Replacing the first film‘s director Ruben Fleischer, who dropped out of Venom: Let There Be Carnage due to scheduling conflicts with Zombieland: Double Tap at the time with Andy Serkis seems like a great idea. Besides, Serkis is no stranger to duality, given his past experience of playing such a (CGI) character as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Not to mention it’s finally nice to see Carnage, one of Spider-Man’s greatest adversaries in comic book history making his big-screen appearance after he was briefly introduced in the first film.
Before I get to the review, here’s what you need to know about the sequel: Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), whose career as a journalist is back on track, continues to co-exist with the symbiotic alien, Venom (also Hardy). The latter lives in his body, where he would either spend most of the time bickering, insulting or messing up Eddie’s life. His ex-fiancee, Anne (Michelle Williams) has moved on and is now engaged to Dan (Reid Scott), who works as a doctor.
As hinted during the mid-credits teaser in the first film, we also learn about Eddie getting an exclusive interview with Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), the notorious serial killer awaiting his impending death sentence in San Quentin State Prison. The sequel also introduced Cletus’ true love named Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), a mutant with the ability to manipulate sound who is locked away in a soundproof prison within the Ravencroft Institute. Both of them have been longing to see each other someday and Cletus’ dream eventually comes true when an unlikely incident happens — a result that made him turn into a shape-shifting red monster a.k.a. Carnage. This, in turn, gives him a superpower to break free and locate her whereabouts.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage sees Andy Serkis, working from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel, supercharged the sequel with lots of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde-like dual-personality moments involving Eddie and Venom and depict them like a rom-com on steroids. In other words, most of the film’s otherwise compact 97-minute running time is spent on Eddie and Venom’s endless love-and-hate bantering.
Frankly, I’m okay with such scenes but Serkis somehow gets overwhelmed by them until he forgets the sequel is supposed to be more about Eddie Brock/Venom’s conflicts with Cletus Kasady/Carnage. Not a Venom sequel that carries a subtitle, say The Eddie Brock & Venom Show. If that’s not enough, Serkis added more unnecessary filler moments, in which at one point, we see Venom and Eddie finally can’t stand each other and eventually break up. It goes on and on, complete with an elaborate scene at a costume party, where the now-“single” Venom takes over the stage and voices out his frustration to everyone on the floor. The whole unconventional rom-com elements would have been fun and a welcome change of pace in the increasingly saturated superhero/comic-book genre. But that if only the sequel doesn’t have Carnage becoming one of the main focal points and the rom-com approach is clearly intended as the centre of the attention in the first place. Otherwise, it feels misleading to find out the sequel’s so-called Let There Be Carnage subtitle is less about Venom and Carnage but more about Eddie and Venom’s twisted relationship.
Now, even the conflicts do happen between Venom and Carnage, it’s all disappointingly glossed over with little depth. For instance, the reason that drives Carnage so mad at Venom is hastily put together or to be exact, getting a dumbed-down storytelling treatment. All to the point it feels more like the film has to come up with whatever excuses to have Venom and Carnage confronting each other. The stakes are also surprisingly low, especially for a Venom sequel that introduces Carnage as his new “adversary”.
The film does get a Carnage backstory in a creatively-told animated sequence summarising Cletus’ murky past as a serial killer but it’s a pity that Serkis wasted Woody Harrelson’s overall talent to play the dual roles effectively. Given his past experience in playing dark and psychopath roles, notably his then-groundbreaking performance as a serial killer in Natural Born Killers (1994), Harrelson certainly can do better here. His so-called undying romance with Naomie Harris’ Frances Barrison is sadly underwritten and so does the latter, whose talent is equally wasted as well.
Tom Hardy clearly has a field day reprising his Eddie Brock/Venom role but Michelle Williams is mostly reduced to a thankless role this time around as Eddie’s ex-fiancee, Anne. The special effects involving Venom and Carnage’s shape-shifting body transformation is a mixed bag. The extended CG-heavy showdown in the cathedral, in the meantime, is all sound, fury and at times, a pixelated mess minus the visceral thrills.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage may have been blessed with a fast-paced approach and contains enough visual distractions and (hit-and-miss) funny moments to keep you — especially the undemanding ones — occupied. But to me, this otherwise huge potential of could-have-been-a-better-sequel is simply a missed opportunity. Don’t forget to stick around after the sequel ends since there is a mid-credits teaser worth looking forward to.