For a film full of characters who enjoy killing, Venom: Let There Be Carnage (★★☆☆☆) isn’t particularly frightening or suspenseful. It’s downright gleeful, which has been part of the appeal of Marvel’s toothy, shape-shifting alien Venom, in comics and onscreen in the 2018 hit movie — the unadulterated glee he takes in chowing down on human heads. Motion-capture legend Andy Serkis, directing his third feature film, certainly captures the character’s unique joie de vivre as Venom bounds through this compact sequel, symbiotically fused to the body and mind of his much less joyful human host, San Francisco investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy).
This time out, Venom and Eddie are set to meet their match in serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who really loves offing victims, and who, by a strange contrivance of events, winds up hosting his own ravenous alien symbiote, Carnage. Blood red, pulsing with strength and fleshy tendrils extending from his form at will, Carnage/Cletus escapes from San Quentin Prison, intent on reuniting with his longtime love, Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), confined to Ravencroft Asylum since she happily murdered some people.
Clearly, all these killers are on a collision course, the bloody, bruising showdown fans have been craving since the mid-credits tease of Cletus at the end of Venom. So, following some old-school investigating by Eddie and police detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham), and a few other minor complications, we get the inevitable face-off, and… that’s about it.
Throughout, the pleasantly noir-ish atmosphere erupts into bursts of eye-popping CGI and visual effects, supported by just a glimmer of plot. The final showdown is concussive and extravagant, but still leaves an aftertaste of slight letdown.
While there’s a point to be raised about action films that slow down for too much verbose “world-building” (see: No Time to Die), here’s an example of a film that simply wants to throw two rivals in the ring, watch them fight, tease an in-universe sequel, then count the cash.
Aside from an evocative animated sequence depicting the love story of Cletus and Frances, who met as troubled kids at the St. Estes Reform School, the film doesn’t allow in much fresh air. Hardy, credited for coming up with the story with Venom co-writer Kelly Marcel, leans into Eddie’s hangdog, lovable lug quality without adding new colors to the box. Same Eddie, different day.
As Eddie’s ex-fiancée, attorney Anne Weying, Michelle Williams felt fairly wasted in the first film. Here, she gets to portray a cool, new shade rarely seen in these superhero epics, the ex who’s no longer pining for her man. Anne loves him like a pal, but she’s genuinely over him — although that doesn’t mean she won’t still come to his aid if needed. That gives her new man, Dr. Dan (Reid Scott), a chance to prove himself on team Venom, which previously had been limited to Eddie’s only friend, wise-cracking convenience store owner Mrs. Chen, played by Peggy Lu, in truly the movie’s most impressive performance. When does Mrs. Chen get her sequel?
Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens in theaters everywhere Friday, October 1. Visit www.fandango.com.
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