REVIEW: ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’

If Neil Simon had worked for Marvel, this is what might have resulted

October 1, 2021

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is like the second-season premiere of a Neil Simon buddy-clash TV sitcom in the guise of a comic-book-superhero-monster movie. You can hear the intro to the show in your head: Can two beings, one an intergalactic sociopath with magical powers and the other a hangdog Internet journalist, share a body without driving each other crazy?

The first Venom told the story of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who ends up with the creature Venom living inside him and whose hunger for human brains and general destruction he must figure out some way to contain. This is a Marvel Comics situation, I gather, related in some way to Spider-Man. (I will forbear insulting comic books at this point, as some of my best friends like them.) It was not good at all—it was mostly a bad non-musical version of the Little Shop of Horrors musical—but it made a lot of money at the box office. As the second Venom begins, Eddie and Venom are pretty much just hanging out together, shooting the breeze, with Venom alternately insulting Eddie and advising him on his work and romantic life and Eddie taking the alien’s ribbing with irritated resignation.

I have to say that this time the Eddie-Venom dynamic is surprisingly funny. Tom Hardy is a wildly charismatic and amusing performer when he’s not overly mannered. And the sequel doesn’t bother to rehearse the plot points from the original, explaining the workings of the symbiotic relationship between Eddie and the oil-spill-looking demon that occasionally overtakes his physical form.

So they’re friends now, and somehow Venom has basically become a nice guy. He likes Eddie’s ex-girlfriend and doesn’t even want to eat her fiancé. But there has to be trouble in paradise, of course. So for unclear reasons, they fight, and Venom vacates Eddie’s body in a huff. So then they’re broken up and they’re both liberated and also sad. Venom wanders around during a Halloween parade and feels liberated to be himself. Eddie gets a new TV because Venom broke his during a tantrum. It’s surprisingly diverting, and well-staged by its director, the peerless motion-capture actor Andy Serkis (who was Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies and the lead ape in the most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy).

Alas, a movie has to have a plot, and I regret to say this picture has a shockingly lousy one. It involves a serial killer who ends up with a Venom-like creature inside of him. It emerges in the midst of his execution by lethal injection (in San Francisco, no less, where in real life a serial killer might well be elected the local district attorney). Woody Harrelson plays the serial killer, and while he can be a wonderful actor—and is the actual son of an actual contract killer, no less—his character seems less like a macabre and terrifying villain and more like a poor guy who has been driven mad because the world has forced him into a haircut that’s half-Shemp, half-rockabilly.

Woody reunites with his long lost love, a mutant with screaming powers played by Naomie Harris, who has never known a part she couldn’t turn into a horrifying display of overacting. I’d guess she’s another Marvel character and that therefore her presence will delight fanboys, but her place in this particular story makes absolutely no sense.

But then, the story makes absolutely no sense. Apparently Woody Harrelson’s monster is stronger than Eddie’s monster, even though Eddie’s monster is somehow Woody Harrelson’s monster’s father. But I don’t even know why I bother. Let’s put it simply: If you don’t like creatures with long, wet tongues, you should avoid Venom: There Will Be Carnage. If you have a hankering to see The Odd Couple: Endgame, buy a ticket.

Published under: Movie Reviews