There’s no greater indication of how popular superhero cinema (there’s that word) is than the box office dominance of Venom. Originally seen as a cash grab as Sony desperately pondered ways to turn their rights to Spider-Man into a fully-fledged cinematic universe, the original was a monetary bonanza. While it mostly frustrated critics, audiences loved it’s offbeat humor as well as the title relationship which saw career loser Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) bond with galactic loser, a symbiotic alien parasite that turn its hosts into a super-being.
Brock is back for round 2, and he argues with Venom like an old married couple. Venom feels as if he’s not free to truly be himself, as Brock attempts to quell his thirst for vengeance. Eddie realizes if they’re not careful, the symbiote can be captured by the government, prompting Venom to act like a spoiled teenager that doesn’t get his way. Venom is incredibly immature; when Brock’s old flame Anne (Michelle Williams) is revealed to be engaged, Venom takes the greatest offense. Adding insult to injury is she’s marrying her lame boyfriend Dan (Reid Scott), who spends most of the movie being unhelpful and wearing shitty scarfs. Even so, the man doesn’t deserve to get slapped by Venom/Brock as much as he does.
But Brock’s life gets even stranger when he’s assigned to interview imprisoned serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). Kasady is clearly deranged, but takes a liking to Brock to the point that Brock is the only journalist he’ll talk to. This embroils Eddie in a plot with a detective (Stephen Graham), who uses Brock as a means to uncover where Kasady has hidden some of his victims. But this task has no such luck, and for his troubles Brock is bitten by Kasady. The DNA from Brock’s blood enters Kasady and… well that blood mutates into the symbiotic vessel known as Carnage.
The high-water marks of the film occur during Kasady’s prison escape as he becomes Carnage, as well as another breakout scene later on as Carnage’s rampage continues. This is the movie people have paid to see, but we don’t get it for as long as we would like. Unfortunately, the subtitle Let There be Carnage belies the fact that there just isn’t enough carnage, figuratively or literally. This is where the PG-13 rating rears its ugly head, limiting the violence of this movie. Even so, comic book films like The Dark Knight were able to push the envelope on violence despite the PG-13 stamp, yet Let There be Carnage seems unwilling to push those limits.
As a result, Carnage doesn’t seem to be much more chaotic than Riot (the villain in the previous film) as the movie goes along. A silly development occurs when a key character tries to stop Carnage in the 3rd act, indicating that Kasady is going too far. But, this character was completely OK with Carnage’s wanton murder spree up until this point, so what changed? This is the 15th worst thing Carnage has done in the movie, but now he’s crossing a line? This is like if Michael Myers had an accomplice, but on one random Halloween the accomplice goes “WOAH MIKE, enough with the stabby stabby, let’s talk about this!”
This 3rd act turn is indicative of the script’s poor writing. I get it, the runtime is only about 95 minutes, but things just happen just because the plot wants it to, not because work was done to get there. At one point, Venom and Brock remark that Kasady and Carnage aren’t as good of a match for each other as our protagonists. Dudes, you argue just as much as they do, this is like the couple at a dinner party that acts like their relationship is superior, even though they just started sleeping in the same bed again.
Despite these flaws, the film is still at times fun, but it is clearly junk food. There really is no attempt at crafting a coherent storyline, we’re just putting pieces in place for the CGI to fight each other. To be fair, it’s a better movie than the first, with better action, a stronger villain, and even better laughs. And by the end, Venom/Brock join the “circus”, which was inevitable given the immense box office success of these movies. And if you watch every superhero movie that gets released, you know what the circus is.