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Venom: Let There Be Carnage

*1/2

by Matt Anderson

published October 1, 2021

The “carnage” in this sequel’s title refers to all the quality talent that’s laid to waste.

The Lethal Protector

The original Venom, released almost exactly three years ago, was no masterpiece, but it proved to be a surprise hit at the box office, scarfing down $856 million worldwide. With that kind of financial success, there were reasons to be optimistic some muscle would be put into the inevitable follow-up.

For starters, there’s the strong cast. Back for more are Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) as Eddie Brock, a journalist who’s fallen on some hard times, and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) as his ex-fiancé, Anne Weying. Woody Harrelson (Zombieland) joins the fray as Cletus Kasady, a serial killer on death row, and Naomie Harris (No Time to Die) co-stars as his long-time love interest, Frances Barrison, who’s also locked up and trading love notes with Cletus between their cells. All four stars have been nominated for Oscars. Stop and let that sink in for a second because it all goes downhill from here.

It was interesting to note Tom Hardy also picked up story credit this time around, while Kelly Marcel returned as the screenwriter. And, as a curiosity factor at least, Andy Serkis — the actor behind the motion capture performance that brought Gollum to life in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings — helmed the project, making this his third feature as a director.

Unfortunately, as the release date loomed, there were signs of trouble. A cartoon-like length of 90 minutes was revealed. The lack of supporting press materials was odd. The lack of buzz was concerning.

The Daily Bugle

Turns out, this one’s a throwback to the days when comic book movies were quickly dismissed as junk. Thank the movie heavens this one does not fall into the official Marvel Cinematic Universe because it would’ve undermined the reputation Marvel’s built up over the course of 13 grueling years of carefully calibrated and choreographed storytelling.

But, while this one doesn’t fall into the MCU, it does take a huge step forward in finally forging ties with Spider-Man. That’s the only interesting thing to come out of this venture, and it’s a facet broached after the end credits start to roll.

So, while the movie’s only 90-some minutes long, it’s still an overly long journey to get to a couple minutes of something resembling “cool.”

Before that happens, the story — absolute tripe — is merely an exercise in mass destruction.

Cletus, that serial killer on the eve of his execution and surely inspired by the likes of Hannibal Lecter, takes a bite out of poor Eddie, who’s trying to piece together Cletus’ life story and uncover where all the bodies are buried (yeah, literally, that’s not some sort of figurative flourish). With Eddie’s contaminated blood running through his veins, Cletus transforms into another symbiotic alien, this one dubbed Carnage. And he’s got one heckuva mean streak about him.

In fairness, there’s another cheap tie-in to the Spideyverse. Turns out The Daily Bugle has taken the route of The New York Times and become a major national newspaper, as the Bugle’s “West Coast Edition” captures harrowing headlines of horror — and carnage (and Carnage).

The Eddie Brock Report

In theory — and undoubtedly on paper — it should’ve been fun to see San Francisco ravaged and torn apart by two symbiotes duking it out and trashing the place. But, then again, San Francisco seems to be doing a fine job of tearing itself apart without them in real time.

This is the kind of material that — much like its predecessor — needed more bite. All manner of social commentary — politics, COVID and much more — were ripe for plucking. At least Let There Be Carnage manages to make a statement about bad, one-sided journalism. That comes by way of the serial killer, who feels slighted by Eddie’s failure to report on Cletus’ miserable, abuse-filled childhood.

As it stands, there’s precious little to care about here and — as with the original Venom — the very best scenes in this one are those between Eddie and Anne, the lovers who’ve been torn apart and are trying to move on with their lives. She’s got a new fiancé. And Eddie’s wrestling with the ultimate in internal conflict, his symbiotic anti-hero living within, Venom.

Maybe — and it’s a big maybe — this material would’ve been better handled by somebody like Tim Burton, who at the very least would’ve brought an artistic, creative flair to the madness. Instead, this is a case of a movie that wants to be creepy (serial killers… eek!), thinks it’s action packed (things are destroyed!) and hopes to be horrifying (those symbiotes eat human brains!).

As Eddie sits at the Cervantes monument in Golden Gate Park (senselessly vandalized during 2020’s summer of rage) and ponders the tale of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, it’s as if there’s a story trying to fight its way out of this mess, an odd cohort to the conflict coursing through Eddie himself.

Sigh. That is an interesting idea, too. But as the movie’s choppy ending — jammed full of things that indicate this sequel at one point had some narrative potential and maybe even some guts — finally runs its course, the fact of the matter is none of this is close to chilling, even remotely exciting and scarcely scary. It’s mayhem purely for the sake of mayhem.

But, for a PG-13 movie, this one certainly pushes the boundaries and tolerance of the ratings system.