VOD film review: Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Laurence Boyce | On 24, Dec 2021
Director: Andy Serkis
Cast: Tom Hardy, Naomie Harris, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Stephen Graham
While not part of the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, antihero Venom managed to prove rather popular in his debut solo film (let’s not mention Spider-Man 3) and – despite a tepid critical response – managed to earn enough at the box office to ensure a return adventure. In Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the titular antihero meets up with the titular villain for another dose of slam-bang action.
After the events of the first film, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is trying to find equilibrium with the alien symbiote with whom he now shares a body. Pondering whether they should become a crimefighter – while also trying to curb Venom’s desire to eat human brains – Brock finds himself with his hands full. Not to mention that his day job requires him to visit the serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) in jail.
After one such visit, Kasady finds himself with part of the alien symbiote. Now calling himself Carnage, he proceeds to go on a rampage to look for his long-lost love, Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris). It looks like it will be up to Venom (and therefore Brock) to save the day. But considering that he and Eddie are having “relationship problems”, salvation may be a little harder to find.
The modern-day comic book movie is usually typified by a hefty slice of narrative exposition and tortuous backstory. Let There Be Carnage eschews much of this, stripping the narrative to its bare bones in favour of action and a relentlessly driving plot. While this often leads to some paper-thin characterisation (there’s little beyond Kasady and Barrison except for “they have super powers and do bad things”), it actually feels rather refreshing when films in this genre can feel bloated with an inflated sense of their own importance. We breezily bounce around from set-piece to set-piece (which, with director Andy Serkis knowing much about CGI, are all done well) and everything has the pulpy air of a rip-roaring and ridiculous adventure, torn directly from the pages of a comic book.
Much of the fun comes from Hardy. While his initial stab at the character tried to accommodate the tortured-soul aspect of Brock, he leans into the comedy much more here. Brock and Venom are like a twisted version of The Odd Couple, all bickering and sniping at each other and it’s this air of general silliness that undercuts any time the film starts to lurch into po-faced territory. His is ably assisted by the rest of the cast, with Harrelson clearly deciding to have fun, Harris chewing up the scenery and supporting actors such as Michelle Williams and Stephen Graham just deciding to go with the flow.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is still slight, but it’s a reminder that comic book films are also meant to be fun, entertaining and ridiculous. While a mid-credits sequence would suggest that Venom may also be finding his way onto a bigger storytelling canvas, it’s nice to have a franchise out there whose main aim is to provide knockabout action and not much more.