For better or worse, VENOM set up unique expectations. It would be hard to capture the nonsensical magic found in that first entry, a film that refreshingly did not take itself seriously in the slightest bit which in the now assembly-like environment of recent superhero films, feels like a lovely breath of ridiculous fresh air. Like a superhero film from the 90’s wrecking havoc, Ruben Fleischer and Tom Hardy took a well-known Spider-Man villain and made him (and his unwilling host) into a comedically bumbling duo. Sure, the actual story, special effects, and the majority of the acting were less than good but Hardy’s commitment to his particularly off-kilter vision of the bad gooey guy led to an ultimately fun superhero movie.
Sadly, while VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE brings our lovably dumb duo back onto screens and brings with it the talents of Woody Harrelson, Stephen Graham, and Naomie Harris with former Gollum Andy Serkis handling directing duties, this sequel is too fast for its own good, which is probably the most Venom way for this thing to turn out. Once again following the exploits of supposed reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his roommate/parasitic guest/possible lover? Venom (also Tom Hardy), LET THERE BE CARNAGE quickly throws our lovable pair another sticky alien to fight; this time in the form of a (HOLY SHIT) RED Symbiote, who goes by the name of Carnage and just so happens to infect infamous serial killer, Cletus Kassady (Woody Harrelson). Quickly escaping from prison and embarking on a quest to free fellow superpowered freak and lover, Shriek (Naomie Harris, sadly tasked with little here), it’s up to Eddie and Venom to once again step up and save the day. This is less than ideal however, as Eddie and Venom themselves are finding themselves in a bit of a relationship spat.
As it went in the last film, VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE rides on the all-for-it performance of Mr. Hardy who once again throws himself fully into the role of a sad sack schlub going through relationship troubles, except instead of a human being, it’s with a glob of goo. Clearly, as he is credited with creating the story for this entry (with Kelly Marcel headlining the screenplay), Hardy has a lot of interest in the enjoyably weird relationship of Eddie and Venom, who in this film are acting as a married couple going through a rough patch, where compromises and promises are failing to mask their inherent differences (i.e. Eddie doesn’t want to eat random people’s brains and Venom does). It’s all very dumb but Hardy and Marcel are fully aware of this, cheekily playing up the dramatic and comedic stakes of the duo’s brief split, which humorously would fit right in in any other romantic comedy’s second act. Where LET THERE BE CARNAGE struggles is once again when the film must act as somewhat of a comic book movie as the promise of fellow game weirdo Harrelson disappointingly fails to bring that promised extra touch of crazy to the franchise.
While it never overstays its welcome at just 90 minutes, LET THERE BE CARNAGE never catches its breath as scenes pile one on top of the other with no sense of flow between them. In one moment, Eddie and Venom will be splitting up, doing their own thing, and in the next scene we cut to a scene of the underdeveloped attempt at giving Harrelson’s Cletus and Harris’ Shriek some sense of a long-lost relationship restored and the next thing you know the film is already at its climactic battle, which in VENOM tradition takes place in a darkly lit location filled with two globs of goo hitting the piss out of each other. As a possible result of this truly slapdash sense of pacing, it makes sense how some of the performances in the movie, even Hardy’s, also seem a little uneven at times. Most disappointing of all being in Harrelson’s performance which is gleefully villainous enough but can’t quite fill in the gaps of the character that the lithe screenplay creates, leaving all the crazy potential of his character floating in the wind like a turd. Nevertheless, everyone at least appears to be having fun, particularly Hardy and Ms. Williams, who slowly create a shared sense of mischievously kooky energy as they get dragged back into more Venom nonsense (which the film posits as a pretty damn good time). And I can’t go without mentioning Stephen Graham, who's “just kinda there” cop character only leaves a mark thanks to Graham’s decision to also put on an inexplicable Brooklyn accent. Even when it takes a step back, the VENOM franchise still manages to add a bit of unnecessary (but enjoyable) weirdness.
On its own, LET THERE BE CARNAGE feels disappointingly like more of the same stuff that we found in the first film with Hardy’s weird magic still keeping the lacking areas of the film at bay. If it weren’t for the game changing post-credits, the future of the Venom franchise might have looked a tad dimmer, but, with the final cliffhanger, there’s once more a chance for Tom Hardy’s dumb but ultimately unique superhero romp to have a greater impact on the superhero genre as a whole.