How do you make a place in a world of heroes for a monster with a taste for human brains? In the case of Venom, Marvel’s answer seems to be: Make him funny, and let him fight monsters who are even more homicidal than he is. Thus does Andy Serkis’ Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the second feature for a character who could have been a true Deadpool-like outsider, make its subject look like little more than a Marvel Universe stepchild; he’s doomed to inhabit stories structured just like the Avengers’ — until Disney’s synergistic needs demand that he actually cross over into their saga.
Penned by star Tom Hardy and longtime collaborator Kelly Marcel, the film does develop the chemistry between the titular alien and the human he’s forced to inhabit while inside Earth’s atmosphere. But the distinctiveness of this buddy-movie bond is often drowned out by giant set pieces of CG mayhem that feel exactly like those found in the good guys’ movies. Though it will please most fans of the 2018 first installment, Carnage proves that superhero fatigue applies to nonheroes as well.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
The Bottom Line
More brain-eating banter helps an otherwise familiar-feeling monster rampage.
Hardy’s Eddie Brock, crusading San Francisco reporter, is basically where we left him in the last film: His career has rebounded, his relationship with onetime fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) is still dead, and he’s got a killer inside him. His body hosts a symbiotic alien, Venom, who can either lurk invisibly and growl at Eddie in a voice only he can hear, or turn Eddie into a slithery giant with tentacles, fangs and superhuman strength. Either way, the monster needs nourishment. Though his preferred food is brains, he can survive on chocolate and live chickens; much of the script’s comedy derives from Eddie’s attempts to keep Venom on a diet.
When Brock has an opportunity to interview convicted serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), it’s all Eddie can do to keep Venom from eating the resentful Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham), who chaperones his visit. But Venom’s the one who gets chomped: Kasady bites Eddie, and somehow a little bit of that symbiotic alien material enters his bloodstream. Later, when the death row inmate lies in the execution chamber, that material mixes with lethal-injection chemicals to transform Kasady into Carnage, a red beast who leaves San Quentin looking like a tornado hit it.
This transformation happens while Eddie and Venom have other things on their minds. Bickering over the incompatibility of their lifestyles (to put it mildly), the two get into a physical fight that leaves Eddie’s place totally wrecked. Venom flees Eddie’s body, leaping into the night from one unsuspecting stranger’s body to the next, while Eddie does what one expects in a movie co-produced by Sony: He buys a replacement for his giant TV, and leaves the box in the middle of the room where we can’t miss the logo. (Hammering the product placement home, a visitor will soon compliment him on his “nice TV.”)
While Venom has a comic misadventure or two, Carnage lives up to his name. Kasady uses his new powers to reunite with his long-lost love, a mutant he knew as a teenager in reform school: Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), who will be known as Shriek when she someday crosses paths with Spider-Man, has the power to destroy things with high-pitched wails and has been locked for years in a soundproof prison cell. When set free, she’s just as ready to break things as her boyfriend.
The couple’s spree ends at Grace Cathedral, where they intend to get married. But matrimony is just the pic’s excuse for the usual woman-in-peril business: Not having gotten herself out of danger by breaking up with Eddie, Anne is now the bait drawing him and Venom to a giant battle with Carnage. Anne, if you survive this, please delete Eddie’s number from your phone and block him on social media. Michelle Williams is too talented to be stuck with this sidekick/hostage stuff.
There’s nothing wrong with that climactic battle, but the best thing you can say about the action in Carnage is that it doesn’t stretch the film past the hour-and-a-half mark. That’s not counting the credits and inevitable hidden-scene coda, which teases a return to Venom’s roots. The previous Spider-Man film featuring Venom (from 2007) is the worst of the webslinger’s big-screen outings to date. Here’s hoping things go better — or at least go badly in a more entertaining way — the next time they cross paths.