Venom: Let There Be Carnage Review: A Goofy Romantic Comedy Disguised As A Superhero Sequel

Any enjoyment derived from the first "Venom" felt like an accident. Marketing for the flick played up a dark, shadowy, potentially violent antihero story. But the fun of the film came from how unusually silly it was for a modern-day comic book adaptation, with Tom Hardy going gonzo as he used weird voices and climbed into lobster tanks. Now, here's "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," a sequel that does away with any pretext of seriousness. Like "Evil Dead II," this is an off-the-wall, over-the-top, "Three Stooges" inspired freak show. The end result is a queer-coded rom-com about two very messy boys who love each other. Eddie Brock and his alien symbiote Venom are destined to be together; they're both losers who make each other winners in the end. Sure, a few heads get bitten off in the process, but love does funny things to us all. 

Yes, there are still a few dark and serious things here. But "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" is also refreshingly breezy. It flies by — probably because it's pretty clear multiple scenes ended up on the cutting room floor at some point. On top of that, the stakes are incredibly low. There's no threat of world domination here or mass extinction. In an era where we're inundated with superhero movies, and every single one of those movies is treated like A BIG EVENT, there's something oddly comforting about a movie like this that has very little on its mind, other than throwing big gooey monsters up on screen to scream at each other in surround sound. The bottom line: "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" does not want you to take any of this even remotely seriously, and there's nothing wrong with that. 

As "Let There Be Carnage" begins, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Venom (Tom Hardy doing a funny voice) have become something akin to an old married couple. They bicker, they make up, they bicker again. They have two pet chickens, Sonny and Cher, that were originally intended to be snacks for Venom. But Venom refuses to eat them — they're his friends, now. Besides, it's not chicken Venom wants. Instead, the alien is constantly begging Eddie to let him eat some bad guys, and Eddie is constantly shooting this request down. Eddie is also still trying to make a comeback as a journalist, and he gets a big break when serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, having the time of his life here) requests an interview. "People love serial killers," Cletus says, and he has a point. 

With help from Venom, Eddie is able to figure out where many of Cletus' still-missing victims are buried. The outcry is so severe that we're told the governor of California has lifted the state's ban on the death penalty to make Cletus pay for his crimes. "Let There Be Carnage" was in production before the California recall, so it's unclear if we're meant to assume the governor putting Cletus to death is Gavin Newsom or a fictional equivalent. In any case, the idea that the state would up and reverse its death penalty stance on the basis of one creepy ginger guy is perhaps the most implausible thing in a movie full of goo monsters. 

Hammy, Undercooked Villains

Like everything else in "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," Cletus Kasady is refreshingly simple. He's not a misunderstood tragic figure. He's not a good guy who just went bad. He's simply a creep who murdered his mother, grandmother, and a lot of other people. He's spent most of his life in and out of institutions, and the only real connection he ever made was with Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), a character just as deranged as he is. Frances has a superpowered scream that can shatter glass and physically injure people, and she and Cletus really hit it off at the reform school they grew up together in. But Frances was eventually taken away to a top-secret facility, leaving Cletus pining for his true love for most of his life. 

Harrelson and Harris have as much fun as they possibly can with these characters, although it seems abundantly clear that they both had a lot more scenes that director Andy Serkis ultimately decided to cut. Harris' character is particularly ill-served here — we learn almost nothing tangible about her, and her characteristics change dramatically at the drop of a hat. She spends most of the film as a full-blown psycho willing to kill, and then at one point suddenly acts alarmed and says things have gone too far — only to then go right back to being cartoonishly evil again. It's this sort of messiness that keeps "Let There Be Carnage" from being fully successful, but it doesn't mean the movie isn't fun to watch, and indeed, there's plenty of fun to be had watching Harrelson and Harris ham it up, laughing and sneering as if they were mustachioed villains in a silent film. 

Right before he's about to be sent to the gas chamber, Cletus requests one final interview with Eddie. It doesn't go so well, and the serial killer ends up taking a bite out of Eddie's hand. Of course, Eddie has alien stuff running through his body, and Cletus ingests some of that without thinking too much about it (he's a crazy serial killer, so he's prone to decisions like that). And wouldn't you know it, that ingestion turns Cletus into an alien monster, too — the red, multi-limbed Carnage. Carnage is much deadlier, and meaner, than Venom, and Cletus uses his newfound powers to bust out of the gas chamber and go looking for his long-lost love, Frances. 

A Real Boy and an Amoeba

In the midst of all of this, Eddie and Venom go through a break-up. Things get so testy that Venom leaves — jumping out of Eddie and into other people. This leads to a silly-but-charming sequence in which Venom has a kind of coming-out party, wandering into a rave and giving an impassioned speech about how love is love and we should not judge others for their beliefs. Venom couches the conversation in the form of "being nice to aliens," but Andy Serkis and writer Kelly Marcel know exactly what they're doing here, all but shouting from the rooftops that Venom is here, and he's queer, and he's proud of it, goddamn it. And just in case you didn't pick up on it, there's even a quick moment where a female character at the rave attempts to come on to Venom, at which point the hulking alien replies, "Sorry, not my type." 

Ultimately, Venom realizes he misses Eddie, and Eddie misses Venom. They need each other, and Eddie has to turn to his ex, Anne (Michelle Williams), to help get Venom back. This scenario has all the trappings of a screwball rom-com, and we know it's only a matter of time before Venom and Eddie put aside their differences and get back together again. And when they do, they'll have to stop Cletus/Carnage and Frances, who also goes by the supervillain name Shriek. 

The villains don't seem to have a real plan other than "let's mess stuff up." Again, I get the distinct impression that an earlier version of this movie had much more development for the baddies. Hell, they might have even had a nefarious world domination plan. But if so, it's not here, and the movie is the better for it. Not all comic book movie villains need plots to take over the world; sometimes, it's okay for them to just be evil jerks who like to run around smashing things. 

On paper, Cletus and Frances are paper-thin. They merely exist. Even Carnage is kind of a dud here; he has none of the personality of Venom. He simply moves around screaming, and barely saying anything. This seems like a miscalculation because I imagine Harrelson could've had some fun delivering lines for Carnage. But perhaps everyone involved with the movie realized that the real heart and soul of "Let There Be Carnage" was the relationship between Eddie and Venom, and the promise of another unhinged performance from Hardy, who gets to deliver lines like, "I'm a real boy, and you're just an amoeba!" At one point, Venom causes Eddie to have a loud outburst in public, at which point Eddie tells stunned onlookers, "Sorry, I don't have an explanation for that." Hardy is the true glue that holds all of this together, and this franchise is lucky to have him. Without his go-for-broke approach to this material, "Venom" would be worse for wear. 

Who Needs Spider-Man?

"Venom: Let There Be Carnage" is choked with issues, from its nonsensical plot to its trimmed-down narrative. And yet, I find myself wanting to recommend this simply because it never once bored me the way some classier, bigger Marvel-centric movies have. Nothing in the main film feels like it's sticking to a formula or doling out fan service. Indeed, when a fan service-heavy post-credit scene arrives, it rings hollow, and needy, and false. The Venom of the comics might need Spider-Man to get by, but this weirdo movie version of Venom is perfectly fine standing on his own ground. 

I know there are fans who only want to see Venom in context with the world of Spider-Man, but I could care less. I don't need to see Tom Hardy meet up with Tom Holland's Spidey. All I need is for Venom and Eddie to continue their clumsy, sweet, occasionally deadly romance. There's a moment here where Eddie and Venom watch as Cletus fights against Carnage, leading Eddie to point out that while Cletus and Carnage aren't a good fit, Venom and Eddie are a match made in symbiote heaven. Moments like that are so unusually sweet that it's hard to judge "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" too harshly. 

There are countless superhero movies better than this. Better written, better directed, better acted, better made. And yet, "Let There Be Carnage" has a weird, quirky heart, and sometimes, that's exactly what you need to see. If we must be inundated with a never-ending stream of comic book movies, at least give us more oddities like this to keep things fresh. As long as Tom Hardy keeps wanting to make these movies, I'll keep watching them. 

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10