Venom: Let There Be Carnage Tom Hardy

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a dumb breath of fresh air

The new Venom movie is not necessarily better than the first — or a good movie at all — but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Ruben Fleischer’s Venom is probably the forgettable movie that I think about the most in day-to-day life. It’s not even close to being good; even as a guilty pleasure, it’s sort of inconsequential. But the original Venom is so weirdly out-of-step with every other movie with its origins (and Tom Hardy so thoroughly committed to going ham) that I often find myself wishing other movies were more like Venom… even considering that those movies in question are usually movies I like more than Venom. The fact is that I remember almost nothing of the specifics of the first outing besides the constant bickering between Tom Hardy and his symbiote, which is exactly where one should stand when faced with a sequel of dubious provenance like this one. Not too many people loved the first movie, but that’s never really been a viable reason not to make a sequel. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a significant improvement on the first one in many ways but not very good in many others, which is about par for the course.

Years after the events of the first film, journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) has entered some sort of truce with Venom, the symbiote that has chosen to take over his body. Brock feeds Venom with chicken and chocolate, but this soon grows wearying for the symbiote, who dreams of feasting on brains and tries his hardest to convince his human vessel to bend to his will. Brock is working on a story concerning death-row inmate Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a fearsome serial killer who has decided to speak to Brock and only to Brock if he agrees to run a story with a cryptic message for his long-lost love Frances (Naomie Harris). One of their meetings leads Kasady to bite Brock’s hand, infecting him with a mutated symbiote that becomes Carnage and allows Kasady to escape death-row and leave a trail of chaos behind as he goes on a search for Frances.

Let There Be Carnage is just as silly as one would expect from its premise. It’s a film that exists mainly as an excuse for Hardy to have frenetic conversations with himself and/or a CGI approximation of himself that he also voices. The second and lesser reason for Let There Be Carnage is to give Venom an adversary with a little more pep in his step than Riz Ahmed’s shape-shifting scientist from the first film. One of the biggest flaws in Venom was the fact that Hardy was left to go hog-wild and chew the scenery within a film where everyone else was playing it so straight they may as well have been in an industrial film about laboratory practices. Let There Be Carnage fixes that by letting Harrelson fire on all cylinders on his end.

Even if the protagonist and antagonist spend most of the film apart and eventually face off in the requisite whirling mess of CGI, it’s nice to see a film that at least tries to match the level of its unhinged main attraction.

Woody Harrelson in Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Woody Harrelson in Venom: Let There Be Carnage

That having been said, giving Hardy a worthwhile opponent and taking the action outside of the unfathomably boring laboratory setting of the first film are about the only significant changes here. Venom is still papered with the same dumb throwback humour that hearkens back to a time when movie one-liners weren’t exclusively delivered in the ironic-stinker patter of Sir Ryan Reynolds. There was already a quasi-ironic energy-drink-ad sheen to the first film that goes nowhere here as Venom garbles dad jokes in between pleas to be allowed to eat brains. They’re not very frequently funny, but they do confer the whole thing an air of barely-holding-together silliness that’s at least refreshing. 

In fact, the one thing Let There Be Carnage achieves with remarkable precision is taking the wind out of the pomposity of some superhero movies. It’s not post-modern or satirical in any meaningful way, but it has a gleeful abandon packed into its 90-minute runtime that’s in short supply when you’re taking two-and-a-half hours to set up various sequels and spin-offs. Make no mistake: Let There Be Carnage is as mercantile a proposition as any other superhero movie, but it plays those cards a little closer to the vest. There’s a terminal lack of importance to the filmmakers’ approach that I can’t help but respect in some strange way, even if it mostly translates into weak slapstick jokes about the symbiote spraying ketchup wildly all over the place and calling his chickens Sonny and Cher.. .and finishing, in true scumbum ’90s fashion, with a Venom-themed song from Eminem rolling over the credits. 

I’m not particularly fond of ’90s nostalgia, especially since it’s the first wave of nostalgia I was originally alive for and therefore am mystified by what is and isn’t being recycled. Let There Be Carnage is ’90s nostalgia not in the sense that it has a Soundgarden needledrop and a character wearing JNCOs, but it instead channels a strange, sarcastically quaint pre-9/11 world where people absolutely expected superhero movies to have the superhero in question crash a rave and give a speech about tolerance. Let There Be Carnage shows us how far we’ve come — but also that where we came from was perhaps not as bad as initially thought. ■

Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Oct. 1.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage, directed by Andy Serkis, starring Tom Hardy

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