Released: 15 October 2021
Director: Andy Serkis
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $110 million
Stars: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, and Stephen Graham
Over a year after the events of Venom (Fleischer, 2018), investigative journalist Eddie Brock’s (Hardy) struggles to adjust to life as the host of the alien symbiote Venom (which grants him super-human abilities in order to be a lethal vigilante) are further complicated when serial killer Cletus Kasady (Harrelson) is imbued with a spawn of the symbiote and becomes and begins a reign of terror as the maniacal Carnage.
Originally depicted as a simple black costume acquired by Peter Parker/Spider-Man on an alien world, Venom eventually became their own character when the costume was revealed to be alive and bonded with the unhinged Eddie Brock to torment Spider-Man. Since their debut, Spidey-Man’s dark doppelgänger has become one of Marvel Comics’ most popular anti-heroes and one of Spider-Man’s most recognisable foes. So popular are Venom that they’ve made regular appearances in Spider-Man videogames and cartoons and were awkwardly shoe-horned into Spider-Man 3 (Raimi, 2008) for an impressive, if rushed, big-screen debut. Although the idea of a live-action Venom film had been doing the rounds in Hollywood since 1997, the idea only gained significant momentum after this film and eventually culminated in the frankly unprecedented casting of Tom Hardy in the title role for what became a commercially successful solo film despite mixed reviews and questions as to its relations to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Development of a sequel began in 2019; although Ruben Fleischer was unable to return, Andy Serkis took over directing duties and worked closely with Hardy to develop the film’s script. Although popular Venom antagonist Carnage was nixed as the main antagonist of the first film, Woody Harrelson appeared as the character’s human host as a tease for the sequel and took a gamble by signing on for the sequel before a script was even written. Although Venom: Let There Be Carnage was delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Serkis aimed to use the additional time to help spruce up the film’s visual effects and Hardy confirmed that he was signed on for a third film. Upon release, Venom: Let There Be Carnage was met with mostly positive reviews; reviews praised the madcap nature of the relationship between Eddie and Venom, while also criticising some of the film’s over-the-top moments, and the film has currently grossed over $352 million worldwide.
After coming to terms with his newfound relationship with the alien symbiote known as Venom, Eddie Brock ended Venom in a pretty good place: he was determined to get back to written journalism, and win back the heart of his old flame, Anne Weying (Williams), and reached a compromise with the symbiote where the creature would be allowed to live within Eddie’s body on the provision that it only attacked, killed, and, crucially, ate bad guys. Venom: Let There Be Carnage walks the characters back a little bit and finds the two not operating as a lethal protector, but once again largely at odds with each other.
This is primarily because Eddie has been placating the symbiote with chocolate and live chickens rather than letting it ate the brains of bad guys; frustrated at being held back by Eddie’s morals, the symbiote frequently lashes out at him and demands to be let loose, but Eddie continues to exert his control over the alien parasite to avoid attracting undue attention. This gives the movie a very prominent “odd couple”/“buddy cop” feeling as Venom is basically an oversized toddler who just wants to go out and have a good time and doesn’t see why they have to hide themselves. A constant, nagging voice in Eddie’s head, Venom continually tries to give Eddie advice and push him into giving into his violent urges, which weighs heavily on Eddie; he seems to be absolutely burdened by the responsibility of housing and pacifying Venom, who represents his inner desires that he suppresses in order to live a simple life out of the spotlight. Venom resents Eddie’s hesitation in holding them back and wants to be out there, stalking bad guys and letting itself loose, rather than being cooped up in Eddie’s body and apartment. Still, Eddie’s concerns are largely validated; Detective Patrick Mulligan (Graham) is incredibly suspicious of Eddie, not just because he always happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the unexplained events of the first film, but also because he’s the only person that notorious serial killer Cletus Kasady will talk to and Mulligan believes that Eddie is holding back information purely to bolster his own journalistic career.
Still a far cry from having his own, regular journalism show on television, Eddie endures Cletus’s repeated requests to talk to him primarily to help get his life back on track and to bring some relief to the families of Kasady’s victims. However, he comes across as being a selfish, self-serving reporter since to reveal the truth to Mulligan would mean his imprisonment, at best, and him and the symbiote being shipped off to some governmental facility somewhere. Venom’s near-perfect visual recall and artistic ability help Eddie to identify where Cletus has buried a number of his victims, instantly making Eddie an overnight celebrity and condemning Kasady to a lethal injection. Eddie’s exhilaration at his career turnaround is short-lived, however, when Anne reveals that she’s now engaged to the kindly Doctor Dan Lewis (Reid Scott); heartbroken at having lost his former love, tensions between Eddie and Venom finally come to boiling point, resulting in an amusing physical confrontation between the two that sees the symbiote separating itself from Eddie and heading out to live its own life. This results in a pretty amusing little side story where Venom jumps between multiple, unsuitable hosts, using them up one at a time as it tours through the colourful city streets and seeks out enjoyment. Being separated from Eddie causes Venom to slowly starve and realise how much it took Eddie for granted, while Eddie’s life generally improves without the symbiote weighing him down. This is where Anne plays her most prominent role; she doesn’t have as much to do as in the first film but makes for a great mediator between Edie and Venom, interjecting in their domestic dispute to bring them back together and force them to admit how much they need each other.
The two are soon forced to make amends, however, when Kasady suddenly sprouts a symbiote of his own; an absolutely crackpot murderer, Kasady feels a connection with Eddie due to believing them to be very similar people, with comparable backgrounds. Heavily abused as a child and with a long history of violence, Cletus is seemingly out of his mind and completely unremorseful of his actions, which have condemned him to death. During his final interview with Eddie, Kasady suddenly snaps and takes a bite out of Eddie’s hand, consuming a part of the symbiote which violently bubbles to the surface while he’s receiving his lethal injection. Dubbing himself Carnage, Kasady goes on an absolute rampage throughout the prison, killing several guards and breaking free of his confinement; he quickly comes to an understanding with his newfound alien partner that sees them joining forces to destroy their “father” and to reunite Kasady with his old girlfriend, Frances Barrison/Shriek (Harris), a Mutant sporting an ear-piercing scream who was the one source of light in Kasady’s life as a child. Of course, like Venom in the first movie (and also this one), Carnage is somewhat hampered by the film’s 15 rating; in the comics, Kasady is one of the most extreme and brutal villains from the “Dark Age” of comic books, slicing and dicing people on a whim and causing… well, carnage…with no rhyme or reason and entirely for the thrill of it. The entire point of the character was to be a more extreme version of Venom so that the symbiote could shift into more of an anti-hero role but, in the movies, Eddie is a far more stable and much nicer guy than his comic book counterpart, and Venom repeatedly states its desire to protect people from bad guys, meaning that the two are already much softer than in the comics. Still, Kasady remains as nutty as his comic book counterpart, but also far more focused; he genuinely loves Frances and wants to not only reunite with her for a killing spree but also protect her from harm, a weakness not shared by his Marvel Comics incarnation. His motivation for targeting Eddie also stems from a need to feel a genuine connection with someone, which is a far cry from just desiring senseless slaughter, but the abilities of the symbiote certainly dial all of Kasady’s worst impulses up to eleven. While bloodshed is kept to a minimum and there’s little in the way of the slasher-villain antics of his comic book counterpart, Carnage quickly amasses a pretty impressive body count and certain looks completely unhinged thanks to some top-notch CGI and being augmented to be larger and more unhinged than its “father”. With Carnage going on a tear and endangering lives, Eddie and Venom are reunited by Anne and forced to once again realise that they need each other to survive and to be special, and come together once more to confront their progeny and establish themselves as a lethal protector.
Director Andy Serkis definitely ups the ante in terms of the film’s presentation and the balance between action and humour; flashbacks to Kasady’s past are rendered using both younger actors an crudely-drawn animations to depict some of the younger Kasady’s more violent acts, which all helps to add to the character’s unhinged state of mind. The banter and dialogue between Eddie and Venom is one of the highlights of the film; Venom is constantly popping out and threatening to eat people’s heads or berating Eddie for being “weak”, and its tentacles are often whipping around mashing together food or causing mischief, which was very amusing. Thanks to having spent the majority of Venom’s runtime establishing Eddie and Venom as characters, Venom: Let There Be Carnage doesn’t have to worry about being shackled by the restraints of an origin story for them and we get to see Venom in all their glory pretty soon into the movie, which is great but does result in a bit of a rushed beginning to the film where it seems like it’s going to be a mindless, jump-cut-heavy action film but, thankfully, Serkis soon gets the film’s pacing under control and focus on the evolving dynamic between Eddie and Venom.
Since we know who these characters are, much of the time spent with them is focused on showing how tension between the two are growing. This is primarily so that Eddie can lose his “powers” midway through the film and the two can relearn just how dependant they are on each other, but also allows the film the time to flesh out Kasady’s character and backstory, something he sorely needed. I actually disliked how Kasady was just tacked onto the end of Venom as a mid-credits teaser; it kind of came out of nowhere and probably left a lot of audiences unfamiliar with the characters confused as to why Woody Harrelson was sitting in a cell and sporting a bizarre wig. Personally, I would have had a recurring element of Venom be Eddie trying to gain an audience with Kasady in order to turn his career around, and only be granted this by the end, just to help foreshadow their meeting a bit but Venom: Let There Be Carnage definitely makes up for this. Harrelson seems to be having the time of his life, chewing the scenery and stealing the show as the unhinged Kasady, a madman who writes postcards and letters in a bizarre script and brags about how many people he’s killed. He was a psychopath even before acquiring his symbiote, and joining with Carnage simple allows his sordid ambitions to be completely free from any mortal restraints.
The relationship between Kasady and Carnage is as different from the comics as the one between Eddie and Venom, too; in the comics, Kasady and his symbiote form a perfect union, a symbiosis so complete that they refer to themselves as “I” instead of “we” and the symbiote even merged with Kasady’s blood, making them functionally inseparable. Here, the two converse independently like Eddie and Venom and come to a mutually beneficial arrangement very quickly, meaning that there is no conflict between the two like there is between Eddie and Venom, which allows the character to fulfil its criteria of being the most violent impulses of Venom dialled up to eleven and completely off the hook. Carnage’s threat is also accentuated by the fact that its actually bigger and much more versatile than Venom, which is also a welcome change; unlike Carlton Drake/Riot (Riz Ahmed) in the last film, Carnage is so much more visually distinct, being red, rippling with tentacles and malice, and sporting so many different abilities that even Venom is hesitant to go head-to-head with it because of how violent and dangerous the “red [ones]” can be. This results in some far more impressive and visually interesting action and fight scenes; indeed, Venom looks better than ever, all glossy and shiny and ferocious, and the effects used to bring the symbiote and its tentacles to life look much more impressive this time around. Carnage, especially, looks fantastic; I love how its so visually distinct from Venom, which really helps make their fight scenes easier to follow and far more vicious than in the last film; Kasady’s transformations are didtsurbing and violent as well, and just about the only thing I disliked about Carnage was that its voice was a little low (I always imagined Carnage to just shriek like a madman).
My expectations for Venom: Let There Be Carnage were quite low, to be honest; I enjoyed Venom but I think it was a major misstep to do the character’s story without involving some version of Spider-Man. The film just about pulled it off, but I still feel like critical elements of the character were (and continue to be) missing as a result; still, it was a pretty decent, if somewhat flawed, little action piece that was only hampered by its rating. I knew all along that Venom: Let There Be Carnage wouldn’t be rated any higher than a 15 as it just makes business sense to help it make the most money it possibly can, so I was fully prepared to see a more neutered version of Carnage but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. The odd couple dynamic between Eddie and Venom was brilliant, as was their banter and their tumultuous relationship in general, and it’s great seeing Tom Hardy’s physicality and dedication to these characters on show. The special effects were far better this time around as well; I may not like that Venom is lacking their iconic spider-symbol, but they look phenomenal here and there are far more scenes and action sequences of Venom this time around, which I greatly appreciate as a long-time fan of the character. Woody Harrelson absolutely stole the show as Cletus Kasady and Carnage, though; sure, the character is notably altered and he’s not tearing hapless innocents apart with reckless abandon, but I think this is the closest and most accurate portrayal of the character that we’re ever likely to get and they did a great job of accentuating Kasady’s madness and the ferocious nature of his symbiote. In the end, I expected Venom: Let There Be Carnage to be little more than just more of the same of the last film but it ended up being so much more and something far closer to the Venom I grew up reading in Marvel Comics.
Have you seen Venom: Let There Be Carnage? If so, what did you think to it? Did you like the relationship between Eddie Brock and Venom and their odd couple dynamic? What were your thoughts on Celetus Kasady and Carnage? Were you happy with the action and pace of the film and how do you feel it compares to the first movie? What did you think to the mid-credits teaser and where would you like to see the character go in the future? What are some of your favourite Venom and/or Carnage stories from the comics? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Venom: Let There Be Carnage down below or comment on my social media with your opinions.