The long-delayed Venom sequel finally hit theaters this weekend three years after the original film was met with mixed reviews. Back for another shot at the Lethal Protector, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a marked improvement over its predecessor while ironically seemingly trying to do more yet accomplish less. The film is no masterpiece, but it is somewhat refreshing in its lax ambition. Let There Be Carnage is self-aware and unpretentious in putting on the screen what it enjoyed about itself and what it likewise assumed the audience would also enjoy. Overall, the film is a gratifying superhero action flick that’s 97-minute long runtime prevents its imperfections from taking up too much time.
The movie’s greatest achievement is making its main characters, Eddie Brock and his companion symbiote Venom, extremely likable. Tom Hardy’s performance as both was the single most positive takeaway from Venom, and the sequel aptly utilized it extensively. His interactions with his self-voiced Venom are almost exclusively what made the film funny and by consequence, fun. It must be inferred that Let There Be Carnage is aware that the duo’s popularity may mean something significant down the road in the franchise and the heavy focus on Eddie and Venom over other pieces of this film might have been a very calculated decision rather than an unfortunate outcome in the making of this movie.
You’d never guess it by its subtitle. Let There Be Carnage is absolutely a story of love, albeit a platonic one. While it often feels like there are two separate movies fighting for control, the Eddie-Venom love story is undoubtedly the story the film truly wants to tell. The movie keeps that aspect simple and by-the-book. While their love is platonic, examining their relationship is an effective way to explore the symbiotic relationship, which in Let There Be Carnage’s terms is trying to find a way to coexist between being “made for” one another and devolving into parasitism.
The first and second acts of the film devote much of its energy to this dynamic. The first act begins in a place that feels a little too much like we have not left Venom. It in fact almost feels like it belongs in act two of the first movie. Eddie and Venom, while accepting their relationship as it is, struggle to find common ground on what they consider the best way to live harmoniously. Eventually, the still humorous back and forth creates a significant tear between the two and Venom emotionally and dramatically leaves to prove he is better without Eddie.
Without Venom, Eddie is honestly a bore and does not hold the presence that a main character should. The film exposes that alone Eddie has little to offer the overarching narrative and that his main contribution is in the form of winning Venom back. On the other hand, Venom, even without Eddie, at least has a personality but has little else to offer. He feels the rush of independence but is ultimately empty and aimless without Eddie. In this way, Let There Be Carnage does a great job portraying the two as a true “match” and additionally highlighting why it is such a joy to watch Hardy talk to himself. The two reuniting for the purpose of defeating the villain is certainly cliché, but given how simple the film wants to be, it fits and does not take away from the story as a whole.
At the end of the day, Let There Be Carnage felt isolated in a number of ways, one of which was the lack of variety of supporting characters. Honestly, the only other character to truly note is, of course, Woody Harrelson’s Cletus Kasady. Virtually all other characters felt either expendable, forgettable, or were involved so little that they made little to no impact overall. Harrelson is absolutely the right actor for Cletus—he is creepy, he can come across as psychotic. He is uncomfortable to watch and in this role oozes violent, murderous potential. Unfortunately, the film fails to fully tap into his potential.
Similar to Eddie and Venom, the movie attempts to make a love story out of Cletus and Naomie Harris’ Shriek. Unfortunately, it is not compelling. This in part could have been due to the limited runtime and how little of that time was devoted to it. The film essentially tells the audience in the first few minutes that Cletus and Shriek were in some sort of relationship but that is the extent of it. They do not give or her character much to work with and Shriek’s role is mostly condensed into serving Cletus after his escape, rather than her being a force of her own. Ultimately, this side plot adds little to nothing to Let There Be Carnage and actually muddles Cletus’ potential quite a lot.
While Harrelson had so much to offer here, the film misses the mark in terms of utilizing his potential. Cletus’ primary motivation upon escaping execution is to find and marry Shriek. His overarching romantic motivations greatly hindered the violent, chaotic, murderous, crazed, and horrifying action from Carnage. While he has his one major action sequence at Ravencroft before the final battle, it still falls short of establishing Carnage as a true and terrifying threat. As a result, the character simply was not as compelling or interesting as a villain as he could have easily been.
The Carnage symbiote—which we learned little to nothing about—could have so easily taken on Cletus’ psychotic serial killer persona and taken it to a wild new level, but it never happens. His eventual defeat does not even feel like a relief. It was reminiscent of a mediocre threat that could have passed more organically in a generic superhero origin movie, but Harrelson, Cletus, and Carnage had the ability to be so much more—and as a sequel, Let There Be Carnage had some duty to bring more to the table.
The sequel also felt somewhat isolated in that our two sets of characters—Eddie and Venom versus Cletus and Carnage—had noticeably little interaction throughout the film. Eddie and Cletus have a couple of run-ins in the first act, but Eddie and Venom have absolutely no interaction or knowledge of Carnage until the very final battle scene. Obviously, Let There Be Carnage would have benefitted from the two symbiotes having some kind of relationship or dynamic—it would have been great if the audience were given a simple explanation for Carnage’s existence and how it relates to Venom. The fact that the two seemed completely separated from one another lessened the impact of the final fight.
Similarly, Cletus shines, if ever so briefly, in his final moments where he admonishes Eddie for not questioning why Cletus became the killer he did, particularly acknowledging how Eddie never thought to consider Cletus’ abuse as a child. Had there been more moments of this relative moral ambiguity, deeper dives into Cletus’ mind, and Eddie coming to terms with those moments, Harrelson would have been put to greater use, and Cletus may have been a villain worth thinking about once the movie is over.
Areas where Let There Be Carnage falls short may be due to its shockingly low runtime. At 97 minutes, including credits, this superhero film is glaringly short. Still, it has pros and cons. On the negative side, of course, is the lack of depth afforded to Cletus and Carnage. At times, the pace of the movie comes across like it was edited to fit certain runtime requirements for network television. The first and second acts also feel like they are ninety-percent of the movie, while act three sort of arrives unannounced and leaves within minutes. On the other hand, the short runtime means that the film generally does not waste much time on imperfections, bloated scenes, or additional bad side plots. Most importantly, though, Let There Be Carnage gets its point across. The film clearly knew what it wanted to do and the story it wanted to tell—it did not play around with making it more complex than it needed to be.
The result is a film that seems acutely aware of its assets and less concerned with spending too much time or effort perfecting everything else. Let There Be Carnage is an entertaining movie that evolved past the original Venom by letting Tom Hardy’s unique humor and charisma guide the way. While the titular villain falls short, it does not impact the heart and core of the film—Eddie and Venom’s love for one another.
As a final note—yes, there is a post-credits scene. Only time will tell what it all means but it may be worth bearing in mind what Venom says early in the movie: “responsibility is for the mediocre.”