At the end of every year, it seems, the theaters become flooded with awards-centric films, one after the other. It’s at this time that audiences are encouraged to set aside their popcorn fare and engage in something elevated and intellectual. I say, why not both? If art house features are the veggies of the cinema, then it goes that tentpole/CGI/IP-ridden rollercoasters are the dessert and sometimes we all deserve to just go all-in on dessert. Enter Venom: Let There Be Carnage, directed by Andy Serkis, written by Kelly Marcel, and with a story from lead actor/producer Tom Hardy, which gives zero Fs as to whether it makes sense as long as you have an excellent time. And, dear reader, this throwback to when comic book films weren’t required to connect, let alone acknowledge, a greater universe is a ride and a half as the buddy comedy of Venom (2018) becomes an unmitigated love story for the antiheroes and the villains alike. Given its moderate connection to the recently released Spider-Man: No Way Home, it makes sense that Carnage needed to release ahead of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Carnage could’ve easily been released on Valentine’s Day a la Deadpool (2016) and still have been an absolute winner. Now that it’s been released on home video from Sony Picture Home Entertainment, the point is moot as you can now enjoy one of the most entertaining lovers’ quarrels in recent memory any time you like.
If you’d like to know about Let There Be Carnage with as little information as possible, I recommend checking out the initial spoiler-free theatrical review. Moving forward, there will be spoilers.
Since no one really knows that Eddie Brock (Hardy) and alien symbiote Venom (also Hardy) saved the world from a hostile invasion of symbiotes, not much has changed in either of their lives. Brock still struggles to find gigs as a reporter, his ex, Anne (Michelle Williams), still doesn’t want him back, and his home life continues to be chaos as he tries to keep Venom reigned in. As they say, when one door closes, another opens, and it does when notorious serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) asks for Brock to be the vessel for his final story ahead of Kasady’s upcoming lethal injection. Except Cletus doesn’t die when the poison hits his veins. Instead, he surprises everyone with a symbiote of his own, one without regard for life beyond his own, one without conscious or care, one who seeks what Kasady does: carnage.
Sony has a bit of a history in taking missteps with their comic films. Unlike Marvel, which evolves a bit more with each film despite the material’s insistence to remain stuck in a cycle, Sony’s superhero films almost always feel like the same type of film we’ve seen since the ‘80s/’90s. In the case of Let There Be Carnage, though, it absolutely works in its favor. The script from Marcel understands that audiences want more of Brock/Venom and they want to see Carnage in action, so it gives it to us in one action set piece after another. But, most importantly, it also manages to keep its heart in the right place (not Venom’s stomach as he’d prefer, but on its sleeve). This translates to the absolutely excellent spat between Brock and Venom that sees the symbiote and host part ways so that the film has a reason for the characters to be unaware of Kasady for as long as possible. Why does this matter? Due to the setup in the first film, Venom is considered the runt of his kind, the weakest of a race of seemingly infinite beings in possession of untold knowledge. It was luck that saw them defeat Riot and, by finding compatibility with Kasady, this new one, even of Venom’s “bloodline,” would require more than luck to defeat. Borrowing from the comics, owing to his own lack of moral anchoring and violent imagination, Kasady is far more capable of using the symbiote as a death-dealer, creating weapons to fling, using tendrils to suffocate, or just creating a tornado of chaos. You throw Venom against that too soon and the movie’s over. Especially without Spider-Man to help, as was necessary in the comics when Carnage first appeared. Additionally, for the sake of the audience, delaying their inevitable confrontation allows for each of the disparate storylines to take hold for the audience so that their coming together is more impactful. If nothing else, Venom’s cowardly reaction to seeing Carnage for the first time is worth the price of admission alone.
The fun within Carnage makes up for the missteps, either from a comics perspective or as a clean cinematic experience. There’s no need to make the connection between Stephen Graham’s Detective Mulligan and Naomie Harris’s Frances Barrison/Shriek as heavy-handedly as they do. The camera doesn’t need to linger so hard on the badge in the flashback nor in the present. Trust the audience to put two-and-two together. Though this Venom and this Carnage are not comic book accurate at all, the rules of the first film make the changes absolutely necessary and, by adhering to the rules, make the film as enjoyable as it is. However, Eddie is not presented as stupid in the first film. He’s prideful and angry, two things which cause his professional downfall in the first film, but here, he’s presented as a straight-up failure who can’t make good on anything. The ending of Venom implied that he was headed to redemption as a person, but Carnage doubles-down on his incompetence, highlighted in the sequence when he and Venom try to decipher the drawings on Kasady’s cell wall that Venom remembers. It’s a silly comedic moment that’s used as more kindling for their eventual fight, but it merely diminishes Brock further, pushes him away from the former Olympian of the comics (strong of body and mind) and toward a schlub who’s lucky he can brush his teeth properly. One thing I do give the script credit for is the constant reminder that Venom is a parasitic symbiote in this cinematic universe. Eddie survives because he’s compatible with Venom, but, as we watch, each person Venom jumps to after the break-up (don’t tell me it’s something else) dies, sucked dry. And it’s played for comedy almost each time. We shouldn’t be laughing at this any more than we should be enjoying Venom’s constant clamor for brains, yet we do and it’s because the script (and Hardy’s fully committed performance) knows how to play us against our expectations of the comics.
If you’re like me and enjoyed the film, then the bonus features are going to be a joyous playground. Across six featurettes, a blooper reel, six deleted/extended scenes, and three previsualization sequences, you’ll be able to take a deep-dive into the making of the film. As if you couldn’t tell from watching it, the featurettes confirm that this cast had a blast making the film. They knew that they weren’t making a serious epic, but a fun popcorn confection, and they lean into it hard. Don’t believe me, watch the blooper real and tell me that Oscar-nominated actor Michelle Williams isn’t having fun as she struggles to get through her scene with Peggy Lu as Mrs. Chen. Additionally, and I loved how they executed this, each featurette not only includes interviews from the actors it focuses on, but it shows off scenes from the source-material *and* examples of how they merged what was shot on set to the final version we see in the release. As someone who is fascinated by how films are made, that they included members of the visual effects, stunt teams, writer, and examples of the comics just made what we learn from each narrowly focused featurette more interesting and enriching.
Do keep in mind that the bonus features are slightly different based on the version you get. If you pick up the 4K UHD, Blu-ray, or digital edition, you’ll gain access to all the bonus features available for the home release. If you pick up the DVD, the only bonus feature included, according to the press release, is the “Let There Be… Action” featurette. This is certainly a solid featurette as you get a look at how they executed several of the stunt sequences, but it’s not exactly a full meal of behind the scenes material. Some retail listings do make mention of a digital copy being included with the DVD, but the image for the DVD doesn’t mention it, so it may be a crapshoot if DVD is your preferred form of physical media.
Since the release of X-Men (2000), I’ve learned to let go of expectations with my comic book movies. It’s not that I can’t come in with some kind of baggage, but I don’t hold onto how storylines should be adapted as long as the core of the character remains the same. Superman doesn’t kill, Spider-Man is constantly fighting an uphill battle in his quest to do the right thing, and Venom is the lethal protector. For all of its missteps, Venom gets this part right and Carnage sets the stage for proper mayhem where Brock can embrace the chaos with some form of joy. There’s certainly a way to make him a dark avenger in a world with no superheroes and I’d gladly pay a ticket to see it. As long as Hardy wants to use this character as a vehicle for some of the more unhinged, unself-aware performances of his career, I’ll show up. He’s taken a beloved character and made it his own in a way that’s most remarkable as it’s not totally comic book accurate yet we can’t help but love the gonzo nature of it. With hints of another Venom spawn, Toxin, coming to be with Mulligan, all I can say is, I’m ready for round three!
Venom: Let There Be Carnage Bonus Features
- Eddie & Venom: The Odd Couple (10:18)
- Sick and Twisted Cletus Kasady (5:16)
- Concept to Carnage (4:23)
- Let There Be… Action (7:20)
- Tangled Web: Easter Eggs (4:31)
- A Fine Romance: Cletus & Shriek (5:03)
- Outtakes & Bloopers (3:22)
- Six (6) Deleted Scenes (10:04)
- Three (3) Select Scene Previs (8:50)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage DVD Bonus Features
- Let There Be… Action (7:20)
Available on digital November 23rd, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD December 14th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Venom: Let There Be Carnage website.