The road to 2018’s Venom was a long one. First introduced as merely an alien costume in The Amazing Spider-Man #252, the symbiote known as Venom wouldn’t appear for about four years later in The Amazing Spider-Man #300 kicking off the Eddie Brock/Venom character that we have in the films. After spending years battling Spider-Man, Venom was taken in a different direction by Marvel with 1993’s Lethal Protector series, offering a chance for the fan-favorite villain to become an anti-hero. That storyline served as the basis for the 2018 film starring Tom Hardy as both Eddie Brock and the voice of Venom and captured the complex nature of the symbiotic relationship perfectly, even if the overall narrative is a tad schlocky compared to other Marvel-related outings. In the follow-up adventure, Let There Be Carnage, directed by actor/director Andy Serkis (Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle), audiences are treated to more of what they loved in the first film amplified a great deal in a slick, fast-paced ride.
It’s been some time since Eddie and Venom worked together to stop the symbiote plot to invade Earth, and while Eddie’s been able to get some work as a reporter, their time as a lethal protector in San Francisco is cooled so as not to catch the attention of the FBI who investigated the Life Foundation incident. This puts a lot of pressure on their living arrangements with both growing increasingly frustrated at the perceived inconvenience the other is putting them through. As the two struggle to find their balance, Eddie is called to reinterview condemned serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), something local SFPD detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) hopes will lead to the discovery of Cletus’s unknown victims. Unable to maintain their focus, Eddie and Venom make a disastrous mistake, granting Cletus a symbiote of his own, one that wants little more than carnage.
Straight-up, if you’re a Venom devotee, there are going to be aspects of Carnage that may not sit well. The screenplay from returning writer Kelly Marcel (Venom) is based on a story by Hardy and Marcel which clearly takes inspiration from both Carnage’s 1992 origin story, as well as the 1993 “Maximum Carnage” storyline. Because of this, die-hards might struggle to accept it, but I encourage you to look at it another way and consider director Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and X2: X-Men United (2003). Whatever gripes comic fans possessed for X-Men, we forgave in X2 because the rules had been set and the follow-up was consistent to those changes. That’s what happens in Carnage as whatever nonsense that happens in the film occurs because of the rules set forth in the previous film, even the things that, at first, seem forgotten but are largely addressed, enabling new and old fans to delight in the action.
One of the best things about the first film that carries over into Carnage is the performances from the actors, specifically returning actors Hardy, Michelle Williams, Reid Scott, and Peggy Lu. These four clearly understood the vibe the first was going for and continue to have an obvious ball bouncing off of each other here. As great as Hardy is in the dual role, the film is at its most engaging and entertaining when the other three are involved in some way. Most of this is because they each have their own respective relationship with Venom as they do with Eddie, and the script takes full advantage of it, leading to some truly hilarious moments, none of which seek to recreate what worked in the first but make for their own delightful moments. Both Venom and Carnage possess the potential to be exquisite body horror films, but in trying to make things a tad more family-friendly, what we get is more body/buddy comedy, and, with the rules set, Carnage offers some truly zany stuff (the ethics of which you shouldn’t dwell on) that leans into the comedy wonderfully. I’d legit be lying if I said that a few scenes didn’t result in some deep belly laughs. A great example of this is highlighted in the trailer when Venom sees Carnage and immediately retreats, proclaiming “That is a red one!,” leaving Eddie positively vulnerable. The script has to find ways to make this version of the Marvel creature the underdog and this is one of many ways in which this story builds off the first film (remember: in that one, Venom is the runt of his species, not an Alpha), enabling this rendition to stay true to itself.
The biggest strength and, in some ways, the wildest surprise is that Carnage is dexterous in terms of the balancing act it does between the action and the narrative needs. It’s not entirely a slick handshake, as the opening awkwardly gives us an introduction to Cletus’s side before we catch up with Eddie, and even this version of Eddie is somehow more of a social reject than he was in the first film (the biggest thing that doesn’t jive for me), but, overall, everything hums along. Both the protagonists and antagonists have similar needs and challenges, just a different method of going about it, allowing for the themes of the film to go to some interesting places. No joke, Venom may be on the verge of joining other cinematic villains like The Babadook or Frank-N-Furter as an LGBTQ+ icon merely for the way the script (a) positions the relationship between Eddie and Venom and (b) the notion that one shouldn’t have to hide themselves from public view. The former making sense as there’s incredibly intimacy between the physically and psychically linked lifeforms, while the latter really only presents itself due to a hilariously staged club sequence featuring rapper Little Simz. Carnage is, simply put, a polyamorous love story with violent edges.
Look, I’m willing to forgive the things that make zero sense in Carnage because the entire vibe of the film is one of Good Time Charlie. It’s not here to make you think too hard or dig to deep, it just wants to get in, cause mayhem, and get out before the authorities arrive. With so many films these days almost always shooting for award recognition, it’s nice to experience a ride of a movie that just takes your mind off the world outside. As a grain of salt, having seen Venom on home video and Carnage in a theater, there’s nothing about Carnage that requires a theatrical experience to be enjoyed unless you prefer 3D, Dolby, or some other theater-only offering that your home set-up doesn’t have. So while I’d love to see where Hardy takes Venom from here, which often requires a great opening weekend, do what makes you feel most comfortable, even if that means waiting.
That said, it’s truly a wild time to be a Spider-Man fan. We’ve got an upcoming Tom Holland film (December’s No Way Home) that has the potential to bring back prior live-action wall-crawler actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and has confirmed returns of prior villains Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and more. Not to mention that a Morbius tale is on the horizon from Sony Pictures. With all of these pieces in motion, Sony seems to finally be building the Spider-Man Universe they’ve been trying to get off the ground from more than a decade. The possibilities are truly endless and, if the mid-credit sequence is suggestive of anything, Carnage is really just the beginning of what Hardy is going to do. Get excited, the lethal protector may be here to stay for a while.
In theaters October 1st, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Venom: Let There Be Carnage website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.