SOME SYM WICKED THIS WAY COMES
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (15)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams
Review: Dave Stephens
In all honesty, nobody was expecting Venom to be the cinematic hit that it was. Due to the success of Deadpool, when it was first announced, people were assuming it would be an R-rated splatter effort, especially as there was no Spiderman and there was a Tom Hardy. It wasn't. But somehow, despite dodgy logic and splodgy CGI effects at the end, it struck a worldwide nerve and ended up making more than $850m at the global box office. So a sequel was a no-brainer, and it's kicked off a new Sony Spidey-verse with the Living Vampire Morbius due in 2022. The surprise choice of director was Andy Serkis. No stranger to CGI acting (Gollum, Caesar the ape, etc.) and regular thespian work, he also directed 2018's Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. With Hardy as a principal co-writer on the story, the plot focuses on the eroding relationship between Eddie and Venom and the emergence of his greatest comic-book foe.
Following the first film's events, Eddie Brock (Hardy) is still adjusting to life as the host of the violent alien symbiote Venom. Eddie keeps him in check but seeing as Venom's primary sustenance comes from a chemical present in chocolate and organic brains (*shrugs shoulders*), the potential for him to take over and go on a rampage is ever-present. For now, he's just eating chicken heads, but it's a fine line. Meanwhile, Brock gains notoriety due to his journalistic relationship with psycho serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, stuck in "Prime Ham" mode). When Kasady gets the munchies and bites something he shouldn't, supervillain "Carnage" is born. A more weaponised version of Venom, with a mad killer bonded to it. Things are gonna get ugly…
How much you enjoy this daffy and off-kilter romp depends on your reaction to watching Hardy argue with himself (yes, he does the voice of Venom as well) throughout the proceedings. And to be honest… Yes, it's very entertaining to watch him go at it and really commit to the role. Rather cannily, Hardy and Serkis have realised that the love/hate relationship between Eddie and the V-man was a significant factor in the first film's success. Rather than go the Jekyll/Hyde route or Hulk rip-off, it's played for laughs, and Venom provides a running commentary of the events that only Eddie and the audience can always hear. Plenty of these ripostes don't hit the target, but a hell of a lot do: "No one likes you, Dan!", "Oh shit! It's a red one!" etc. With Venom occasionally taking control of Eddie and the internal arguments, it's almost like that classic 1984 screwball comedy "All of Me, where Steve Martin's body also held Lily Tomlin's spirit.
Along with Tom Hardy headbutting himself in the face, it has to be said that the plot is pretty slight. Eddie argues with Venom, Cletus becomes Carnage, Eddie and Venom make up, and the symbiotes fight. That's about it. After being a kick-ass character in the first film (a lead non-super-powered female character who saves the hero twice and is never kidnapped!), Michelle Williams (as Anne Weying) continues to be a charmer with adorable separate relationships with both Eddie and Venom, but unfortunately, she's underused a little and does become a damsel in distress at one point. Harrelson is … well, Harrelson, but it suits the character. Naomie Harris (as Shriek) is also underused to some extent, as is Stephen Graham. That's mainly because of the no-frills plot, which is actually sort of refreshing where we're used to having 3-hour films of our heroes being all angsty and juggling multiple plot strands (*cough*Bond*cough*).
So, yes, it is a PG-13 (UK 15), as was the first film. But they still manage to cram in some brief head biting, a little blood, some nifty strangulation, and a superbly timed F-bomb. A lot of people die, even if you don't see the innards or cranial juices leak from symbiotic teeth. The CG is mostly on point, and the realisations and solidity of both Venom and Carnage is pretty good. One major criticism is that about 85% of the movie takes place at night, so some daylight fighting or action would have been nice.
However, at the end of the day. This is precisely what you would expect it to be, only slightly better. Hardy is immensely watchable in all of his mannerisms and interactions. The humour is mostly on-point, especially the brilliantly surreal moment where Venom "comes out" to a group of bewildered Mardi Gras funsters. Plenty of in-jokes for comic fanboys as well; Venom renaming himself as "Lethal Protector", Eddie's Spidey cycle, a hint of "Toxin", mentions of mutants, and the mid-credit teaser (which we won't spoil, obvs). If this is the bag you're into, Hardy's a hoot, and it's an inoffensive romp with humour, imagination, and violence. So if you're not averse to comic-book shenanigans and want to cleanse your palate before deep-diving into Halloween gorefests, there's a lot worse out there to see on the big screen with an appreciative audience.