During the best sequence in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock issues a pseudo-heartfelt apology to the alien symbiote Venom, now inside of his ex-flame Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), while her new fiancé Dan Lewis (Reid Scott) looks on in confusion.
Brock is speaking the kinds of words of love and commitment that he would really like to tell Anne, but he’s actually telling them to the alien symbiote she’s currently hosting, because he needs Venom’s help to defeat the symbiote-reinforced serial killer he has unwittingly spawned. But what he’s really doing is asking the woman he loves to allow him to tap into his repressed masculinity (or, say, his dark side) for the greater good of mankind.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is being sold as a kind of offbeat buddy movie-slash-rom-com between Brock and the Venom symbiote (also played by Hardy), and it hits all the right notes in scenes of the alien symbiote popping up up from behind Eddie’s shoulder and playing Moe to his Curly.
But it’s also an exploration of personality archetypes and gender stereotypes, and has almost as much fun watching Eddie Brock walk the tightrope of being a modern man as it does mashing its titular monsters against each other. There were shades of this kind of thing in 2018’s underwhelming Venom, but while this sequel is otherwise faster and looser it also doubles down on the interesting thematic material.
It’s a little strange seeing Oscar-nominated actors Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams compete for attention against a computer-generated glob of alien goo; as voiced by Hardy, Venom is easily the most compelling character in the movie. On the other side of the spectrum, Woody Harrelson hams it up as Cletus Kassidy, a serial killer who turns into the monster Carnage thanks to some of Venom’s spawn, and disappears into the background.
But Venom: Let There Be Carnage works to the extent it does thanks to that unwarranted investment from its leads: Hardy and Williams play it straight and allow the film to explore some interesting thematic ground in-between its extended soul-sucking action scenes that threaten to turn this into an interminable experience.
Let There Be Carnage climaxes, for example, with a 20-minute church-set monster mash as Venom and Carnage continually trade CGI-infused blows. We know that these creatures don’t like fire or sound, but while there is a brief nod to those weaknesses we instead watch the monsters smash and punch and kick each other to no noticeable effect (memories of Zod and Superman in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel).
But it’s love that always kills the beast. And in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, that love is represented by one’s own sense of self and acceptance of one’s complex psychological makeup.
Venom represents the part of ourselves that we repress to survive in the modern world. Brock is able to succeed because he learns to love and nurture his inner self, while Kassidy fails because he never comes to terms with the monster he truly is.
It’s little strange that director Andy Serkis, himself responsible for some of the most memorable and convincing motion-capture performances ever put to film (Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes movies), oversaw the Roger Rabbit-level cartoon creations that dominate Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Venom and Carnage both look fine, but are never convincingly integrated into the world around them.
Venom is a traditional Jekyll and Hyde type of character, and the Marvel movies have covered similar thematic ground with Mark Ruffalo’s interpretation of the Hulk (in Avengers: Endgame, Professor Hulk represents the positive culmination of a similar battle). But Tom Hardy’s Venom might be a more compelling version of the character because it showcases the internal dialogue between man and monster throughout the film.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is by no means a total success – supporting characters played by Stephen Graham and Naomie Harris are given especially little thought – but it’s fun and fast enough not to wear out its welcome, and carries some surprisingly rich thematic material. Hopes for Hardy’s next outing as Venom, teased in a mid-credits sequence, couldn’t be higher.