VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE – Review
Okay, movie fans were ready to re-enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the multiplex and sent SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS to the top of the box office (still hovering there, actually). Are they ready for another fix, though this new flick has “tenuous ties” to the MCU? Yes, this is part of Sony’s licensing deal with Marvel (much like last year’s THE NEW MUTANTS was with Fox), but is not a co-production with Marvel Studios, as was the last two Spidey flicks and the upcoming NO WAY HOME. Three years ago, Sony decided to do “spin-offs” without the wall-crawler. But before the Oscar-winning animated epic SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE there was VENOM. And because he made a decent haul in theatres, a sequel was shot, then delayed due to the pandemic, and now finally “escapes”. But there’s no number in the title, as it’s called VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE.
But before we catch up to the “big V”, the new entry flashes back several years as future serial killer Cletus Kasady is separated from his first love Francis Barrison, when she is transferred out of the orphanage they shared and sent away to be studied at the secret research center Ravencroft (she emits a deadly high-pitched wail, a “gift” that earns her the nickname “Shriek”). Jump ahead to present-day San Francisco where Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is trying to get back into journalism while dealing with the ravenous alien Symbiote, Venom, that shares his body. One big setback is the news that his former lady love Anne (Michelle Williams) is now engaged to the annoying Dan (Reid Scott). Ah, but the now grown-up and incarcerated Cletus (Woody Harrelson) has decided to grant an interview with only Eddie. He gets the scoop, while Venom gets the location of Cletus’ still missing victims by recreating Casady’s cell wall chalk mural. This sends him quickly to “death row”. A follow-up “pre-execution” interview ends in a struggle between Eddie and Cletus. This eventually leads to Cletus becoming a “host” himself to the deadly red-tainted creature known as Carnage. After breaking out of Alcatraz, he rescues Shriek as the duo embarks on a rampage of destruction and death. But who will stop this new menace after Venom finally exits Eddie for “greener pastures” ?
Hardy brings lots of “working class”, “average Joe” heart to the often exhausting role of Brock, though it may be considered a dual role. He’s often frustrated and frazzled while in nearly constant arguments with Venom, though all those around can’t hear the growling “hangry” alien. Luckily Hardy makes it clear that Brock is the moral compass of the two. And lacking one of those needed guides, Cletus as played with frenzied glee by Harrelson, is the unchained id, lashing out even before he receives his “upgrade”. It’s a nice rift on his iconic role of Mickey Knox in the 1994 (!) classic NATURAL BORN KILLERS ( a bookend perhaps). The super-powered Bonnie to his Clyde is Shriek played by Harris as a most dangerous and unpredictable “wild card”, a loose cannon who might unleash sonic Hell with no warning. Scott scores lots of laughs as the endearing, but exceedingly understanding dweeb Dan. It’s great to see Williamson back on the big screen, but as with the 2018 original, her crusading lawyer Anne gives her even less to do, aside from being in need of rescue. It seems that her small screen roles have been much more interesting (she’s amazing in “Fosse”). Much the same can be said for Stephen Graham (so formidable in THE IRISHMAN), who mainly gives Brock the “stink eye” when he’s not barking out orders and firing his ineffectual pistol as Detective Mulligan.
Taking over the directing duties this time out is actor Andy Serkis, master of “mo-capture” emoting. who puts those skills to good use with the CGI-heavy third act. And that’s a big part of the film’s problem as the story devolves into a tiresome (even with the whole running time at a lean 90 minutes) battle of the pixels with gooey-ooey tentacles and claws filling the screen as they flail about and disorient the viewer (it doesn’t help that the big showdown occurs inside a dusty old cathedral under renovation…around midnight). Occasionally Cletus or Eddie will peel about from the rubbery “beasties”, but the human connection is lost in the mud and muck. At least Venom gets off some clever quips in the film’s first act, thanks to the screenplay by Kelly Marcel and Hardy himself, but the lines often overlap clumsily with some words getting mangled by the alien’s guttural growl. Oh, and his eyes still look like slick shiny white plastic orbs, while the teeth are gnarled with seemingly ending rows of spiky fangs. Often it appears as though Serkis is trying to inject an energetic urgency by whipping the camera about to the point of motion sickness. And the Shriek stuff feels lifted from one of the older X-MEN entries. Those who enjoyed the 2018 flick (and even SPIDER-MAN 3) will get lots of wild action for their buck, but he’s never been one of my top-tier Spidey villains (looking forward more to the much-delayed MORBIUS spin-off in the new year). But, as the old saying goes (with liberties), VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE is a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing (well, maybe a set-up for a “Sinister Six” future flick). Still, I’ll bet that it would’ve worked better over in the real MCU.
2 Out of 4
VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, October first, 2021.