Venom: Let there be Carnage
This sequel improves certain aspects, but also rushes through core elements
By playing it safe and bland, Venom (2018) was largely an audience pleaser and box office juggernaut. It took on a famous comic book character and gave us the same old origin story with a dash of wit. The inevitable sequel carried the air of more of the same, only this time bringing fan-favorite Carnage as the flashy new attraction. Little did I expect a sequel with self-reflection and a director who analyzed what did and didn’t work in the first film.
Venom: Let there be Carnage (2021) finds our symbiote-infected reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) tasked with interviewing incarcerated serial killer Cletus Kassidy (Woody Harrelson). However, when Eddie’s investigative reporting solves Cletus’ last murders, the state sentences the latter to death. In a happenstance accident, Cletus manages to bite Eddie, taking on similar symbiote powers, and using them to exact his revenge.
The film is directed by Andy Serkis, who is desperately trying to leave his onscreen career as Gollum and Caesar for the director’s chair. He’s struggled, his debut Breathe (2017) was too tacky and his version of “The Jungle Book” Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018), had the misfortune of opening years after the hit Disney reboot. With Venom: Let there be Carnage, Serkis can show off more of his directing capabilities than before. He brings an attractive visual aesthetic to the film, having fun with a final cathedral sequence. Serkis discovers that the most enjoyable aspects of Venom were in the comic banter between Venom and Eddie. Serkis, thus, centers Let there be Carnage around this relationship, to the point that certain scenes emulate rom-com beats. Serkis also saw the bland reception of the more serious parts of Venom, and in turn brings a more tongue-in-cheek tone to this sequel. Gone is the self-serious villain or hero, with both Harrelson and Hardy contagiously having a great time.
In many aspects, Let there be Carnage is a more original and fresh film than the original; it takes its time having fun and playing with physical and situational comedy. Unfortunately, the balance is tilted too much in this direction. The film is incredibly short at just 1hr and 30 mins. This is clearly felt in the narrative, where we get our initial first act build-up, but then cut straight to the finale. This leads to deficient character development, and to a lack of pay off in the final fight. We don’t get to know our villain well enough, with Harrelson’s performance demanding more paused moments. Even side-characters like Naomi Harris’ siren-like Frances, or Michelle Williams’ Anne feel like mere cameos. In an event film like Let there be Carnage, subplots and big spectacle is expected, comedic moments are add-ons that are used to enhance these core aspects.
The result is a rather lackluster resolution, where you’re given the feeling that an entire middle act is missing from Let there be Carnage. The action and the character development are both needlessly restrained. By focusing on comedy and gaffes, Serkis’ sequel becomes unfocused as to the core tenets of the film.
In the end, Let there be Carnage delivers a more enjoyable time than the first film, yet it hardly moves its story forward. Our characters are practically in the same spot as at the beginning. Overall, Let there be Carnage is an entertaining if a bit too light a time at the theater.