Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a love story about a simple man and the alien goo who resides inside him. It’s the kind of story we can all relate to at one point or another. Who hasn’t wanted to evict themselves from themselves to live a simpler life in quiet solitude … and then panicked when we realized the blood-red psychopathic offspring of our inner self is trying to murder everyone in San Francisco? Truly moving stuff.
This is a sequel that, no hyperbole applied, brings to mind films like The Dark Knight and Captain America: The Winter Solider in just how effectively it manages to capture the elements that made its predecessor successful and then deliver on them a thousand-fold. Our very own Mitch Ringenberg called Venom “a remarkably stupid and surprisingly delightful piece of superhero schlock,” and Let There Be Carnage is remarkably more stupid and delightful in every conceivable way. This is, perhaps, the ultimate piece of superhero schlock.
Venom introduced Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as a selfish and down-on-his-luck journalist who gets roped into a conspiracy involving the alien symbiote Venom (voiced by Hardy). The two merge, yadda yadda. Frankly, I don’t remember much about the first Venom besides Tom Hardy’s wonderful, full-body performance — including a ball-bath in a lobster tank — and a single comedic moment where Venom admits he was “kind of a loser on his home planet.”
Let There Be Carnage is a 90-minute film that tries to capture the earnestly self-effacing tone of such moments in the first film. There is almost no need to explain this movie’s plot, which is appropriately threadbare. In classic rom-com style, Eddie and Venom aren’t getting along. Venom pines for Anne (Michelle Williams), Eddie’s ex-girlfriend, who is now engaged to a perfectly nice doctor, Dan (Reid Scott), and gives Eddie shit for being such a total loser. Venom is also pissed because Eddie won’t let him eat human brains for sustenance or fight crime as the city’s “lethal protector” for fun.
Then our heroic duo agrees to interview Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer whose actual crimes are barely explored but who wants to confess to everything, with one condition: He will only speak to Eddie Brock. One thing leads to another, and Cletus becomes Carnage, a red symbiote with lots of bladed tentacles.They fight and stuff. It’s all so silly.
A silliness that, frankly, feels welcome after a year of incredibly self-important superhero films that seem increasingly burdened with being the center of American pop culture. Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings and Black Widow were both middling Marvel movies that seemed more concerned with advertising their social significance than their entertainment value; Zack Snyder’s Justice League was burdened with mythological purpose; I forgot The Suicide Squad happened, but I guess that was pretty full of itself, too. In terms of superhero storytelling, Let There Be Carnage is the fleetest, most carefree, most comic-book of the bunch.
Hardy is key to all of this, as he portrays both Eddie and Venom. The two switch off between which persona is the dominant on-screen presence and which is just a voice in their head. Hardy plays two distinct characters, here, basically both sides of a complicated love relationship. He’s one-manning a romantic comedy.
In a way, Let There Be Carnage actually comes closer than any other comic-book film at replicating the word balloons used in classic comic books. Eddie will say one thing; Venom will say another in their head. It’s simple, elegant and constantly hilarious when used for punchlines. The two characters also berate one another. They break up and make up. Certain lines of dialogue caused me to laugh so hard I snorted in the theatre. Some audiences will be baffled by how stupid the film gets, but that’s the charm of it. This isn’t a superhero story that promises anything but a good time. Roll with it.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. The symbiotes are incomprehensible blobs of CGI when fighting. None of the action scenes is worth a damn. Kasady’s entire character makes no sense, and the movie rushes through the plot so quickly that the brevity becomes a piece of comedy in and of itself. I’m also not one to argue a superhero movie should be rated R (particularly after The Suicide Squad), but Carnage has a rampage sequence that might’ve benefited comedically from a few flying limbs.
Really, though, none of that matters. Plot? Action? Neither is the reason for Hardy’s Venom series. This is one of our finest character actors embracing the opportunity to make a popular franchise about insulting himself in a funny voice. I hope there are a dozen more of these.
Special features on the Blu-ray release include outtakes and bloopers, deleted scenes, and a handful of short documentary-style featurettes. Most of these features are available on YouTube, but if you need special features to entice you to buy the best superhero movie of 2021 … well, I am not sure what to tell you.