Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
This sequel to the uneven 2018 surprise hit is gleefully bonkers in all the right ways.
“Carnage” takes everything that worked in the first film and magnifies those zany qualities over a brisk running time. The result is one of the year’s best guilty pleasures.
For “Carnage,” motion capture acting expert Andy Serkis (he played Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” and Caesar in the “Apes” films) takes over directing duties from Ruben Fleischer (see “Zombieland”). And by working from an unrelenting story by star Tom Hardy and a script by Kelly Marcel, the carnage starts from nearly the opening frame and never lets up.
This time around, struggling news reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has “settled down” as the host of the symbiote named Venom. Once a menacing alien presence that originated in the Spider-Man comic in the 1980s, Venom separated from Spidey to become a dark anti-hero. And when he’s attached to Brock, he shows us a little of his sensitive side.
But life with Venom crawling around in his body is daunting for Brock, whose career is on a downward slide. Even his girl, Ann (Michelle Williams), has left him for a boring doctor. Brock gets a professional second chance when asked to interview a serial killer named Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). This interview sets in motion a wild sequence of events that usher in another symbiote that challenges Venom for dominance.
The carnage in the film’s title is no joke. Even Brock’s apartment takes a considerable beating. Venom makes one messy roommate. Brock and Carnage battle for control in one scene, and just about everything in Brock’s place is smashed. It’s positively insane.
And the whole time, Hardy, who plays both characters simultaneously, wears a series of incredulous expressions ranging from delight to shock. This performance is madness that plays perfectly into the nutty premise. The reckless absurdity that was merely hinted at in the first film is smartly embraced to an exponential degree in “Carnage.”
Like Deadpool, the Brock/Venom hero is an off-axis bizarre manifestation whose ever-increasing strangeness only endears him more with the viewer. Venom has a, dare I say, loveable quality by the closing moments that should cement his presence in several projects to come.
And the character’s success is, to no small degree, the inspired creation of Hardy, who used the comic book as a maniacal jumping-off point. The beefy actor’s muscular, hairy, brutish physique meshes with Venom’s sinewy, slithering appendages. This fusion makes Brock and Venom one in a narratively coherent and purposeful manner.
Reminding viewers of his relentless turn as rampaging killer Mickey Knox, Woody Harrelson has fun as the twisted Cletus, who gets his own symbiote—the red one. And as Cletus’ long-lost love, an unrecognizable Naomie Harris (Moneypenny from the latest James Bond series) shreds scenery with her supervillain’s high-pitch vocal abilities that wreak havoc on the symbiotes.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is a crazed hour and a half that sets the stage for an inevitable pairing with Spider-Man.