“Responsibility is for the mediocre.”
If you didn’t check out my review of Venom (which you can see here); the symbiote’s first outing was somewhat of a surprise to… well, everyone. An unexpectedly goofy script was bolstered by an energetic performance from Tom Hardy as the titular Venom and his host, Eddie Brock, and supported by solid supporting performances by Anne Weying, Riz Ahmed and Reid Scott, among others; and held together with action and direction reminiscent of some of the most iconic horror and sci-fi films in cinema history. Encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive audience feedback, Sony gave the green light to a sequel featuring an iconic character teased in the mid-credits scene of the original; the cinematic debut of Carnage.
In Venom: Let There Be Carnage we rejoin Eddie Brock, who is adjusting to life with his alien symbiote, Venom. After being requested by the serial killer Cletus Kassidy to tell his life story, Eddie & Venom set off a chain of events that result in the creation of a brand new, much more dangerous symbiote called Carnage; who bonds to Kassidy and helps him escape from prison…
It’s safe to say that Sony were paying attention to what worked for audiences in the original Venom, as the weight of Let There Be Carnage is once again carried by the relationship between Brock and Venom, and the excellent chemistry that Tom Hardy has with himself. This time, Hardy also worked on the story with script writer Kelly Marcel, which invariably helped cater the dialogue of both Brock and Venom to Hardy’s strengths. Once again, his charisma shines through; and he brings the same chaotic, manic-depressive energy to Brock as in the first outing; while also fulfilling an almost parental role with his symbiote. Venom, however, has seen some interesting character development in the time between the two films; while also falling into the role of child within their relationship (and rather a petulant one at times); he’s also the one who is most enthusiastic about living the life of a hero; wanting to take to the streets as the “Lethal Protector”, putting him at odds with Brock’s desire to stay hidden and have a quiet life. Even when Venom helps give Brock’s career a boost as a result of the interaction with Kassidy, they fall out over the implications; and their relationship drives a lot of the humour and the emotion through the narrative.
Relationships are somewhat of a central theme of Let There Be Carnage; with a variety of different sets of dynamics playing out on screen. When Brock & Venom aren’t tearing it up in San Francisco, we spend a lot of time with Cletus Kassidy. Woody Harrelson’s casting as Kassidy was of little surprise when it was revealed at the end of Venom; and Harrelson channels the same kind of energy he brought to Natural Born Killers to bring both Kassidy and Carnage to life. While Harrelson brings the expected energy to both roles and has a lot of fun chewing scenery when given the chance, the script doesn’t provide as much for him to get his teeth into as you might expect from a casting this tight. The opening of this piece is a flashback to Kassidy’s time in a boarding house for violent children, and we are introduced to the secondary villain here as well, Naomie Harris putting in an engaging performance as Frances Barrison, also known as Shriek, who also serves as Kassidy’s love interest for the film. Kassidy’s escape from prison leads him to find her and break her out of Ravencroft (a facility specifically designed for holding super-powered criminals); and together with the Carnage symbiote they begin a rampage through both San Francisco and their own pasts. The dynamic is made more interesting by the fact that Shriek’s superpower is the manipulation of sound; something which the symbiotes are sensitive too; and the love between Kassidy and Barrison creates an interesting juxtaposition to the animosity between Barrison and Carnage, both emotionally and, at times, in terms of the action. However, there is an element of believability that is lost between the young Kassidy and Barrison being portrayed as being the same age, when Harris and Harrelson have a noticeable age difference between them; but it’s negligible enough that the story can help you ignore it during the more action-packed sequences.
Michelle Williams also returns as Anne Weying, and Reid Scott reprises his role as her “new” partner Dan Lewis; and both fulfull the same roles as they did in the original. It is once again a joy to see Williams in a role where she gets to have some fun; getting the opportunity to flex a little more of her comedy muscles in this outing. One scene in particular, of Anne flirting with the Venom-controlled Chinese shopkeeper Mrs. Chen (played once again by Peggy Lu) is a particular highlight of the entire film, and Dan even gets a chance to shine in one of the action scenes as well as providing comedic foil for both Williams and Hardy at various points.
The action also delivers once again too. With Venom director Ruben Fleischer unavailable due to still working on Zombieland: Double Tap, Sony made the excellent decision to bring Andy Serkis in to direct Let There Be Carnage. The master of motion capture definitely brought out the best in the actors for the fight sequences, though the blend of mo-cap and CGI is what really stands out. Carnage’s powers manifest in a number of different ways to Venom’s, extending even beyond the abilities of main villain Riot from the original, and the blending of motion capture for Carnage’s core movements with the CGI required for his extending tendrils. One effect that stood out to me in particular was the transformations from Kassidy to Carnage; while Brock becoming Venom essentially looks like Brock putting on a weird, gross hood; Kassidy’s entire body twists and deforms as Carnage emerges from his body in a transition that would be very at home found in the midst of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Similarly, when Brock emerges from Venom in scenes where we need to see both of their faces, Venom essentially disappears from one side of his head in an only slightly creepy way; but when Kassidy has to talk to Carnage, he pulls his face from inside Carnage’s body in a disgustingly stomach-churning fashion. The animations are gross; and they’re appropriate for two characters who are rooted in destruction and depravity. However, there are a few moments in the action sequences that even great effects and direction couldn’t save; and Carnage in particular suffers from a few action moments that just seem to happen, without any kind of explanation as to how or why he can do some of the things he does; a fact which pulled me out of the action right at the climax of the final act, much to my disappointment, but the instances are generally negligible enough to not cause a huge problem in terms of enjoyment.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage certainly is not a perfect film, but given the goofy, horny mess that the original presented, that’s actually not something any of us should have been expecting. The general tone and quality of the first outing is maintained throughout the second, so if you enjoyed Venom, you will probably also enjoy Venom: Let There Be Carnage – it certainly seems like the cast enjoyed making this one as well. It’s not better than Venom, but it’s also not worse; and that’s something, at least.
Also… definitely stay for the mid-credits scene. There’s only one, and it’s worth it.