Review: ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ (and there was)

It’s everything fans loved about the first one — that’s all.

Still under suspicion for events from the first film — not to mention numerous missing persons near his apartment ever since — Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) puts his head-devouring symbiote Venom on notice, limiting the alien’s appetite to chocolate and chicken brains. Meanwhile, convicted death-row serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) offers Brock an exclusive in exchange for a favor, but a hidden clue instead uncovers Kasady’s secrets. After provoking Brock during a final visit before the execution, Kasady bites Brock in the confusion, absorbing enough of Venom to unleash a brand-new symbiote: Carnage.

The first Venom was a surprise hit for Sony studios in 2018 — who wasted no time locking down the cast for a sequel. A mid-credit scene already named Harrelson and Carnage in the future installment, but what Sony really wants is more than just an “In association with Marvel” credit; they want Venom in the MCU alongside Spider-Man and the Avengers. Directed by Andy Serkis from a script by Kelly Marcel and a story credit for Tom Hardy, the sequel leads an October loaded with held-back potential blockbusters. Will releasing Carnage exclusively in theaters be enough to lure fans to their local movie houses to make a record showing and spawn a third installment?

Moviegoers unable or unwilling to accept the sci-fi idea of a powerful alien symbiote hitching a ride inside a compatible and cooperative human host isn’t going to find anything in the sequel to change their minds. Let There Be Carnage is for the fans, and the film wastes no time setting up escape sequences, showdowns, and bromance quarrels. The symbiote effect has been improved since the first film, looking even more visceral, especially when used to bring the tentacled Carnage to life. With resolutions to older subplots present and Venom himself aspiring to become a recognized hero instead of hiding, the trappings of the existing films are being wiped clean; it’s clear somebody’s making new plans for their symbiote cash-cow.

At just over ninety minutes — twenty minutes shorter than the original — the plot is “lean and mean,” geared toward causing as much damage as the CGI budget will allow. One surprise is Naomie Harris as Francis Barrison, a former love interest to Harrelson’s Kasady, an unrevealed wrinkle left out of trailers giving Kasady more backstory than just being a bloodthirsty psychopath. Considering the compressed running time, the production does a fair job of building a fast yet organic relationship between these characters. What she is and who took her are Easter eggs for fans, but it continues to hint at the rapid expansion of the MCU if Venom is brought into the fold like Spider-Man.

Michelle Williams returns as Anna as well as Reid Scott’s Dr. Dan, and no sequel would be complete without seeing Peggy Lu as Mrs. Chen; if there’s one complaint, it’s there isn’t more with these folks. The only real revelation is a mid-credit scene after all the destruction, so invested viewers should wait before dashing out. Overall, Carnage delivers exactly what the previous mid-credit introduction of Woody Harrelson promised… and sometimes that’s exactly enough.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material, suggestive references, and it’s nice seeing Tia Dalma has moved up from pirates to serial killers.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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