Sunday, May 26, 2024

‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ is a Rip-Roaring Good Time

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I unabashedly, unironically, adore Ruben Fleischer’s 2018 Venom. Hearing that there would be a sequel, I was worried, considering much of what I love about the movie was the lightning in the bottle aspect of Tom Hardy’s performance mixed with story and character details that had little to do with the overall mythos. I’m happy to report that Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a slightly better movie but with all the unhinged bug-nuttiness of the first that I adore so much.

Andy Serkis, who invented an entirely new form of acting, is the perfect captain to steer the Venom universe’s wayward ship. His style is malleable to whatever film he is working on requires, but more importantly, he knows how to guide and give space to actors working with VFX. The result is a rip-roaring comic book movie that couldn’t give a toss about lore, setting up universes, or anything else comic-book fans crave. 

Eddie and Venom (Tom Hardy) share a moment on a beach.

Venom 2 carries on from what makes the first Venom so great, relishing that it even exists. Hardy is as gung-ho as ever as both Eddie Brock and the CGI bratty hyper-active Venom voice. With a script by Kelly Marcel from a story by Hardy and Marcel, Serkis takes the vital step of treating the so-called plot like the McGuffin spectacle it is.

Gone is Cletus Kassidy’s (Woody Harrelson) cheap wig, sadly. But both Marcel and Serkis understand that Cletus, who will become the red Symbiote Carnage, is only there for the action beats. Still, they imbue him with more pathos than necessary but not so much that we feel as if we would want to spend more time with him. Cletus is a psychopath possessed by an alien symbiote, and both use each other to get what they want. Except what they want isn’t the same thing.

At the same time, Eddie and Venom are at odds because they both want the same thing, to be happy. They just can’t figure out how to get there. Venom wants to fight crime and eat bad guys and dawn the mantle “Lethal Protector.” Oh, and he misses Anne (Michelle Williams). Of course, Eddie misses her too, but Venom is the one who is honest about it.

Shriek (Naomi Harris) and Carnage (Woody Harrelson)

Cletus and his long-lost love Francis Barron (Naomi Harris), also known as Shriek because she can screech like a banshee — literally — are interesting enough to move the story along. Serkis doesn’t dwell on the storyline, but he also doesn’t skimp on it. He understands, while endlessly amusing and fascinating, that the Eddie/Venom/Anne relationship isn’t enough to propel an action movie forward.

Thus enters the arbitrary plot, with Carnage wanting to kill Venom simply because Venom is the only thing that could kill him. Cletus goes along because he wants to break Francis out of Ravencroft and get revenge on Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) for shooting her eye out. But, of course, none of it matters, and what’s more, everyone knows it.

The world of Venom is fun to visit because, unlike every other comic book movie, the action scenes are hardly the point. There’s something weirdly relatable to Venom, a symbiote who desperately wants to do good but can’t help that he needs to eat either brains or chocolate. They both contain the chemical he needs to survive. While he can cure Eddie’s cancer, he can’t heal Eddie’s broken heart over losing Anne.

Serkis plays with this by having Eddie and Venom separate for a chunk of the movie. Far from being dull, the risk pays off. Venom at a rave having fun and hogging the spotlight could come off as cheesy, but that’s the character. He wants to be liked.

Not to mention I love that the movie implies that the only three people who can handle hosting Venom are Eddie, Anne, and Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu), the lady who runs the corner grocery mart. It’s little morsels like these that make the Venom so much more fascinating than they are coily calculated blockbuster siblings.

Venom (Hardy) enjoys himself free from Eddie.

Although I wish Anne’s fiance Dan (Reid Scott) had more to do, he does show up to help in the end. However, Serkis finds ways to spice up the action utilizing Dan. One such scene has Eddie/Venom and Anne falling from atop a Cathedral. How Venom travels through Dan and Anne to get back to Eddie is the type of hysterical glee missing from many other action scenes.

Robert Richardson and Serkis may not have shot the most visually arresting action scenes, still, for what is essentially giant CGI tentacle fights, they’ve done a remarkable job making sure we understand what’s going on. Though I did find myself wondering how Character B wound up in Location C when I swore Character B had leapt from Location C. 

But honestly, I don’t care. Not many comic-book movies would compare Cervente’s Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza and their characters. Fewer still would have pulled it off. 

So much of the humor of Venom 2 is vulgar, silly, gross, and gut-bustlingly hilarious. But, much like Don QuixoteVenom: Let There Be Carnage has a certain irreverence about it. It doesn’t care what other movies are doing and, in the end, does what the first one does, deliver something entirely different and uniquely its own.

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

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