There’s a moment in Venom: Let There Be Carnage when Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) comes across a tree with a pair of initials carved into a heart. It’s a clue that Brock and Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) will use to track down escaped criminal Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), but the romantic insignia is reflective of the sequel’s focus on love and duality.
The first Venom was a surprise hit back in 2018. The by-the-numbers generic action trailer never hinted at the film’s kooky silliness, and, in particular, Hardy’s inspired physical comedy performance. The film also generated its fair share of digital ink about the underlying queer subtext: Brock and Venom, the alien symbiote who shares his body, were in love with one another (or at least Venom with Brock).
The sequel leans into both the silliness and the love story in a big way. After the events of the first film, Brock’s career has hit a wall, so when he gets an offer to interview death row inmate Cletus Kasady, he accepts. Cletus is a serial killer with a troubled childhood (shown in evocative hand-drawn animation) and he has his own tortured love affair. As a teen, Cletus was separated from Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris) when she was transferred to Ravencroft, an institution for super powered beings.
The plot kicks in when Cletus bites Eddie during their second interview, ingesting a tiny bit of the symbiote, which transforms him into Carnage. In the Venom films, everything comes down to the compatibility between alien parasite and human host. In the new film, dysfunctional but well-matched Venom/Eddie are on one end of the spectrum, while Carnage/Cletus sit on the other. This new pairing works only when Cletus feeds Carnage’s appetite for death and destruction, but the serial killer’s pesky love affair with Frances, whose Shriek powers hurt the symbiote, prove far more problematic.
The new foe provides nearly all of the action content in the new film, including an exciting prison escape and then an attack outside of Ravencroft. This is all fine, although watching countless red shirts try to shoot Carnage, who is impervious to bullets, becomes a little mind-numbing after a while. Director Andy Serkis keeps the camera moving during these sequences, which mirrors the kinetic airborne nature of Carnage’s movements, but sometimes turns the film into a blur of CGI pixels.
The film’s biggest issue is that all of the new characters – Cletus, Frances and Mulligan – are underdeveloped. Blame the film’s speedy 95 minute runtime, which ensures Let There Be Carnage doesn’t overstay its welcome, but also makes it impossible to invest significantly in the trio of newcomers.
That leaves the heavy lifting to the Venom & Brock’s relationship. This is where Kelly Marcel and Hardy’s screenplay excels: the exploration of the “post-honeymoon” period as the two adapt to their life together. Venom laments the fact that Brock’s rules won’t allow it to eat bad guys’ brains (Eddie keeps his other half on a strict chocolate and chicken diet) while Brock mourns the loss of his less messy life, despite the fact that Venom has helped to transform him from loser to hero.
The film’s meatiest section occurs when Venom and Eddie get into a physical fight and Venom abandons Eddie to go off on its own. This is a much reported “coming out”, aided by the film’s propensity for using romantic, couple-y language to describe their relationship, and it moves to queer coding from the subtext of the first film to full-on text here. Admittedly a rave scene when Venom proudly announces they have come out of the “Eddie closet” while draped in rainbow coloured glow sticks is so on the nose, however, it starts to feel patronizing to queer audiences.
A later scene when Eddie is forced to apologize to both Venom and former love Anne (Michelle Williams) while she carries the symbiote plays much better. This is Brock making amends to the two beings he’s loved and wronged at the same time and it is much less forced and more emotionally impactful.
Overall Venom: Let There Be Carnage is just as fun and silly as its predecessor. The lack of character development for Frances, Mulligan and Cletus hurts the climax, but the Venom and Eddie relationship drama builds nicely on the first film. Let There Be Carnage likely won’t win over naysayers and it’s not quite as wacky, but overall this sequel is a solid continuation of the story. Throw in a revelatory post-credits sequence and the series is well-positioned to move forward in an incredibly exciting new direction. 3/5
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is out in theatres Oct 1