Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021): A Solid, Albeit, Chaotic Sequel
Was a Venom (2018) sequel necessary? Yes, absolutely it was! It made enough money the first time around despite what critics had to say about it. Even though Venom (2018) was divisive, it was good fun to watch, and luckily Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) doubled down on the buddy-comedy and action aspects while adding some horror elements with the villain, Cletus Kasady/Carnage (played by Woody Harrelson). But was it enough to surpass the expectations and pressure placed upon the movie? This sequel follows Eddie Brock (played by Tom Hardy) as he navigates attempting to return to the top of the journalism hierarchy by interviewing infamous serial killer, Cletus Kasady. During a visit to Kasady as he awaits death row, Brock, Venom, and Cletus get into a scuffle that ends with Kasady biting Brock’s hand; consuming a piece of Venom as well. When about to be executed, Cletus Kasady merges with the piece of Venom and turns into the symbiote, Carnage. After they escape, Eddie and Venom must find and stop their reign of terror before Carnage burns San Francisco to ash.
Rating movies is a tough deal, as this can either make or break a movie for many ticket sales. If Sony decided to take a risk with Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) and give it an R-rating, they might have had a movie that is of better quality, allowing more of the main characters like Venom/Eddie Brock and Carnage/Cletus Kasady to explore their darker sides. However, Sony decided to play it safe with a PG-13 rating, as this would likely hope for more butts in seats with a slightly younger demographic. While I believe this didn’t truly hurt the film, it would’ve benefited with a more mature rating. This would have allowed for the scenes involving Carnage and Cletus to be a bit more horrific. While Carnage’s introduction to the film with Kasady’s escape was terrifying and intense, it felt like it was trying to break free of the PG-13 constraints. An R-rating by no means guarantees a better movie, just look at Hellboy (2019) for reference, but Venom: Let There be Carnage (2021) definitely would have felt complete if it had that rating.
What was definitely the high point of the sequel was the film debut of Carnage! He was a true chaotic wild card, and managed to chew up the scenery with just his character design. Every time he was on scene, Carnage was mesmerizing. Particularly in Cletus’s escape from death row, and the rescue of Shriek (played by Naomi Harris) from Ravencroft. Not only that, but Carnage’s design is particularly interesting with his so-called “tentacles” looking like strands of DNA, as if he is a different type of monster than a normal symbiote. Additionally, Carnage’s voice is very well done: as it sounds smooth and intimidating, even if some lines of his dialogue come off as forced and cheesy. It’s easy to forget how underpowered Venom is compared to other symbiotes, like in the first movie in his first fight with Riot, it felt like an army private going up against his more experienced training officer. However, in this film it feels like someone is going up against a monster that hides in the closet! Truly mind blowing.
Probably this film’s biggest issue is its runtime. It clocks in at about 90 minutes total and while the runtime doesn’t normally dictate quantity over quality, I feel like it does here. There are certain aspects of characters and character relationships that could’ve been explored more deeply to make these characters more complex. For example, Cletus Kasady and Shriek’s, A.K.A. Frances Barrison, romantic relationship. This could’ve been an insane and volatile relationship on screen, however, we’re only given a glimpse at their intense love affair through a flashback in the beginning, and exposition from Cletus in a letter to Eddie Brock. So instead of a couple that is possibly overwhelmed with toxicity and superhuman abilities, Shriek is left underdeveloped, overpowered, and as the main character motivation for Cletus Kasady.
Speaking of Cletus Kasady, his character as well seemed to forgo character depth in favor of the one note, serial killer archetype; with trauma and motivations that would’ve made this nutjob more of a tragic figure rather than the villain he is. For instance, showing how Kasady was abused by his entire family. However, that truth was not known until the final confrontation. They also shortchanged Eddie’s and Cletus’s relationship as well, although they did try at creating something here; at the end of the climax, Kasady claimed that all he wanted from Eddie was to be his friend but Eddie didn’t want to listen to him. This honestly would’ve made a complex dynamic between these two characters if they decided to explore it further. While I am okay with the end result of their relationship, it still feels surface level.
This is without a doubt a step up from Venom (2018), albeit, a slight step. It’s still a bit of a mess, but they seemed to have a clearer idea of what they wanted to do with the characters and action in this film, as these action scenes can be downright frightening at times. Not to mention an over-the-top but scary performance from Woody Harrelson as Carnage, and a hilarious yet vulnerable turn for Tom Hardy’s Venom, raising the film above its predecessor. While also showing that there is still room for growth in Venom’s character and his relationship with Eddie, this franchise still has a bit of gas in the tank. Let’s not forget about that game-changing post credits scene that I won’t dare spoil, the future of the Venom franchise is looking pretty bright!