Venom: Let There Be Carnage noticeably improves upon its predecessor by leaning into how ridiculously crazy the concept is. Tonally it bounces all over the place, much like how the lead character is bouncing off the walls arguing with himself. Somewhat surprisingly, there is a genuinely effective thematic core here about toxic codependent relationships, personified by the various aliens merging with hapless humans. This is more intentionally zany as opposed to the previous film which was more awkwardly zany. This movie may also be awkward in places but still lovable. Kind of like Venom himself.
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a reporter interviewing a serial killer, Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). Eddie also has an alien symbiote named Venom taking Eddie’s body along for the ride as Eddie tries to appease Venom’s bloodlust for brains with chocolate and chickens instead. When Cletus bites Eddie he absorbs Eddie’s blood and the Venom symbiote, turning Kasady into the alien monster, Carnage. Carnage escapes and finds his love, Shriek (Naomie Harris), who can holler so loud her voice breaks stuff, which is a complication for Cletus and Shriek’s love as loud noises hurt alien symbiotes. Further complicating matters, Eddie and Venom are at odds which causes Venom to venture out on his own. Eddie calls up his ex, Anne (Michelle Williams) and along tags her fiancé, Doctor Dan (Reid Scott), to track Venom down. However, even if the two former buddies merge again, Carnage will reign.
The opening follows Shriek and Cletus’ imprisonment which sets up the romantic/friendship/obsession theme running through the movie. Even Eddie and Venom are in a dysfunctional relationship with Eddie holding Venom back from being his best, brain-eating self. This boils over in a funny, absurd bit of physical comedy where Venom and Eddie kick the crap out of each other. Venom even breaks Eddie’s nose, apologizes, fixes it, just so he can break it again. The film is building towards the Venom vs. Carnage throwdown however it only happens at the climax. It’s a very cool brawl but it would have been better if there were a few more rounds beforehand.
For a flick that is about symbiotic relationships, everyone seems to be in a toxic one. This has more thematic oomph than the previous film, or at least it puts more effort into making that theme more abundantly clear. When Venom separates from Eddie, the symbiote strikes out on its own although Venom is constantly chewing through hosts because he’s only compatible with Eddie. One of the movie’s best, most absurd scenes is Venom at a rave where everyone congratulates him on the cool costume. Venom, wearing glow stick beads, grabs the mic and proclaims how happy he is on his own, ending with “Lethal protector, out!” and literally dropping the mic. This has a thematic point in the Eddie/Venom relationship as Venom will only be happy if he can be himself. And call himself the “Lethal Protector”, which was the name of the first Venom comic miniseries. A funny meta gag is that Eddie snaps back that the moniker is “So ‘80s!”
Hardy is wildly swinging for the fences and the dedicated physicality of Hardy’s performance is nicely manic. There’s a devoted crazy here as Venom snarls and Eddie snarls back. A lot of times Eddie is muttering at Venom which creates some awkward encounters when people overhear him. Harrelson is almost in a completely different movie. If Hardy is in a comedy Harrelson is in a serial killer movie which fits with the whiplash tone of the film. Harrelson does a high-pitched, sing-song voiced killer crazy guy and when he becomes Carnage, he revels in chaos. The dynamic with Shriek makes him a weirdo romantic at heart, even at one point stomping a random gas station attendant so he can log onto the Internet and find Shriek. It’s as if Mickey from Natural Born Killers joined with an alien symbiote. In extremely bad form, the opening of the movie is a 1996 flashback with some random guy who is supposed to be teenage Cletus voiced by Harrelson. We’ve seen 1996 Woody Harrelson (in The People vs. Larry Flint or Kingpin), this guy ain't that.
Shriek’s Earth-shattering screaming enrages Carnage but Cletus loves her, adding to the abusive relationship theme as Harris plays her very strange. Williams returns as Eddie’s ex and she adds some genuine emotional pathos when she tells Eddie she’s engaged, although her best bit is when she temporarily joins with Venom. Eddie is apologizing to both Venom and her at the same time and the little reactions Williams throws in are gold. Somewhat predictably, she is used as kidnap bait in the third act. Doctor Dan is kind of useless and the movie knows this, at one point Venom even saying that Anne’s fiancé didn’t need to be around.
A mid-credits stinger will send speculation into overdrive about when Venom is going to appear next. It’s so unexpected it almost overshadows the preceding film. On its own, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a wild movie that bounces between serial killer freakiness, cop procedural, alien possession and gags about eating helpless old ladies. Everything is shaken up for a somewhat disjointed final product, but it certainly isn’t dull.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris