This weekend, a classic comic book rivalry hit the big screen in Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021). In this Venom sequel directed by Andy Serkis, Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson reprise their roles as Eddie Brock and Cletus Kasady for a symbiotic showdown.
Fans have waited years to see this fight in live-action. With the end of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise, the filmic future of Spider-Man’s symbiotic foes seemed dubious. But when Woody Harrelson appeared as Cletus Kasady in the credits of Venom, the dream finally came true.
Or did it?
The first film performed well in theaters but received a mixed reaction from comic fans. Venom: Let There Be Carnage doubles down on the tone of its predecessor. If you liked the first one, you might like this one. But if you didn’t? This might not be your movie.
Like the previous film, Let There Be Carnage approaches its source material with a turn-of-the-millennium mindset. As Joel Schumacher said when questioned about the goofiness of his Batman & Robin (1997) adaptation: “They’re called comic books, not tragic books.”
And that’s the fundamental problem with this take on Venom. In the comics, Venom has funny moments; in the opening panels of Venom: Lethal Protector, (1993) he’s completely oblivious to the terror he instills in those he protects, to great comedic effect. And he’s often over-the-top. Just look at the guy.
But he’s fundamentally a serious character.
There’s nothing wrong with funny superhero films (sorry, Zach Snyder). But you can achieve comedy without compromising character. In a film like The Avengers (2012), comedy flows from the character and the world, not at the expense of those elements. But Venom: Let There Be Carnage, much like Batman & Robin before it, finds its comedy by transforming the world and the characters into a soft parody of themselves.
This “soft parody” could work on its own terms. But here, the jokes land with a dead thud. In my theater, nearly every comic beat was met with total silence. Some are downright bizarre, as when Eddie—refusing to lend his journalistic skills to the police—mounts his motorcycle and declares, “The only scoop I’m getting today is double fudge.”
That word—“bizarre”—keeps coming to mind. The film’s story has a solid emotional core. The fundamental relationship between Eddie and Venom works. It’s actually become more endearing since the first film. A relational theme of give-and-take runs through the entire film, reflected at every level: between Eddie and Venom, between Cletus and Shriek, between Cletus and Carnage.
But at every point, bizarre choices obscure that story—whether its awkward quips, dead-end plot-threads, or just tonal weirdness. Eddie’s apartment is full of chickens. At one point, a character stops mid-dialogue to point out his new Sony Bravia and say, “Nice TV.” (I guess Sony has to make its money somewhere.)
The strongest part of this film—the actual throw-down between the titular symbiotes—is too little too late. Looking at the short runtime, I hoped the film would follow the Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) wisdom of cutting straight to the “shove popcorn in your face while monsters punch each other” part. But Venom and Carnage don’t clash until the final moments, creature effects half-hidden in darkness.
Despite everything before, the actual fight was a nerd dream come true: Venom and Carnage in glorious live-action, duking it out with all the claws and teeth and ooze you could wish. But blink and you miss it. And then the credits roll.
But the credits. Boy howdy, the credits.
Since you’re on the internet reading Venom articles, you probably know about the mid-credits scene. But just in case, beware: massive spoilers ahead.
In the mid-credits scene—itself worth the price of admission—we see Eddie Brock transported to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Venom symbiote somehow recognizes Tom Holland’s Peter Parker on the tiny hotel television screen—perhaps something from those “universes of knowledge” he claims to have.
As we’ve seen in Loki (2021) on Disney Plus—and in the teaser for Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)—the multiverse has arrived. Anything is possible.
If nothing else, Tom Hardy is a near-perfect casting choice for Eddie Brock. As disappointing as I found the rest of the film, it’s exciting to envision Hardy’s Venom in the MCU. One can only hope that, dropped into a more coherent universe, the potential of this casting will be realized. The entire movie is nearly redeemed by the possibility of Tom vs. Tom, Venom vs. Spidey.
I suspect we’ll see a split in fan reactions. If you’re looking for a mindless action flick, and you have no real connection to the source material, you’ll probably have a good enough time. But if you care about this material, and if you’re hoping for the deeper character-work of an MCU film, you’ll likely be left cold.
See Venom: Let There Be Carnage in theaters now. Or at least watch the credits.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
- Director: Andy Serkis
- Writers: Kelly Marcel (screenplay), Tom Hardy (story)
- Based on the Marvel comics, Venom, created by Todd McFarlane
- Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, and Naomie Harris
- Production Companies: Sony Pictures Entertainment, Pascal Pictures, Marvel Entertainment