Director: Andy Serkis
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu, Woody Harrelson
Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Sony Pictures
Opening Day: 14 October 2021
Synopsis: Tom Hardy returns to the big screen as the lethal protector Venom, one of MARVEL’s greatest and most complex characters. Directed by Andy Serkis, the film also stars Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris and Woody Harrelson, in the role of the villain Cletus Kasady/Carnage.
Given its massive success, it made sense that Sony would give Tom Hardy, the lead star of its 2018 Spider-Man spinoff, more creative control over the sequel. So in addition to reprising his role as the investigative journalist Eddie Brock and his titular alien symbiote alter-ego, Hardy now gets his first-ever story credit next to returning screenwriter Kelly Marcel. He also got to pick the performance-capture genius Andy Serkis to take over as director from Ruben Fleischer, whom Hardy apparently had ‘creative differences’ with in the original.
To his credit, Hardy rewards that authority with an even more confident embrace of the dual role he plays in the movie. Even more a buddy comedy than before, Hardy dives headlong into the odd-couple chemistry between Eddie and Venom, their feud at the front and centre of the storytelling. In particular, they argue about Eddie’s refusal to let Venom chomp off heads, forcing the latter to conform instead to a diet of chickens and chocolate. On the other hand, Eddie blames Venom for not being able to live his life, most notably following a meeting with Eddie’s ex-fiancee Anne (Michelle Williams) where she announces her engagement to a doctor Dan (Reid Scott).
It should come as no surprise that Eddie and Venom will part ways after a bitter quarrel, or that they will eventually make amends and bond again. The impetus to that reunion is the threat of the red symbiote Carnage, who is born out of Eddie’s extraterrestrial-infected blood when the enraged serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) takes a bite out of his hand during an interview just before the latter is put to death. Cletus’ role as the chief antagonist in this sequel was foretold during the mid-credits scene of the 2018 movie, although the narrative doesn’t give much room to develop the relationship between Eddie/Venom and Cletus/Carnage, or for that matter between Cletus and his childhood sweetheart Francis Barrison (an underused Naomie Harris).
Whereas its predecessor took close to two hours to spin an origin story around the fan-favourite comic book character, the sequel is as economical as it gets, clocking in a bit over a tight 90 minutes (in fact, the end credits start running at the 82-minute mark) and single-minded in maximizing whatever time to offer pure dumb fun to its fans. Whilst we appreciate the intent not to go the way of the typical Marvel canon with offering up a superhero grounded in reality, Serkis might have swung too far to the other end of the pendulum, bathing his movie in such slapstick humour and cartoonish plotting that there is barely any stakes involved.
Because of that, aside from Hardy, most of the other actors are wasted in their roles. Harrelson chews the scenery whenever he has the chance to, but there is little more he can bring to Cletus, whether is it the emotional longing of reuniting with Francis as we’ve mentioned or the tension between Celtus and Carnage that eventually deals a fatalistic blow to their symbiotic dependency. As Riz Ahmed was in the previous movie, Harris is squandered here, hardly given enough screen time for us to empathise with the tortured nature of her character. Ditto for Williams, who spends much of the third act bound and gagged in a box, waiting for her superhuman friend and foe to battle it out mano-a-mano in a cathedral.
Those accustomed to the sort of blockbuster action from other Marvel superhero movies will probably find the action too scrappy and underwhelming. Most of the sequences happen in dimly-lit settings, be it in the driveway of the secret facility where Frances has been held or within and outside the cathedral compound, and despite some reliable camerawork (by returning cinematographer Robert Richardson), the decision to piece together each sequence with quick cuts spoils the momentum and excitement of these set-pieces. That however doesn’t diminish the artisans who had worked on the special effects though; their achievement in that regard is unequivocally impressive.
Truth be told, ‘Venom: Let There be Carnage’ feels less an improvement over its predecessor than a quick-and-dirty vanity project. No doubt Hardy sinks his teeth into the role, and with story control, devotes an awful lot of time to Hardy-as-Eddie-talking-to-himself-as-Venom, but this is ultimately a loud, frenetic and chaotic sequel that becomes mind-numbingly tiresome very quickly. Fans will of course lap up the assault on their senses, but for everyone else, there is hardly any joy to be had amidst the incessant mayhem.
(Loud, frentic and chaotic, this inevitable sequel to 2018's commercial smash is a mind-numbingly tiresome assault on the senses, and little more)
Review by Gabriel Chong