Movie Review – Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)
Written by Kelly Marcel
Directed by Andy Serkis

I never could have predicted this would be the movie we got with Venom in the lead role. I want to be upfront here and say I did not enjoy watching this movie. Yet, I appreciate the final product’s entirely off the rails insanity. It is certainly nothing like your standard MCU movie; it doesn’t seem interested in cutesy quippy dialogue. For the most part, it feels like a hurriedly edited mess that doesn’t have any lulls. It follows some tropes of the superhero sequel, and the main antagonist is yet another evil symbiote. That said, this is one of those head-scratching movies that is so strange in its presentation that you have to wonder if executives spoke up at any point during the production.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has found a way to live alongside Venom (also Hardy), the symbiote that came to inhabit his body in the first film. They are essentially a couple who argue a lot, and most of the film is about their break-up and getting back together. Also, there’s Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a death row inmate who wants to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Frances (Naomie Harris), a mutant (?), maybe who is locked up at Ravencroft Asylum. Cletus provokes Eddie into covering his story, and after a too-close encounter, Cletus bites Eddie and ingests some of the symbiote. This births a crimson variation that works alongside Cletus as he resumes his murderous rampage. Eddie is reunited with the one who got away, Anne (Michelle Williams), but he realizes his true love is Venom by the end of the movie.

When I sit back and think about it, I guess being silly is the best course for a Venom movie. Can you imagine if the picture adopted the “grim n’ gritty” 1990s aesthetic and tone the old comics presented? That would be completely unbearable. I personally don’t find the Venom character interesting beyond his costume. He’s basically anti-Spider-Man, and I fall into the same camp as Sam Raimi. He was pressured to include the villain in Spider-Man 3 and basically presented him as a feckless idiot. Even worse than Venom is Carnage, an attempt to out-extreme the former by adding more senseless murder and sliminess. I’m sure some people were excited to hear this movie announced; I just had flashbacks to some horribly written Marvel comics. 

Beyond Brock and his relationship with Venom, there really aren’t fully realized characters in these movies. Cletus and Frances are pale shadows of previous Bonnie & Clyde-like analogs. We don’t ever get a sense of what draws them together or any glimpses into how they are when no one else is around. Instead, they basically act like stock villains 24/7. Cletus, in particular, seems to quip in every line of dialogue with lines that I have to assume we’re meant to laugh at. Likewise, Frances is a complete waste of Naomie Harris’s time, a role with so little to do that she’s purely a plot device to motivate Cletus.

The actors here aren’t bad ones. Every person on the list has been in at least a couple great productions. Yet here, under the direction of Andy Serkis and this script, they become utter buffoons. I was left consistently confused by the tone. You can see the influence of other superhero properties in the film, mainly Deadpool with a sprinkle of Sam Raimi’s sillier take on Spider-Man. The filmmakers were also confused, so we lacked consistency in the story. Serkis has said cuts were made to the plot to have more Eddie/Venom banter scenes, which may explain the weird lack of momentum. The story’s focus pivots between the Carnage plot and personal problems with Venom in a way that feels like you’re watching two different movies playing concurrently at specific points. 

When the end credits rolled, the vibe I got was that Sony begged Hardy to come back for a Venom sequel. Knowing he had leverage, Hardy wrangled more creative control and helped pen a script that he thinks is hilariously funny. It’s undoubtedly amusing, but not for intentional reasons. I’ve seen multiple takes online that refer to this as a great 2003 superhero movie, and I think that nails it. But, unfortunately, this is more in the vein of Daredevil than Deadpool at the end of the day. A film that thinks it’s sly by winking at the audience while not seeming to understand just exactly how ridiculous the whole affair is.

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