There’s good and bad news with Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
The good news is that if you were a fan of 2018’s Venom, then chances are you’ll enjoy this sequel. Prior director Ruben Fleischer has been replaced by Andy Serkis, who helms a significantly funnier film than its predecessor, which can charitably be called a mild improvement.
The bad news is that if, like me, you weren’t so keen on the first instalment, a mild improvement just won’t cut it. Venom: Let There Be Carnage will only sap your will to live and make you despair given the fact that it’s already defying expectations by scoring the biggest US opening weekend of the pandemic to date. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Story-wise, this second chapter sees journalist Eddie (Tom Hardy) still living with his symbiote Venom in an odd-couple relationship, a Jekyll and Hyde dynamic that sees them argue over food and how to deal with their collective pining over former partner Anne (Michelle Williams). In a bid to revive his career, he visits serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, wearing some very distracting wigs) in jail. There, Eddie inadvertently passes some symbiote to the naughty yardbird, turning him into the titular red menace, Carnage…
The human-symbiote bickering / mismatched romcom co-dependency does bring some laughs and makes the first act quite entertaining. But this can’t save Venom: Let There Be Carnage from being a deeply average and poorly scripted mess that goes down the typical “It’s a second chapter, so like Superman 2, Spider-Man 2 and Wonder Woman 1984 before it, let’s make sure to divorce our hero from his powers!” route. It also tries so hard at times it borders on cringey. A sequence where a newly-single Venom goes to a rave to mingle features some LGBTQ+ signalling that’s so poorly handled it ends up feeling crassly opportunistic; and as for the brief last-ditch attempt to inject some character depth through alluded trauma for Kasady in the final throes of the last act brawl, it’s misjudged to the point of being insulting. Add a squandered opportunity to give these characters the R-rating they needed, a wasted supporting cast – specifically (surprise surprise) the female characters played by Williams and franchise newcomer Naomie Harris – and a wannabe game-changing mid-credits stinger that is there as fan bait rather than a tantalising tease for something genuinely exciting, and you’ve got a depressingly mediocre flick that’ll make you grateful the carnage is over and done with after 97 minutes.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage / D: Andy Serkis (US, 2021), with Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams. Starts October 21.