Review by C.J. Bunce
Everything is related. That’s what you’ll learn if you watched this year’s superhero movies, beginning with Black Widow, threading into Hawkeye. Loki and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings wove their way into the coming Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness and even if you haven’t seen Spider-Man: No Way Home yet, you know from the trailers it, too, ties into the Multiverse with the appearance of Doctor Strange. And we won’t say how, but if you decided to skip it (and it’s been available in different forms via theaters and digital home release for weeks now), Venom: Let There Be Carnage finally connects Sony’s Marvel world with the giant MCU you know from Disney (another big connection to tie the four corners of Marvel together this month if you’re paying attention). Sure, we may have thought the Sony tie was going to happen in WandaVision, when Sony X-Men’s Quicksilver showed up on Wanda and Vision’s doorstep, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen. The real deal finally began in the sequel to 2018’s Venom (reviewed here). Yes, everything is connected. But that’s not the only reason to make sure you watch Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
One reason is because director Andy Serkis understood the 2018 movie, why fans love the characters of Eddie Brock and Venom (and Carnage) from the comics, and why Sony’s 2018 movie worked, which–let’s face it–surprised practically everyone. Add in talented actors like Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams. And then credit Kelly Marcel and Tom Hardy for their story and script, because the best reason to see the movie is because it’s absolutely funny, and probably the most fun you’ll have with this year’s slate of superhero offerings. And that’s saying something.
In Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Eddie Brock and Venom borrow something from Neil Simon, creating their own take on The Odd Couple. Bromance? Buddies? Whatever it is, somehow mainstream audiences can care about this hideous pile of goo with teeth. Call that a success alone. But connect that with the target audience–somewhere between 13- and 16-year-olds (and 35- to 55-year-olds) and especially those fans of Todd McFarlane’s look for Venom (followed later by Mark Bagley’s reflection of Venom in Carnage). Venom: Let There Be Carnage can work on every level, and every likely audience for the movie will find something of the kid in themselves to appreciate this movie.
For Venom to be appealing as a character, he had to have his own opponent. We sort of saw that when we just met him in the first movie. But we needed something strong to firmly establish Eddie and Venom as anti-heroes somewhat of The Punisher variety. And that strong something was Woody Harrelson’s ability to play crazy well.
Harrelson’s Cletus Casady is a serial killer to be sure, but Serkis tucks the vilest aspects of that reality into an animated film within a film in the movie so audiences young and old need not confront it in a movie made for entertainment purposes. By the end of the film, he’s almost sympathetic. But smartly Harrelson’s character is split in half like Eddie and Venom. We quickly learn why Cletus and Carnage don’t work, but Eddie and Venom do–as comicdom’s “Lethal Protector.” part of the credit goes to Tom Hardy, who voices Venom again, but this time with more nuance. His performance as Venom is even better than as Eddie.
Don’t overlook Michelle Williams’ role as an important Marvel character. Audiences will see her talent as she speaks with Eddie both alone and together with Venom. It’s even more fun when she tries to arbitrate the two when Venom is not part of Eddie. Fans of the first film will also love the return of Peggy Lu as the nearby store owner Mrs. Chen. Her role only gets better here.
It’s all nicely almost irretrievably knotted thanks to the entry of James Bond Moneypenny actress Naomie Harris in an almost unrecognizable role as Frances Barrison, an important person from Cletus’s past. That’s almost unrecognizable until you remember that Harris played that memorable, Caribbean, creepy voodoo soothsayer in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Her character is deeply fascinating because by all counts other than name she is an X-Man. Her hospital even resembles the one in Sony’s The New Mutants (reviewed here). It’s the only part of Venom: Let There Be Carnage that feels like a missed opportunity.
And I haven’t even mentioned the top-notch CGI effects with Eddie and Venom, Cletus and Carnage, and the battles among them.