By John Schilling
This past weekend, the recently released “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” experienced the largest opening since COVID-19 began over a year and a half ago. Bringing in over $90 million at the box office in North America alone, the sequel to “Venom” (2018) has already surpassed the opening numbers of its predecessor by over $10 million, according to Yahoo Finance.
Despite this early success, however, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is a huge letdown as a film, and it embodies many of the mistakes that you would think Sony and Marvel would have learned from by now.
Directed by Andy Serkis, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” continues the story of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a reporter who plays host to an alien symbiote named Venom. The character of Brock/Venom is a popular Spider-Man villain in Marvel comics, but this version of the character exists in a universe where Spider-Man is not present, and Brock/Venom is portrayed more as an antihero than your traditional bad guy. In this film, we finally get to see another popular character on the big screen in Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer who becomes the host of another alien symbiote named Carnage.
The problem with the film and the “Venom” universe as a whole, however, is that the characters are reinvented and adapted to the point that they are almost unrecognizable, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it goes too far in some ways. This is somewhat forgiven as the character Brock/Venom is mainly dependent on Spider-Man, and without him, things had to be adjusted. Tom Hardy takes this challenge on very well in the sequel, and he has truly made the character his own without compromising too much.
As for Cletus Kasady/Carnage, the character is severely watered down when compared to his comic book depiction, and Carnage never actually gets to be Carnage in this film, which is disappointing. This is no real fault of Woody Harrelson, who does the best he can with the material. Harrelson is not so much a miscast in the role nearly as much as he is misdirected.
The film’s plot is dicey, and the pacing is a bit all over the place as it tries to juggle being both an action film with real-world consequences and a comedic film where nothing seems to actually matter in the grand scheme. The scenes that are played for laughs carry on forever, and the ones that try to be serious or showcase some of the best action and visual effects in recent cinema breeze right by.
My real gripe with “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is that the film is like an expensive dessert. It looks amazing visually and has one of the best ingredients in Carnage being the film’s villain, but it is ultimately unfulfilling and lacks any real nourishment because it does nothing to elevate those things or build upon the characters in general.
Similar to “Spider-Man 3” (2007), a lot of the characters in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” serve solely as plot devices for the protagonist and are shoehorned in without any development. Ironically, when it comes to “Spider-Man 3,” the character that was butchered the most was Venom, who only appeared in the film towards the end for one fight with Spider-Man despite being hyped as one of his most ruthless foes. The same is pretty much true for Carnage in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” since he only faces off with Venom one time towards the end of the film, and it is unbelievably sad. Unlike “Spider-Man 3,” “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” does not have the excuse of two other villains fighting for screen time. You would think Avi Arad, who produced both films, would have learned from this previous error.
Furthermore, Carnage only feels like Carnage because he looks the way Carnage should look, and Woody Harrelson says the word “Carnage” in every other line, but everything else about the villain is a huge miss in the film.
Like the film’s mismanagement of Carnage, the same is true for secondary characters like Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), Brock’s ex-fiance, and Frances Barrison/Shriek (Naomie Harris), Kasady’s love interest who is able to scream really loud for some reason that is never explained in the film. Anne exists in this film to give the plot some stakes and embody the damsel in distress cliché that motivates Eddie Brock/Venom to face off against Cletus Kasady/Carnage. Similarly, Frances/Shriek exists to give Carnage, who is seemingly unstoppable, a weakness that leads to his eventual, convenient downfall.
Shockingly, after watching this film, I appreciate the first one much more because even though it was somewhat forgettable, and I often can’t remember the villain’s name (Riot), the plot was fresh and coherent. The characters made sense and were portrayed well, and it successfully found a balance between developing the character of Eddie Brock/Venom while also building upon the universe he exists in with other characters.
At the end of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” you are left asking yourself, “What was the point of it all?” The film is still somewhat watchable, and the visual effects are praiseworthy, but it is nothing but filler, and this is made especially clear in the film’s mid-credits scene, which sets up the future of Venom as a character and who he will face off against next.
Oddly enough, I would argue that this scene is the most exciting scene in the film, except Carnage’s entrance scene. Still, I am cautious about my optimism for what’s to come since I felt the same way in 2018 when Cletus Kasady first appeared in the mid-credits scene of “Venom” and set up Carnage for the sequel, and we all know now how that turned out.