Venom: Let There Be Carnage Review -- Less Fun The Second Time Around

  • First Released Oct 1, 2021
  • movie

Venom 2 tries to pull off the campy charm of its predecessor by doing all the same tricks twice.

When Venom hit theaters back in 2018, it was something of a sleeper hit. Sure, it may not have been "good" in the traditional sense--the story, alongside the liberties it took with its characters, removing them from the context of their Spider-Man anti-hero origins, was completely absurd at best and nonsense at worst--but still, it managed to pull it off with a sort of goofy, charming '90s flair that felt appropriate despite it all. And Tom Hardy's wildly eccentric take on both Eddie Brock and the titular alien symbiote was charming--who doesn't love to see an actor famous for his intimidating action heroes flailing around in the lobster tank of a fancy restaurant?

Now, three years later, the Sony branch of the MCU (that isn't exactly the MCU) is trying to do it all again with Venom: Let There Be Carnage--which, well. It's certainly a movie, but not in the same way that Venom the first was certainly a movie. Instead of being campy and over-the-top in a way that will tap into your embarrassing yet fond '90s nostalgia, Let There Be Carnage feels like a hastily thrown-together clip show of tired tropes and half-baked ideas, and when it fails to be that, it simply repeats the beats wholesale that it already moved past from the first movie.

To start, we have Hardy back as Eddie Brock, a down-on-his-luck investigative journalist who used to have his own TV show before he flew a little too close to the corporate sun and got blackballed. In 2018, we watched him become infected with an alien symbiote named Venom and by the end of the movie, they had learned to live with one another in a sort of affectionate odd couple relationship, while also saving the world. Venom 1 wrapped up with the implication that while Eddie and Venom may not be a well-oiled machine, they were certainly well on their way to living a relatively happy, if occasionally grotesque, life together.

In Let There Be Carnage, that arc may as well have happened to some other characters. We're right back to square one with all the same gags and beats repeated in their entirety. Sure, Hardy pulls off some impressive feats of physical comedy, letting himself fight with a non-existent CGI slimeball while being puppeteered around his apartment, but it's a lot less charming (and certainly less surprising) the second time around. It's unclear exactly how much time has passed between this and the first movie, and there are some halfhearted attempts to point to a time presumably right after Venom 1 when things may have been going a bit smoother for the pair, or their relationship may have progressed or changed in some meaningful way, but none are really elaborated on. It seems as though Let There Be Carnage simply ran out of ideas of ways a man infected by a sentient alien parasite could be interesting or funny.

Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson plays Cletus Kassidy, a serial killer who was first featured with a bad wig in a Venom 1 post-credits scene. Kassidy becomes infected with a new symbiote named Carnage, who helps him escape his execution and cause all sorts of chaos. While the Cletus plot certainly does get points for being the only new thing Let There Be Carnage brings to the table, it immediately loses them for otherwise making no sense. The movie starts with Eddie doing a sort of Clarice Starling riff to Cletus's Hannibal, which is how we learn that apparently the police have been unable to recover Cletus's many victims' bodies. This is odd, given that Cletus's backstory places him in an asylum since he was a teenager, or perhaps even before, because he murdered his own family, which we discover thanks to a very out-of-place animated flashback. The bodies the police haven't been able to find are explicitly not his family members, but they're not characters either.

During Cletus's time in the asylum he fell in love with a girl named Frances (Naomie Harris), who has the ability to scream very, very loudly--not so loudly that it does anything flashy, but loud enough to at least partially deafen anyone who is close to her when she does it. In the comics, Frances is a mutant named Shriek, but the "m" word is never dropped here and it's never made clear why she's been incarcerated. Early in the movie, she appears to have died--but didn't--which really only serves to add even more bafflingly hard-to-follow digressions in understanding exactly what Cletus's deal is. Also, don't worry, toward the end of the movie characters stop calling Frances "Frances" and start calling her Shriek, as if that's been her name all along.

Most, if not all, of Cletus and Frances's story before the climactic fight is done in awkwardly shot cut-aways, where Cletus does things like brutally murder a gas station attendant to use his laptop. He then plugs into the computer using Carnage's tentacles, which somehow create a screen straight out of the 1995 movie Hackers. He does this while Harrelson's voice is dubbed in saying "y'all got any of that internet?" This is just one of many stilted one-liners that feel like they were hastily added in post-production for reasons unknown.

And speaking of the climactic final fight, Let There Be Carnage is so short on new ideas that it functionally just reshoots and remixes the Topher Grace Venom fight from Spider-Man 3. It's unclear if this was an intentional nod or not, and it certainly doesn't feel tongue-in-cheek in the moment, so if there's a punchline, it never lands.

This is a recurring issue. Earlier in the movie, during one of Venom and Eddie's squabbles, Venom goes host-hopping, glibly killing civilians as he overwhelms their bodies or simply starves them to death--both reasons for the hosts' deaths are hastily given but never elaborated on. It's unclear if this body count is supposed to be funny or not in the same way Venom chomping down on the heads of villains is supposed to feel triumphant, or at least horrific in a silly way. At one point, Venom, having taken over the body of an unnamed party-goer, heads to a club--director Andy Serkis has confirmed it's supposed to be "some sort of LGBTQIA festival" though there is absolutely no indication of queerness on screen at all--and announces that it's his "coming out of Eddie'' party. He then makes a speech to the crowd about accepting yourself as an "alien." Later, the unnamed person succumbs to Venom's fatal possession and dies.

It's clear that Serkis and his creative team were attempting to acknowledge Venom's large and vocal queer fanbase. But given the character's comic book origin as an allegorical take on the widespread fear and anxiety revolving around infection and contamination during the AIDs crisis in the 1980s, perhaps having him invade and then murder non-characters at a non-specific pride festival in what feels like a poorly attempted gag wasn't the best way to do this.

Let There Be Carnage's singular saving grace is its post-credits stinger, which, without spoiling anything, is sure to delight anyone who has invested their time and energy into big superhero franchises over the years, and spark all kinds of conversation and theorizing about the future of the franchise. It's just a shame it took 90 minutes of confusing and tired meandering to arrive at that point.

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The Good

  • The post-credits stinger is sure to make a lot of fans very happy
  • Hardy's physical comedy is still top-notch

The Bad

  • No new ideas to be found
  • Woody Harrelson's weirdly ADR'd dialogue
  • Baffling story choices are difficult to follow
  • New characters make very little impact
  • A significant lack of laughs

About the Author

Sony held a screening for Venom: Let There Be Carnage in Los Angeles.