'Venom: Let There Be Carnage' Review
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the greatest superhero film of 2006. No, seriously: this wouldn’t be out of place among the corny, hackneyed early-to-mid-2000s comic book movies Hollywood crapped out without an understanding of the source material or a plan for a cinematic universe. The rubbery aesthetics and laughable excuses for a story of the post-Spider-Man onslaught (that included movies like Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Daredevil, and Catwoman, permanently burned into my eight-year-old brain as they played endlessly on syndication every Sunday) are far closer to what Serkis and co. shot for in this sequel to 2018’s Venom.
Full disclosure: I have never seen Venom. After being burned so badly by Sony’s short-lived Amazing Spider-Man duology, I swore off any of their Spider-Man related content unless the MCU got involved. But as I slaved away in the Regal Cinema where I worked during summer 2021, something caught my eye. Adjacent to the ticket-taker booth where I was stationed was a massive screen showing previews for upcoming films. Among them was a trailer featuring a massive red goopy boy, limbs and tentacles growing out his back, sticking his tongue down the throat of a police officer. It looked stupid. It looked like total brainless schlock. It looked like utter fucking garbage. I knew right away that I had to see it. The desaturated, half-hearted, Tim Burton-esque visuals (decades removed from when that aesthetic was popular) made it look entertaining at the very least. And maybe, just maybe, a little refreshing.
What Let There Be Carnage ended up being is a Looney Tunes riff on those early 00s garbage superhero vibes. Serkis’ direction is unusually kinetic, even during the more mundane moments; a plethora of fluid dolly shots track the stretches of goopy Venom appendages spread out around Eddie Brock’s (Tom Hardy) apartment performing everyday chores like cleaning and making breakfast. He might like to eat brains, but Venom is halfway between E.T. and the Cat in the Hat’s giant fixing machine. It’s often quite slapstick, as half the action before the climax is Tom Hardy getting thrown around by Venom onto the halls and walls of their apartment as they bicker like a married couple. A surprising amount of these stunts are practical, too; though Venom is CGI, it’s clear that wires are pulling, twisting, and turning Hardy in midair like he’s Baby Annette. He takes the physical abuse like a champ and plays Brock as an incompetent, frustrated Wile E Coyote to Venom’s Roadrunner. What really elevates this above most of the other blockbusters this year, however, are the strange stylistic touches that harken back to the more chaotic mainstream films of the 00s. An overt steal from Speed Racer comes when serial killer Kletus Cassady (Woody Harrelson) recounts his childhood to Brock through a letter, their green screen backgrounds united by the animated red scribbles of a child.
Plot? What plot? You think plot matters in this movie? This “story” is so laughably bad that it’s almost not worth getting into, but I will: Eddie and Venom need to learn to work together to stop Kletus Cassady from being happy with his wife, Shriek (Naomie Harris).
Yeah, Cassady may be a serial killer, but it never feels like he’s a real threat to anyone outside of Eddie and his on-and-off girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams), even after the Carnage symbiote impulsively throws an innocent civilian off a bridge. Most of Harrelson’s screen time is spent intensely whispering or screaming like a coked up Owen Wilson whose mind has been shredded by way too many bong rips. It’s the performance of the year, easily. Point is, the plot and characterization are so thin that it’s hard to feel much emotion by the end of the film outside of mirth at how stupid the climax is. So, when Cassady admits to Brock that, uh, he just wanted to be friends with him (?), or when he and his lover are reunited in what’s played as a big emotional moment, it never connects in the way it’s supposed to. And now that I think about it, half the comedy in this film is incredibly awkward and poorly executed. And the effects? They’re just downright awful. Wait, why do I enjoy this film again?
Let There Be Carnage’s hollow nature is both its charm and its repulsiveness. Martin Scorsese’s analogy comparing superhero films to theme park rides never really made complete sense to me. Sure, I get the gist of it; they’ve replaced an invigorating emotional or cinematically complex experience with spectacle, but until Venom: Let There Be Carnage, I’ve never felt like any comic book movie has gotten close to the visceral experience of getting jerked around by a moving car in a dark room and bombarded by bright, flashing lights, loud noises and random iconography. It’s essentially the Spider-Man ride at Islands of Adventure stretched out to 97 minutes, warts and all, but instead of paying $250 to suffer all day in the sun, you can watch it for $10-12 in a nice, cold theater.