It’s weird to call a blockbuster an unexpected hit, but 2018’s Venom was a rather modest affair for a superhero movie.
Intended to spin-off Sony’s part ownership of Spider-Man into a cinematic universe of their own1, Venom made more than $800 million at the global office; a sum to rival Sony’s Jumanji reboot from the year before.
Given the delay of the planned second instalment, Morbius, it now falls to Venom: Let There Be Carnage to prove its progenitor was more than a fluke and to cement the SSU as an entity in its own right.
An unspecified time after the events of the first movie, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is cohabiting with/inhabited by the alien symbiote known as Venom (also voiced by Hardy). Eddie is still a schlub, despite his widescreen TV, and Venom resents the impositions placed upon him – Eddie has a strict no-eating-people policy.
Kelly Marcel’s screenplay, on which Hardy is credited as co-writer, understands that it was the Odd Couple antics of this downtrodden reporter and his man-eating frenemy that made the first Venom a breakout hit.
Subscribing to Garth Marengi’s admonition that subtext is for cowards, Venom: Let There Be Carnage takes it one step further. When Eddie and Venom “break up”, the queer relationship subtext becomes text. Venom’s first stop is an underground rave where, bedecked in glow sticks, he declares himself “out of the Eddie closet.”
Director Andy Serkis keeps the pace up, verging on rushed: the movie comes in at a fleet 97 minutes. There are horror movie flourishes – Carnage‘s climax takes place at a Gothic church – but there’s no atmosphere due to the thriller pacing.
After all, the movie also has to establish a new villain, that of serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), teased at the end of the previous movie. Now minus his Little Orphan Annie fright wig, the imprisoned Kasady faces the death penalty and looking to make Eddie his confidante.
Essentially a souped-up version of Harrelson’s character from Natural Born Killers,2 Kasady becomes host to his own symbiote, a red, taffy-like creature that he calls Carnage. Together they seek out Kasady’s teenage paramour, Shriek (Naomie Harris), the Bonnie to his Clyde, who just so happens to have powers of her own.
Stephen Graham, meanwhile, plays a homicide cop clearly just there for future instalments of the franchise; while Michelle Williams reprises her largely thankless role as Brock’s former fiancée, Anne; with Reid Scott as Anne’s current fiancé Dan, a character so staid that I forgot he was in the first movie.
Marco Beltrami’s score and Robert Richardson’s cinematography are both merely serviceable, which is itself remarkable given their track records.3 There’s are a few neat touches – like Kasady’s origin story playing out in scrappy, red-lined animation – but a general sense that everyone involved is at least slightly overqualified.
Still, as long as Hardy remains committed4 and the money keeps coming5, I imagine Sony will keep them coming. For me, so long as they can guarantee at least one madcap scene a movie6, I’ll keep watching.
- The somewhat less catchy Sony’s Spider-Man Universe.
- There’s even a scene with him, flash clothes, a muscle car, and an unfortunate gas station attendant.
- Beltrami is a go-to for blockbuster scores and Richardson’s most recent project was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, not to mention a long career working with Oliver Stone, including on Natural Born Killers.
- The movie gives him plenty of latitude for funny voices and physical comedy.
- As of writing, Venom: Let There Be Carnage has already made back more than double its $100 million budget.
- The first Venom had the lobster tank, this has Venom chaotically making Eddie breakfast to the tune of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”.