Monday, October 4, 2021

Venom: Let There Be Carnage. A Review (Review #1536)


The original Venom was a curious film for me: while I gave it a negative review I also thought it the Most Underrated Film of 2018. I didn't hate it but thought it was a bad film. Unsurprisingly, we had a sequel. Venom: Let There Be Carnage however, does surprise in that it is short, simple and living up mostly to what its fans want.

Serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), last seen in a cameo from Venom, is back. He uses reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as his unofficial spokesman, but with the help of Eddie's symbiote Venom, Eddie finds many of Cletus' corpses. This discovery gets Cletus the death penalty, but an earlier encounter with Eddie/Venom where Cletus bites Eddie allows Cletus to ingest a touch of the symbiote.

With Cletus now infected with his own symbiote, a red figure named Carnage, Cletus escapes San Quentin. He now has two missions, the first to rescue his long-lost love Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), a mutant with the power to shriek destruction with her voice. The second: to enact revenge on Eddie, Venom and Detective Harrison (Stephen Graham), the man who early in his career shot Frances aka Shriek and unwittingly put her away in the secretive Ravenscroft Institute.

Eddie and Venom are continuously at odds over their roles in each other's lives and have a falling out with Venom moving out of Eddie's body and causing his own mayhem. This danger, though, forces them together, especially as Eddie's former fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) and her own fiancee Dan (Reid Scott) are in danger. It's a battle royale where not everyone survives. Eddie and Venom, however, are learning to coexist, but will a new universe bring unexpected rivals?

Venom: Let There Be Carnage comes in at a surprisingly brisk 97 minutes, putting it at odds with many comic book-based films. The two recent entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, came in at over two hours and ten minutes each. Surprisingly, every MCU film is longer than Let There Be Carnage, with the shortest ones running fifteen minutes longer.

As such, perhaps one of the pleasures of Let There Be Carnage comes from the fact that a lot of fat was cut, reducing things to the mere basics. Even Cletus' murderous background is captured in a simple (and deliberately simplistic) animation sequence where an MCU film would have spent much more time going into things. We got the most pertinent information needed and moved on.

Perhaps that has some drawbacks overall (you'd have to be a Venom aficionado to know what the Ravenscroft Institute is or who those evil figures were. However, on the whole these points are not major points for Let There Be Carnage. Rather, all you need to know is that Frances is being held prisoner, motivating Cletus to break her out. 

Another point where Let There Be Carnage is different from most MCU/comic book-based fare is that it doesn't take itself seriously. There is little of the self-importance or grandiose manner that many comic book films have. We see this especially in Hardy's performance, where he doubles down on the slightly nebbish, bumbling Eddie. It stretches believability that the hulking Hardy could be so almost wimpy, but Hardy does a strong job when enduring the various indignities Venom inflicts him.

Let There Be Carnage, in fact, doubles down on the curious bromance between Eddie and Venom, two beings who are learning to live with each other, bringing out the best and worst in each other. That bizarre comedic element lends to the idea that Let There Be Carnage almost plays as a buddy comedy rather than a more straightforward and self-serious comic book film.

As a side note, when did comic book or graphic novel film adaptations started looking like they were adapting Russian novels exploring the meaningless of life?

Going back to the performances, Harrelson does a strong job with Cletus, not exactly camping it up but not delving too deeply into Cletus' twisted world. He keeps between enjoying being evil and having a love motivation. Even when threatening his "father" as Carnage to immediately clarify he didn't mean the Catholic priest we get that Let There Be Carnage is meant to be entertaining versus brooding. Scott has some fun as the lone sane person Dan, navigating this bizarre universe in a realistic way. After overhearing that the symbiotes are affected by "fire and sound", Dan asks "Fire & Sound? Is that a band?"

It is unfortunate that Williams and to a lesser extent Harris were reduced to "damsels in distress", with little to do apart from being the motivations for Eddie, Cletus and Dan to come to the rescue. However, again it was not a deal-breaker.

One word of caution though: there are some scenes that I think are too violent and graphic for younger kids. As such, I would advise against taking anyone under 7 or at the very least to be cautious when taking someone between 7 to 12. Even a more cuddly Venom can still be a bit gruesome for some.

If Let There Be Carnage is a bit rushed, it is not a flaw. The film doesn't seek out to be anything other than a mindless bit of mayhem. I don't fault a film for living up to what it aims for.


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