically (and visually) speaking, he certainly is, but the script restricts the character of Cletus / Carnage to be rather generic and lacking a fully development for his character. Thus, I did like Harrelson in the role, but I just think that Cletus Kasady / Carnage had its limitation in Let There Be Carnage.
Who actually fares the worst in the entire film is in the character of Frances Barrison / Shriek, Kasady’s love interest and isolated metahuman being with a supersonic howling screech as a weapon. Played by actress Naomie Harris, who is known for her roles in Skyfall, Moonlight, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the character of Frances seems like a good character and acts as secondary villain to Kassidy / Carnage. However, that’s only on paper. In actuality, she’s a shallow and undercooked character that really doesn’t do much beyond push the narrative forward. Harris does what she can with the role through her performance, but even that hits a sour note; finding her portrayal weak at best and struggles to make her screen presence unknown amongst her fellow co-stars (Hardy, Harrelson, and Williams). Overall, the character of Frances / Shriek is underdeveloped, underutilized, and (quite frankly) unmemorable in the film.
Rounding out the cast is actor Reid Scott (Late Night and Veep) as Annie’s new boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis, actress Peggy Lu (Always Be My Maybe and Kung Po: Enter the Fist) as convenient store owner Mrs. Chen, and actor Stephan Graham (Boardwalk Empire and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as police detective Mulligan, in minor supporting characters in the film, with a two out of three reprising their roles from the 2018 film. Personally, I liked these three characters as they either offered up some continuity connection the first film and / or were fine in their respective roles, despite the movie’s mad dash of storyline progression and sloppy writing. Still, for better or worse, I liked these supporting characters and slightly more than some of the main players in the feature….and that’s saying something about Let There Be Carnage.
Lastly, the movie does have a mid-credit Easter Egg scene and it is probably one of the best things about Let There Be Carnage. Of course, I will not spoil what it is actually shown, but it is quite interesting to see how it will all play out in future installments as well as how the characters of Eddie Brock / Venom will be utilized in the future.
While Eddie Brock struggles with his on-going relationship with Venom, a new evil is unleashed is preparing to wreak havoc in the movie Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Director Andy Serkis’s latest film returns to the crazy and maniac superhero tale of Eddie Brock / Venom, with a sequel film that amps up the level of absurdity within its story, comedy, and overall tone. While the movie is more self-aware of what is going on (thanks to Serkis’s direction) and gets more to the point of the feature’s plot (for more time of comedy and action) as well as committed solid performance from Hardy, the film itself runs a sour gambit, especially within its own haphazard story, rushed pace, wonky mechanics, and several weak and forgettable characters. Personally, I was a bit disappointed with this movie. I think that this sequel improved upon some elements, but it also dropped the ball in a few other areas; producing a next chapter that doesn’t exactly gel well together. I can see why some out there like the movie, but I just can’t see it. It is for that reason why I would probably prefer the 2018’s Venom over this 2021 sequel. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is an unfavorable “skip it” and might be an “iffy choice” for others out there who might enjoy it. There’s definitely going to be a polarizing effect on who liked this film and who doesn’t, which it will be fun to discuss among my fellow critics and moviegoers. As I said, the movie’s ending leaves the door open for something exciting and, despite my not liking the Venom movies, it will be quite interesting to see what the future holds. In the end, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a perplexing movie that can be fun and indulges itself within its dysfunctional / absurd premise, but is just quite messy and shallow…..and that’s the disappointing part.
2.6 Out of 5 (Skip It / Iffy-Choice)
Released On: October 1st, 2021
Reviewed On: October 6th, 2021
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is 90 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references