'Venom: Let There Be Carnage' Can't Recreate the Gooey Glory of the First Movie
There's too much Venom in the 'Venom' sequel.
The first Venom movie surprised me the way diners would be surprised if Tom Hardy suddenly jumped in a lobster tank. Stuffed inside of a fairly uninspired comic book movie with a plot about an evil tech billionaire trying to take over the world was a brilliant B-movie performance from the aforementioned actor, who played both Eddie Brock and his symbiote buddy from outer space, Venom. In its weirdest and best moments, Venom was everything its genre should be: Funny, ridiculous, a little bit askew. It had none of the self-importance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. It felt like it came from an earlier era when, above all else, these things were just stupid fun.
This is all to say, Venom: Let There Be Carnage came highly anticipated by yours truly. But the film, directed by Andy Serkis and out in theaters this weekend, unfortunately prompts the question: Is there such a thing as too much Venom? And the answer is, sadly, yes.
At a tight 90 minutes, Serkis' sequel doesn't feel long, but it is exhausting. It's an entire movie pitched at 11 that screams in your face, "YOU SHOULD BE HAVING FUN." It overuses the back and forth between Hardy's Eddie and Venom, making what once was ridiculous in its novelty banal in its repetitiveness.
Just like the end of Venom implied, Venom: Let There Be Carnage finds Eddie and Venom going head to head to head to head with the serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) and his alien symbiote who goes by the name of Carnage for reasons that are unclear other than it sounds cool. When the movie starts Cletus is just a regular old mass murderer who treats Eddie as his Janet Malcolm while pining after his long lost love from his reform school days, Shriek (Naomie Harris), currently being held in a heavily guarded facility. Cletus taunts Eddie from death row; Venom lashes out; Cletus bites Eddie; a new symbiote is born; chaos ensues.
As all this plot is unfolding, Venom and Eddie are having relationship issues. Venom wants to eat people. Eddie does not want Venom to eat people. They break up and Venom uses some other human bodies to go to a masquerade rave party where he takes the mic away from the emcee and gives a speech that people in the crowd interpret as a coming out moment because they think he's a dude in a costume and "alien" seems like a metaphor. Like a lot of Venom: Let There Be Carnage this scene should be stupider and more fun that it actually is.
This is the curse of Venom: Let There Be Carnage. On paper it would seem to get so much right: It's short; its plot is contained; and it relies heavily on its predecessor's best asset, the bananas work of Tom Hardy. But instead of all of that working in its favor, it has all the buoyancy of Michelle Williams' wig as Anne Weying, Eddie's ex. In translation: It's very flat. (As a side note, bless Michelle Williams, one of our finest actresses, for figuring out ways to not look like she's dying inside while sternly addressing Venom.)
The biggest problem is there's just too much Venom. In the original there was a novelty to Hardy's interactions with his alter ego. Here, the internal monologue is relentless. Even when it's just Eddie on screen, Venom won't shut up, like a bad heckler at a comedy club. Serkis, screenwriter Kelly Marcel, and arguably Hardy himself—who gets a story credit—don't seem to understand that Venom's greatest asset is his ability to surprise. By making him chatter as Eddie's relentless internal monologue you start to get why he's technically a parasite.
Tom Hardy is talented but always on the verge of doing Too Much, and this time he goes overboard and takes the entire production with him. Harrelson and Harris look like they are having fun, at least, but both of their choices start to grate the more you spend time with their lunatic couple. It's not that Venom: Let There Be Carnage completely lacks some silly charm. It's just that it doesn't know how to regulate the silliness, so it all becomes a murky barrage of jokes and goo.
There's a large possibility I'm holding the first Venom in too high a regard, but there was a joy in seeing a superhero movie that let a bonkers performance take precedence over logic or world-building. It's not that Venom: Let There Be Carnage cares about those things either, but the whole enterprise miscalculates the appeal. But, hey, at least it's short.