VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE is directed by Andy Serkis. The film stars Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Peggy Lu, and Stephen Graham.
Quite some time has passed between journalist Eddie Brock bonding with the Venom symbiote and the two of them having to learn to live as one. When Brock and Venom’s work uncovers the truth of age-old murders, prison inmate Cletus Kasady, previously interviewed by Brock, is sentenced to death. But all hell breaks loose when Kasady ingests Brock’s symbiote-infected blood and becomes the dangerous and unpredictable Carnage, who’s more than a match for Venom. When Venom and Brock go their separate ways due to ongoing conflicts, they must learn to forgive and forget, reuniting to battle a common threat that’ll stop at nothing to destroy anyone and everyone.
The original VENOM film from 2018 was definitely somewhat of a bastardization of the concept of Venom. What was supposed to be a dark Shakespearean “duality of man” concept was reduced to a strange alien “buddy cop” movie of sorts, though I won’t deny I did enjoy Tom Hardy’s performance and the action scenes. LET THERE BE CARNAGE does nothing to right these wrong; it certainly doesn't give us a more serious, darker and brooding film. Instead it runs with its respective concepts, and dare I say it? The end result is a hilariously comedic action-packed thrill ride that surpasses its predecessor, and it does it with a concise and effective running time of under 100 minutes, a rarity for any comic-based film these days.
The comic banter and chemistry between Brock and Venom himself is the highlight of the film. It throws relentless one-liners at the crowd, and when most of them stick and are hilarious, you know you, along with the rest of the audience, are entertained. I attended a press-only screening of the film, and the guy sitting next to me (actually a guest of one of the press members) couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could I. While there are certainly some dark and violent elements, the movie never quite eschews the “buddy cop” feel of the original movie. But the movie just keeps running in that direction, and it’s a laugh riot because of it.
I’m happy to say that, despite the comedic elements, the movie doesn’t skimp in the action department either. Much like its predecessor, this film, directed by legendary actor/motion capture artist Andy Serkis, ends up being pleasantly surprising throughout, with plenty of action-packed moments that don’t let up. The concise running time doesn’t get bogged down in heavy and unnecessary exposition and the like. While this would be a flaw with a “more serious” film, in LET THERE BE CARNAGE, it’s a strength. If you want to turn off your brain for an hour and a half and watch over-the-top action sequences and battles while being entertained by some of the best comedic quips you’ll see on the big screen all year, you’ve found your movie.
While Tom Hardy remains a semi-comedic leading man in the series (a far cry from his brooding and threatening performance as Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), the real standout talent here is legendary actor Woody Harrelson, who stars is the villainous death row Cletus Kasady, who fans know will inevitably become the symbiotic villain Carnage (not really a spoiler since the supervillain’s name is right there in the title of the movie). If the first VENOM film had one weakness that stood out from among its other flaws, it was the lack of a strong central nemesis. LET THERE BE CARNAGE rectifies that, letting Harrelson chew up the scenery in every single scene he’s in, clearly having a field day with everything he does (interestingly, in real life, Harrelson’s father was a convicted hitman, which adds a further touch of irony to his casting here).
The only real flaws come from tertiary characters and subplots that the (relatively short) movie doesn’t have time for, the biggest one of which being Kasady’s estranged girlfriend with banshee-like screaming abilities. I appreciate Serkis’ approach to highlight the strengths of the previous film while bringing in new ones, but it does feel like there’s still a little more packed into this compact package of a movie than they’re should be. Fortunately, the good still manages to outweigh the bad.
VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE is an hour-and-a-half action-packed thrill ride that rarely lets up in its duration, and the laughs never end. It tries to reach a bit too far and has a few characters too many, but director Andy Serkis keeps things concise and enjoyable. Oscar material this ain't, but if you want to laugh and be entertained by stylized action violence for an hour and a half, you couldn't ask for a better movie. Recommended!