HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — Common wisdom states that if you expect nothing, you’ll never be disappointed.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” operates on this logic. What could you really expect from the follow-up to Sony’s lukewarmly received 2018 “Venom”?
Well, a lot, it turns out. “Carnage” packs plenty of laughs and action into the tight 90-minute runtime. There are areas where the editing is nearly brutal with the way it trims any fat out of the story while still managing to tell something resembling a coherent story.
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, saying actual words) lives in an apartment in San Francisco with his symbiote Venom and Venom’s two pet chickens, Sonny and Cher. He’s struggling after the events of the first movie, but a promising exclusive interview with Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson at his most delightfully bonkers in a while) seems to be putting Eddie’s life back on track after Venom helps him decipher clues that lead to the bodies of Kasady’s victims.
Sentenced to death, Kasady asks for one last conversation with Eddie and takes a bite out of his hand. Enter Carnage.
However, Carnage is not the central conflict of the film. Not really.
Venom feels unappreciated for his contribution to Eddie’s success. Eddie feels suffocated by Venom’s endless “nagging”. When Eddie attempts to self-destruct after finding out his ex is getting married, the ensuing fight between Eddie and his symbiote reads more like a breakup.
This is all intentional. Venom leaves Eddie alone but struggles to find a new host who can handle him. He crashes what appears to be a rave and gets up on stage to pour his heart out about how he’s free and “out of the Eddie Brock closet” and that he wants to be allowed to be himself. Then he sits in a corner and cries about missing Eddie.
Eddie wants to be normal. He wants to try and move on from his ex, Anne, and restart his career and watch his fancy TV. Venom wants to be “The Lethal Protector”, a hero who eats the heads off of bad guys. Neither of them knows how to navigate the other’s desires because neither of them cares to try.
Cletus Kasady, now empowered by Carnage, hunts down his institution sweetheart, the mutant Shriek (Naomi Harris, easily matching Harrelson’s wild energy,) whose supersonic abilities put her at odds with Carnage due to the symbiote’s sensitivity to sound.
Kasady and Shriek decide to go on a rampage of revenge against the places that represent the worst time in their lives and Eddie realizes that their paths are going to intersect sooner than later since he’s the guy who got Kasady sentenced to death.
Maybe the biggest fault of “Let There Be Carnage” is there was clearly more of Woody Harrelson and Naomi Harris hamming it up as an unrepentant villain couple that was cut. Carnage is undeveloped as a villain; he wants to kill Venom but the reasoning is murky. Maybe symbiotes always want to kill their progenitor?
But that’s alright because the true heart of the story is the contrast between Eddie and Cletus and their respective symbiotes, not how cool Carnage is. Venom encompasses Eddie like a shield when he takes control while Carnage seems to pull Kasady apart entirely. Venom likes Anne and wants Eddie to get back with her but Carnage hates Shriek due to her abilities, creating turmoil within Kasady.
It’s a little disappointing that we don’t get to see Venom munching on people’s heads due to the PG-13 rating but seeing Venom draped in glowsticks is somehow even better.
There are also fun little nods to the looming connection to Spider-man, too: at one point Cletus Kasady squishes and eats a spider, and Venom recreates an iconic rooftop Spider-man pose, as he tries to fulfill his desire to be a hero who takes out bad guys.
The stakes in “Let There Be Carnage” are low, but frankly more superhero stories could stand to simply be about the characters people love and how they interact with the world they exist in rather than what bland bad guy is chasing the Existence Erasing Macguffin this week.
If you’re expecting a world-shattering superhero spectacle, don’t. This is a love story.