‘Venom’ Sequel Is Lean, Mean, and More of the Same (Movie Review)

Exactly three years after the original film made a whopping $856 million at the global box office, Spider-Man’s gooey nemesis returns to the big screen. Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens after numerous delays and finally, a confidant “let’s open this early!” from Sony. The original was dismissed by critics, but what the heck do they (or yours truly) know about appreciating Marvel’s take on body horror. I, for one, did appreciate Tom Hardy’s double duty as lunkhead human Eddie Brock and as the voice of the funny symbiote from another world, Venom. Is more of what worked in the first installment enough to sustain an 82 min follow-up? Read on…

The story opens with an extremely cheesy though no less engaging nighttime shot of old insane asylum circa 1996. From frame one, embracing the fun of the genre is the goal (I only wish the asylum looked more like a miniature). Young patients Cletus Kasaday and Francis Barrison only have each other until merciless doctors split them up, which nearly leads to Francis’ demise. But she has a gift. She’ll later be called Shriek (Naomi Harris), whose screams can do a lot more than break champagne glasses. Flashforward to the present, adult Keltus (Woody Harrelson) has become a notorious serial killer on death row. He’ll only speak to journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy).

Meanwhile, Brock is still connected to Venom, but their bond has become strained. Yet a run-in with Kletus unleashes a more powerful symbiote, the titular Carnage. Can Brock and Venom put aside their differences regarding live chickens and a Sony Bravia OLED television to save San Francisco from such a deadly foe?

Thankfully, with the heavy lifting of Venom’s origin out of the way, the script by Kelly Marcel (and Hardy) zeros in on more of the fun. Namely, Hardy’s one-man/one-monster show. Nothing tops the lobster scene in the first film, but there’s simply more of those kinds of shenanigans: Brock getting a homemade breakfast disaster made by Venom, Venom doing a solo stint at a nightclub where he literally drops the mic, and plenty of rides on Brock’s cool Ducati motorcycle. It’s not subtle, but there’s a nice balance on display of Brock, who’s an emotional mess tries desperately to keep his exterior clutter-free like his apartment while Venom is razor-sharp with insight but can’t help but make a mess. That’s where the physical comedy comes in. While it’s hardly the best physical comedy ever, Hardy is clearly having fun, and, for the most part, so was I.

It’s just that while I appreciate director Andy Serkis keeping this short feature well… short, beyond Hardy’s enthusiasm and solid FX work, there’s not a lot that’s memorable. Despite this, the film’s supporting cast seems game. Michelle Williams reprises her role as Brock’s ex-girlfriend, Anne. She has a fun scene interrogating Venom via the series’ MVP, convenience store owner Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu). As the lovelorn couple, Harrelson and Harris’ over-the-top acting makes sense but never reaches supervillain status. They’re more eccentric mutants that could have bit parts in a mid-2000s X-Men flick. Still, everyone is doing what’s required.

Will that be enough for fans of the first film? I doubt to the tune of 800 million but probably. In an era where too many superhero film’s last act devolves into CGI spectacle devoid of actual humans, there is something honest about these two monsters with gigantic teeth going nuts in a church filled with scaffoldings and other hazardous gear. That is, after all, the whole visual design of these black and red dueling creatures. What more could anyone expect from such a series?

Heads up: if you decide to check out Venom: Let There Be Carnage, absolutely stay for the easter egg bonus scene. ‘Nuff said.

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