Venom: Let There Be Carnage is not a great movie, but it’s a movie that says, emphatically, that superhero movies aren’t that important. At a time when most other superhero movies have fate-of-the-universe implications and attempt to humanize the machinations of a shadowy (but benevolent!) national security apparatus through wry humor and comic book hyperstylization, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is pretty much just a goofy story about a couple dudes infected with comedic alien symbiotes. It’s silly, thoroughly disposable, and a breezy 90 minutes long. What else could you ask for?
Tom Hardy, effusing his usual sheepdog charm, is back as Eddie Brock, a San Francisco reporter living an odd couple life with the alien goo that lives inside his butt. Okay, maybe not specifically inside his butt, but I promise you that this kind of joke fits perfectly with V:LTBC‘s general sensibility. V:LTBC is a lot like a superhero twist on Look Who’s Talking. We get Tom Hardy, the reticent, mumbly actor with big, pillowy lips on the outside, and Venom, Tom Hardy’s effusive, Cookie Monster-voiced alter ego on the inside narrating all the action. It’s having your cake and eating it too; very dumb, but mostly in the best way.
Eddie and Venom bicker like an old married couple, with Eddie demanding that Venom not eat people and get him in trouble, and Venom constantly begging for the nutrients he needs to survive. Which, we learn, are found only in brains and in chocolate. In one bit, Eddie points out that he already bought two live chickens for Venom to eat (“chickens have brains, don’t they?”), but Venom named them Sonny and Cher and they became his pets. With so many comic book movies feeling like the CIA hired someone to rewrite Watchmen, it’s fairly refreshing to see one that feels more like an R-rated episode of Alf.
Wait, has anyone seen the cat? AAAAALF!
Meanwhile, Detective Mulligan, played by Stephen Graham, aka Tommy from Snatch, one of the most enjoyable character actors we have, gives Eddie the opportunity of a lifetime: interview serial killer Cletus Kassady (Woody Harrelson) from death row, and hopefully reinvigorate his own career while helping Mulligan clear some cases. Things go sideways when Kassady begins to provoke Venom, one thing leads to another, and the next thing you know, Kassady is infected (enhanced?) with an alien symbiote of his own. “The red kind,” Venom notes reverently, though this is never explained nor expanded upon. Presumably for the best.
Cletus and his symbiote then bust out of prison to go find Cletus’s girlfriend, Francis Barrison (Naomie Harris), who has been imprisoned in a top-secret Victorian insane asylum on account of having supernatural screaming powers (she yells loud: it can shatter glass and scare symbiotes). Cletus is on a mission to… marry his girlfriend? While Venom and Eddie have to… stop them? Witness the marriage? I’m not really sure, actually. The point is, the movie is called “Let There Be Carnage” and the screenwriters have graciously allowed there to be carnage, thus fulfilling the ancient prophecy.
That screenwriter, by the way, is Kelly Marcel, writer of Saving Mr. Banks and adaptor of the Fifty Shades Of Grey movie, with direction by Andy Serkis, who last directed a live action-ish Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, and is best known as the guy in the spandex ping pong ball suit in the featurettes for the Lord Of The Rings and Planet Of The Apes movies, frequently seen discussing the act of jumping around like a chimp with the kind of reverence generally reserved for painting the Sistine Chapel. I mention them only because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie in which the filmmakers’ pedigrees were less apparent in the final product. How these two incorrigibly cerebral-sounding Brits teamed up to create a movie that feels like an episode of WWE’s Monday Night Raw is perhaps Venom: Let There Be Carnage‘s most intriguing question.
There’s the de rigeur showdown between superpowered fighters near the end of the movie, and it’s hard to tell what exactly either of them wants, though it doesn’t really matter. The real conflict in V: LTBC is between Eddie Brock and Venom. It’s essentially an unlikely rom-com, set within the backdrop of a superhero movie. The question isn’t so much “what does Carnage want and why should we care?” as it is “will Eddie and Venom finally learn to get along?”
This is all slightly unexpected and slightly refreshing, compelling for as long as it takes before the novelty value wears off. At 90 minutes, Venom: Let There Be Carnage doesn’t really let it. It peaks in a climactic sequence that’s as smash-cut-to-funeral dumb-funny as Samuel Jackson getting eaten by a shark mid-rousing speech in Deep Blue Sea. It’s pure junk food cinema, good for a cheap laugh in the moment before vanishing from memory forever. The post-credit scenes and requisite tie-ins cheapen the impact somewhat, but the basic fact remains: about the best thing a comic book movie, or really any movie, can do these days is not spend any time trying to convince you of its importance.