“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” has everything a comic-loving moviegoer could ask for in a sequel: a logical story, well-placed humor, excellent acting and brilliant special effects. In a nutshell, it’s as good as the first movie, “Venom,” was bad.
Sony Pictures, clinging to its tiny piece of the Marvel movie empire, had the courage to release the sequel during a pandemic, which will cut into the bottom line as moviegoers slowly return to theaters. It’s doubtful the sequel will grab the kind of staggering box office return as the first film, $864 million, but it should do well in these times of limited expectations.
The heroes of the film are the antagonists, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) inhabited by a shape-shifting alien called Venom, and Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a convicted killer awaiting execution who is infected by the alien and hosts a similar creature, Carnage, that is even more powerful. Both monsters are mercurial creatures that can instantly change form to become anything they need to be. They exist only to drink the blood of humans, though Brock has trained his monster to settle for the blood of animals.
Hardy, who wrote the film with Kelly Marcel, turned the one-dimensional character from the first film into a character audiences will root for. The back-and-forth conversations between Brock and his alien symbiote are clever and witty, as the symbiote begs Brock to allow him to consume evildoers instead of just defeating them.
Unlike Spider-Man, where Venom first appeared in the comics, Brock is not a superhero. He’s a reporter and does his best to keep his bloodlusting alter ego in check. He interviews Kasady in prison, where he inadvertently infects him with his symbiote. He only faces off against Carnage out of guilt for having released the monster into society.
More importantly, Kasady leaves Brock no choice but to fight when he threatens his girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams). Venom not only has to contend with Carnage, but also Kasady’s old girlfriend, Frances Barrision (Naomie Harris), who also happens to be a powerful mutant named Shriek.
As good as Hardy is in his role, he has stiff competition from the scene-stealing, maniacal antics of Harrelson. Now there’s a guy who knows how to play a deranged serial killer.
To be honest, the movie cuts some corners to create a 90-minute superhero action film. There are a few scenes that could use some explanation, but that can be forgiven. The audience is given the bare bones of a story, just enough to set the scene and justify the millions that went into the CGI action sequences as two malleable monsters thrash one another.
Director Andy Serkis is more of an actor, with over 100 roles to his credit, including many voice overs. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Ulysses Klaue in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Considering that he has only directed five projects, including “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle,” he did a good job of pulling the Venom franchise up to a respectable level.
As any Marvel movie fan knows, there is an excellent mid-credit scene in “Carnage” that sets the stage for some pretty exciting movies that will delight comic fans.
Michael Sangiacomo is a freelance writer and author. He was the reviewer at The Plain Dealer for several decades.