Venom: Let There Be Carnage Review: Sassy Symbiotes

Surely, of all the Marvel characters destined to get their own movie series, nobody expected Venom to become the campiest closet-case of the bunch. He looks like the ultimate badass villain. And yet, rather than just going with that notion, the movies have explicitly made fun of it.

And while that play may not work for every comic book fan out there, it likely saved the movie franchise-in-the-making. Because while the first Venom film featured a pedestrian structure and overly conventional story beats, people remember Tom Hardy going into full-blown Marlon Brando meltdown mode. Somehow, this spawned a thousand-plus fanfics. And it led to such improvised moments as Hardy plunging into a restaurant lobster tank. For better or worse, Venom: Let There Be Carnage leans into this aspect. Hard.

If you’re not into funny Venom, the sequel won’t win you back. If you are, it will win you over even more. Director Andy Serkis and writer Kelly Marcel, with input from Hardy, clearly noted all the fan art “shipping” Venom romantically with host Eddie Brock, and all the critical praise for the actor’s tic-filled shtick, and have made the subtext blatant.

Yes, Venom and Eddie explicitly love each other and behave like a married couple (mostly) sharing a body. And yes, the Venom symbiote behaves as an explicit metaphor here for closeted sexuality. He even appears as himself in a San Francisco parade to proclaim he’s “coming out…” as an alien.

Venom on the page is the sort of character who sums up everything that Beavis and Butt-head would call cool. Venom onscreen functions as sort of a super-powered Beavis and Butt-head, swearing up a storm while chastising Eddie for not killing more bad guys or making any further moves on ex-girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams).

Woody Harrelson, who so often steals movies with hammy performances, may have a more powerful symbiote in him once his murderous Cletus Kasady becomes Carnage. But he’s powerless to take much of the scenery from Venom’s ever-regenerating jaws. Even equipped with mighty choppers, literal and metaphorical, of his own. Like Hardy, Harrelson also voices his own symbiote creature, who in his case already acts fully sentient despite having just been born, because…shut up. Reasons. Since Riot already co-opted Carnage’s powers in the first film, this incarnation can grow in size like Ang Lee’s Hulk when the situation calls for it.

More shoehorned in is Naomie Harris as Shriek, Kasady’s love interest. Not only is it a Sony Venom-verse retcon to have pre-existing super-villains in this world, but her particular sonic scream power just happens to be the symbiotes’ major weakness. Which proves awfully convenient. And not much else.

No major end-of-the-world stakes take place in this battle. Instead, it stays focused on a clash of characters. There’s Eddie versus Venom in their dysfunctional bond, then Kasady who kinda man-crushes on Eddie, but hosts an alien who’s essentially the son of Venom. Anne and Shriek can’t really compete with all the bro energy in the air.

They might be welcomed in polyamorous trysts, but the dudes really only have eyes for one another. This part, of course, never quite gets said out loud. Probably in the vain hope that China won’t ban the movie. But it couldn’t be more blatant otherwise.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage runs a lean 97 minutes. Unlike the first, it doesn’t take forever to show us what we came to see. Venom appears onscreen a lot, and Carnage doesn’t waste too much time hiding either. Comic fans should enjoy the CG battles between fan-favorite characters.

Meanwhile, fans of the uniquely skewed comedy may seriously dig the Edward Gorey-esque animations Kasaday conjures to describe his childhood crimes. Or Hardy in his Venom-voice loudly and tunelessly growl-singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in a manner that makes William Shatner sound like Pavarotti.

This isn’t a Venom for everyone. But it most definitely is the Venom for everyone who applauded Hardy’s take the last time around.

Grade: 4/5

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is now playing in theaters.

Recommended Reading: Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage

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