Despite the fact that the film was ripped apart by critics and was centred on a character who had previously been brought to “life” in a less-than-well received iteration, 2018’s Venom was a mammoth success. Pulling in upwards of $856 million worldwide, it was the seventh highest grossing film of that year – beating out the more praised likes of Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Deadpool 2, for those keeping score – and, with that, was unsurprisingly given a continuation.
Whilst critics appreciated Tom Hardy‘s absolutely wild commitment to the titular character and his human alter-ego, many were hoping that this sequel, helmed by Andy Serkis and pooling Hardy, the returning Michelle Williams (hopefully more aware of just what type of movie she agreed to) and Woody Harrelson together – yes, that’s three Oscar-nominated performers in total – would perhaps right many of the original’s wrongs.
When comic book movies have proven their worth, something like Venom, which went for a more bombastic vibe, stood out drastically from the pack, and not necessarily for the right reasons. There was fun to be had, but Ruben Fleischer’s film leaned a little too heavily into teen-aimed humour, something at odds with its more violent thematics. So, has there been any type of learning curve in the 3 years since?
Clearly listening to the fan outcry that their favourite aspect of the first film was symbiote incarnate Venom and human host Eddie Brock’s odd-couple romance, Serkis’ film – with a story credit by Hardy and screen-writer Kelly Marcel (Fifty Shades of Grey) – doubles down on the questionably comedic banter between the two; “Those two need couples therapy”, is one observer’s note. And gaiety is all well and good if it’s packaged with material of quality, but Serkis has adopted such a frenetic pace and a “more is more” mentality that Venom: Let There Be Carnage is more a warning than a title. But hey, if you’re going to make a bad movie, at least make it the baddest one possible. Right?
Harrelson’s Carnage, supposedly the film’s threatening villain – a serial killer, if you don’t mind – is given the most kinetic of backgrounds that we hardly feel his wrath when he busts out of prison and wreaks “havoc” across the city; his sole desire to rescue his lady love Frances (an absolutely awful Naomie Harris), also known as Shriek, due to her ability to inflict pain with her wailing scream, is given the most insulting of context that we, again, feel no emotional attachment to either party.
Harrelson at least appears in on the joke that he’s aware of how fantastically ludicrous this material is, same with Hardy and Williams too; the actress actually enjoying herself in a thankless role that at least allows her to flex her comedic muscle in one of the few genuine scenes of intentional humour. To give Let There Be Carnage some credit, it’s completely unpretentious and never allows for a moment of boredom, with more happening here in 90 seconds than any of the 3 hour+ blockbusters we’ve experienced over the last few years. It’s a bonkers movie – and I haven’t even dived deep into the homosexual subtext that is Venom, free from being attached to Eddie’s body, claiming he’s “out of the closet” during a culturally queer rave party – and it continually surprises with the stylistic choices it makes, but such stimulants doesn’t necessarily equate to an enjoyable experience.
Entertaining for all the wrong reasons, Let There Be Carnage‘s sole bright spot comes in the form of the now standard mid-credit teaser sequence; I won’t spoil just who (or what) is alluded to here, but it’s certainly leading to a far more interesting film. It’s riotous and entirely overwhelming, and perhaps to some the emphasis on comedy will be enough to soften the blow that is the quality of filmmaking on show, but audiences who appreciate their films – even fantastical comic book-inspired ones – will feel their senses more assaulted than euphorically catered to.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is screening in Australian theatres from November 25th, 2021.