Have you ever wondered what an abusive relationship with a pile of alien goop would look like? Would you like to see said abusive couple make pancakes to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off?” If so, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the film for you.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) is shorter (only 97 minutes long) and far less messy than the previous installment of the antihero series, to the credit of director Anthony Serkis. This is thanks to its plot, which was far more concise than that of Venom (2018).
But this simplified plot, while preventing the movie from dragging the viewer around haplessly like the 2018 film, is a shortcoming in and of itself. The story lacks depth and character development, meaning Carnage, while easy to follow, did not give moviegoers much to care about. The film suffers from rushed pacing and a surprisingly high number of underused characters considering its small cast. It’s not all bad, though. For fans of the first movie’s eclectic Eddie Brock-Venom (Tom Hardy) relationship, Let There Be Carnage will not disappoint. It leans into their relationship even harder, and with that, hilarity abounds.
The sequel opens by attempting to get viewers to empathize with the deranged couple of main antagonist Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) and Shriek (Naomie Harris) by separating the characters and locking Shriek in a dark prison for the superpowered known as Ravencroft. Despite being Carnage himself, Cletus Kasady’s backstory and motives are weak, following the abused-child-becomes-killer trope to the tee, and with an ex-girlfriend kidnapping scene almost reminiscent of Bowser and Peach, Cletus seems like he’d be more at home as a kids’ show villain than a feature film antagonist.
The movie’s use of its female actors is, at best, a pitiful waste of talent and screen time. Shriek, whose powers and personality had such potential to shake up the movie and cement herself as a third party with agency of her own, was completely squandered, nothing more than a trophy for Cletus to have. She spent the entire movie either pining for Cletus or being swatted at by Carnage, when her powers of sound (one of Venom and Carnage’s main weakness) could have taken down either Venom or Carnage single-handedly. However, the one good thing that came out of the writing for Shriek is her use of the word “mutations” to describe her powers, which could mean that the Fantastic 4 or X-Men (all called “mutants” in their universes) may see Venom crossovers in future.
In addition to its poor use of cast, the movie rushes through what could have been an actually good plot. The characters all had appeal, and their roles were all filled by good actors, and yet, bad pacing squandered it all. There is no time devoted to giving the audience cause to empathize with Cletus’ victims, nor is there any imagery, save for one sequence of expositional cartoonish visuals, of Kasady’s violent past. If there had also been time devoted to building up Eddie and Cletus’ relationship further, then Cletus might have been able to actually generate some suspense of his own. As it stands, Kasady only has three on-screen interactions with Eddie before becoming Carnage, and each of those finds itself lacking substance and subtlety. Because of this shortcoming, and the general shallowness of his character, Cletus is yet another poorly written antagonist to be forgotten as viewers walk out of the theater.
However, thanks to Hardy’s performance as Eddie Brock and Venom, the movie was enjoyable despite sub-par villainy. The deviant duo manages to keep viewers awake with a combination of slapstick, sheer ridiculousness, and adorable Eddie-Venom bonding time. This was the major draw of the previous film, and Serkis seems to have come in knowing that, as the movie could almost be called a buddy-comedy about Eddie and Venom. It never quite takes itself seriously, which is to its benefit. The Venom-Eddie relationship is taken to the next level this time around, as the symbiote pair goes through a journey involving major arguments and reconciliation, collaborative journalism, pancake breakfasts, live chickens, and more. In addition to the hilarity, certain action scenes, mainly the introductory Carnage scenes and the beginning of the Venom-Carnage fight, helped add some much-needed moments of excitement.
For fans who enjoyed the soundtrack of Venom (2018) (meaning the Eminem song), there is more to love about Carnage. Eminem returns to the franchise with a second song, Last One Standing, also featuring Skylar Grey and Polo G. This one has a triumphant ring to it, in stark contrast to the more vindictive sound that the first Venom song had. As far as other music goes, the movie’s score (Marco Beltrami) was passable, and was at its best during the reveal of Carnage, with a nearly palpable silence during a moment of calm in the storm of action.
Despite its weaknesses, the hilarity of the symbiote-journalist combo, as well as certain action scenes, helped carry Carnage out of mediocrity and into something like success. And lastly: Yes, there was a post-credits scene, and yes, it is important to future Marvel and Sony projects.