Movie Review: “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”

I don’t speak for everyone, but I haven’t thought a lot about the Marvel Cinematic Universe in recent years. Although I enjoyed Spider-Man: Far From Home loads, Avengers: Endgame felt like a suitable culmination for all that momentum. I was into it, and judging by the near 3 billion dollar box office return, others were into it as well. Since then, although not a lot has happened in their Cinematic Universe per se, a lot has happened in ours.

The Covid-19 pandemic turned everything upside down, banana sandwich. As much as Endgame felt like a satisfying culmination of all that came prior, it was never, ever the end. The wheel will keep turning, and although Covid-19 was heinous and tragic, it did offer some reprieve for moviegoers looking to catch their breath some from the burnout of all the caped crusaders on the big screen. Now, with Shang-Chi and Eternals being … interesting, peculiar films with relatively unknown characters, it does make it feel like we’re in the rebuilding process, aside a handful of familiar faces to hold the torch meanwhile.

It can be difficult to become excited again, can’t it? To muster that same excitement? I feel the same way, which is why I’m still playing catch-up with a lot of the Phase Four features that have been released – my local theater shutting down permanently has made it easier to form a backlog. I’ll be driving two hours out to see the new Spider-Man: No Way Home film next week, and so, it was only fitting I finally watch his blood-relative’s latest film Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

As the credits rolled shy of the 90 minute market, I was pleasantly surprised by how short, breezy, and straightforward the new Venom sequel was. Directed by performance-capture maestro Andy Serkis (whose previous film Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle amounted to an ambitious, head scratcher of a film with a lot to dislike, some to like, and a lot of untapped potential), Venom: Let There Be Carnage has a firmer grasp on its material.

The 2018 film was a watchable, but muddy film, clouded by melodrama, overacting, and a misalignment of its intent, struggling to balance its buddy-comedy charm with a more serious, gritty aesthetic. What it all amounted to was something, again, watchable, but goofy and inconsistent. I’d land it somewhere beside the 2016 film Suicide Squad in that respect.

This film is … still a little on the muddy side, still filled with melodrama and overacting, but feels like it has better embraced itself and doubled-down on the buddy-comedy approach that audiences liked in the earlier film. It feels goofy, but consistently goofy, and that makes it all the more easy to enjoy and appreciate as a film.

This time around, Venom and Eddie Brock are at each other’s throats, but are faced a new adversary, the popular comic-book villain Carnage, played by Woody Harrelson. Cletus Kasady, Carnage’s human counterpart, is a serial killer who comes in-contact with Eddie Brock’s blood, infecting himself with an offspring of the Venom parasite, allowing him to escape from prison and wreak havoc.

Although the heavy subject-matter may feel counterintuitive to Venom 2’s ‘leaning into the skid’ approach, Woody Harrelson’s over-the-top, comic-book performance grounds it squarely out of reality, and keeps it from repeating the earlier film’s indiscretions. It isn’t a perfect portrayal, however, and does still have that overdramatic messiness on some level, failing to evoke sympathy or strong disdain for the Cletus character.

As prefaced, Venom 2 is a short film. Short by contemporary superhero standards, that is, and I was welcome to that. A lot of superhero films can find themselves over the two-hour mark, and, for a film like this, I am very grateful it didn’t try to overstay its welcome or bog it down with heavy-handed exposition. I don’t mind a long film in the least, but I feel you have to earn that, and this film doesn’t, and so, I’m thankful it doesn’t claim otherwise.

Venom 2’s only concern is creating a special-effect heavy film with absurd, goofy comedy, wrapped together by a throwaway storyline. It’s a film that feels harmless, but also indefensible in its lack of ambition. It comes and goes, all very, very quickly, never really accomplishing anything whatsoever beyond the decreed mission statement. It feels so thin, it reminded me of how Disney used to make direct-to-video sequels to their major blockbusters, like Lion King or Aladdin. They’d be fine, but you’d always turn off the television thinking ‘that’s it?’, and accepting it because, who cares, you didn’t even like the first Brother Bear. It just so happens that this particularly direct-to-video was very expensive and marginally better than the first. For what it could have been, however, I am disappointed.

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