NOC Review: ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ is Fun Enough But Toothless

So Venom happened. Back in 2018, the movie came out. And it was fun. Dumb, for sure. But fun enough. It was a movie that benefitted off Tom Hardy’s charisma and greater understanding of what this movie franchise really should be — a ‘00s era tongue-in-cheek, Army of Darkness-toned camp fest released in 2018. And for the most part it was a success with audiences. But for comic book movies in a post-Dark Knight, post-MCU era, I can honestly say it doesn’t register high among my list of greatest superhero films. It frankly doesn’t register at all. While I had fun with the film, to me, that first film set a relatively low bar for its own franchise. So imagine my surprise and disappointment to see that Venom: Let There Be Carnage barely even attempts to clear that bar.

For this installment, Eddie Brock finds himself at odds with his symbiotic alien counterpart. They don’t exactly know how to get along since Brock doesn’t want Venom eating people, but Venom wants to eat people. Venom just wants to do what he wants. Unfortunately they’re tethered to each other, so their relationship is constantly strained. Meanwhile, the SFPD (specifically Detective Patrick Mulligan — who is actually a huge Venom-verse player in the comics) wants Brock to meet with serial killer Cletus Kasady to get answers that could lead them to the bodies of several victims somewhere in San Francisco. Brock and Kasady do their little Silence of the Lambs bit, until a quick prison scuffle with Brock about halfway through the movie leads Kasady to embed himself with a piece of Venom, which grows into the being Carnage. Hijinks ensue.

Let There Be Carnage is, oddly enough, an incredibly safe movie. There’s literally one fight between Venom and Carnage at the end, and that’s it. The fight is good enough, but for a movie called Let There Be Carnage, it’s an odd choice to make the central conflict be between Brock and Venom, rather than Venom and Carnage. Brock and Venom end up separating during the film, then 2/3 of this movie becomes devoted to them doing cutesy crap while separated from one another. At one cringe-worthy point, Venom goes into a nightclub and gives a pointless faux “coming out” speech to talk about how he enjoys his freedom without Eddie, and drops the mic. Why is this in the movie? I have no idea.

Granted, Let There Be Carnage does some things better than its predecessor. The story is better. Carnage (Woody Harrelson) and Shriek (Naomi Harris) are excellent, menacing villains, with Harrelson chewing up the scenery to play an excellent Kasady. And the sole fight between Venom and Carnage at the end is a vast improvement from the “Goo-Balls Attack” climax of the previous film. And there’s a bit of fun “Serkis” flair in the form of an animated sequence explaining the creepy and chilling origins of Kasady.

But I think it’s because all of these elements exist that I’m far more disappointed with this movie than I want to be. You have a movie with four Oscar nominated actors. You have one of the best, most terrifying villains ever in the Spider-Man comics — hell, in all comics! And you have a director at the helm who has tremendous amounts of experience with VFX driven blockbusters. And yet, how is it possible I felt like the low-bar first film was actually more fun than this one after I left the theater? Shouldn’t this sequel be better given all of the above improvements? If you have a character like Carnage, shouldn’t there be… well… Carnage?

I mean Carnage is really supposed to be a true villain for Brock/Venom. He’s Venom to the extreme. Brock is a douchebag, but Kasady’s a psychotic serial killer. So if their personalities, when enhanced by the symbiote organisms, get dialed up to 11, the conflict becomes the greatest example of Bad Vs. Evil you can get in all comics. Carnage is meant to be a darker foil to Venom. So the fact that the movie doesn’t really bother to explore this is really unfortunate.

I’m not saying that the movie needed to be bogged down by CG fights for 90 minutes to be any good. But the greatest appeal for Nolan’s The Dark Knight was the cat and mouse relationship between Batman and the Joker and the exploration of why the conflict between the unstoppable force and the immovable object is so compelling. I realize this is just Venom but to not do something similar for Venom and his relationship with a character as iconic as Carnage is just stupid and a complete waste of the latter. And yes, if you can’t be smart enough to do that, then it’s ok to give me 90 minutes of fun CG fights! Not 10 mins and done. Earlier this year, Godzilla Vs. Kong did that and it was ridiculously enjoyable!

And I know folks like the idea of getting to explore that relationship between Brock and Venom. But you did that in the first movie, and if you wanted to evolve it here, you don’t have to sacrifice that to give me more Venom vs. Carnage time! The best comic book movies in the world can deliver on action and character without issue. There’s no excuse for this film not to do either. That (plus one other infuriating element I won’t spoil here) are the biggest complaints I had with this film.

On the positive side, Hardy is still the reason to watch this franchise. He leans into this film and its stupidity fully, and the product is all the better for it. The aforementioned Harrelson and Harris are great with what little they really get to do. And the Venom symbiote is still a fun sight to behold, with some sparing laughs here and there at the expense of nice guy Dr. Dan (Reid Scott reprising his role from the first film).

You might notice that I haven’t really mentioned much about Michelle Williams. And that’s because there’s not much to mention. She gets engaged to Dr. Dan. Eddie doesn’t take it well. She gets used as bait later on. It’s very by-the-book garbage that’s neither fun, original, or innovative. Again a waste of a five-time Oscar nominee.

I realize I’m complaining a lot about this movie. And the truth is the more I think about the wasted potential on display here the more it angers me. But I can’t say I didn’t have fun. And I can’t say the fight between Venom and Carnage at the end wasn’t good. It was fine. In fact, even though there isn’t a fight between Venom and Carnage until then, watching Carnage wreck havoc on San Francisco is entertaining on its own. But I really was hoping for more this time around. The movie is fine enough. But nothing notable in terms of fun. Nothing notable in terms of ambition. It is simply toothless. A waste of everything from the character of Carnage to a cast of brilliant actors having a blast.

This is a stacked October for movies. Today alone Venom is going up against The Sopranos-prequel Many Saints of Newark. And next week is the debut of the far superior No Time to Die. Plus, on a spectacle-level, Dune in three weeks provides a much greater reason to go to the theater during the pandemic era than something like Let There Be Carnage. I’m not saying you won’t have fun enough seeing Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Simply that if you’re going to give your money to only one movie this month, you have a lot of better options.

Overall Score: C+

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is in theaters now.