The following article contains spoilers on the film’s plot, ending, and post-credit sequence. If you still haven’t seen the film, only continue at your own risk.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is its willingness to embrace the absurd. A symbiote makes pancakes, a man licks a spider, and a combination of the two bellows the film’s title before credits roll. It’s pure scripted chaos, mixed with appropriately goofy performances from stars Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson. This is why the film’s choice to not fully embrace its villain is so baffling.
Carnage has long been one of Marvel’s meanest rogues, and that doesn’t change here. The red symbiote is portrayed as giddily sadistic and all-out ill-willed as one would hope. Yet, something about the character feels less imposing than it should. The lack of R-rated violence, which some fans have wondered about since the announcement, is an easy first guess when it comes to pinpointing the problem. Yet, it’s not a loss for blood that throws Carnage out of whack. It’s something much deeper than that, in connection to the film’s central themes. It’s the relationship between Carnage and host buddy Cletus Kasady that truly serves to incapacitate the first live-action adaptation of Venom’s greatest adversary.
It feels ridiculous to say, but Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a relationship drama first and comic book action second. This is not an issue with the movie, which actually uses the love and bond between protagonists Eddie Brock and Venom to its advantage on many occasions. Unfortunately, where the story knows exactly how to play to Eddie and Venom’s strengths, it fails to understand what makes Cletus and Carnage so unique. Whereas the Venom symbiote has spent much of it’s existence bouncing from host to host, viewing itself as a separate entity from the bodies it inhabits, the Carnage symbiote was born to one man and one man alone. Unlike his father, Carnage has never been a “we” guy, and neither has Cletus.
While Carnage’s erratic fighting style and lust for death are a major part of what makes him dangerous, it’s his absolute unified bond with Cletus that truly makes him so terrifying. Their perfect relationship is the chainmail protecting an already pretty-dang-powerful set of armor. In an attempt to make their antagonist more susceptible to defeat, and perhaps even a little more relatable to audiences, the film stripped the character of his hallmark and turned “them” into an emotionally cruel couple. This works to a degree for the movie’s lovesick, abused version of serial killer Kasady, but it certainly weakens the screen presence of a character that should have been among Sony’s biggest bad guys.
The link between Cletus and Carnage could have been used as a dark foil for Eddie and Venom. A sickened, Terminator-esque peek into what a symbiote can do when left unchecked or even urged on, by its host. The Carnage symbiote’s parricidal feelings towards Venom are hinted at but left unexplored, despite the overwhelming potential of balancing that hateful association with the loving parallel Venom finds in Eddie. All of this is thrown to the wayside so that Cletus may have a love interest of his own, acting as a mirrored reflection of Eddie’s own relationships and an easy out for concluding character arcs in the third act.
It’s almost shameful that the film chooses to end Carnage’s story so soon after it begins, with both host and symbiote receiving an unceremonious death at the hands of their progenitor and rival. At the very least, Let There Be Carnage had the potential to serve as a functional origin story for Carnage, with his more threatening aspects set to be fleshed out in a later franchise installment. Nevertheless, the multiversal implications of the film’s post-credits scene offer hope at another shot with Carnage down the line. It’s possible that audiences will one day see the character in all his merciless glory, but until then, we’re left with a take on Carnage that feels like a decent impression at best.