While Venom certainly had its defenders in 2018, it was definitely divisive. In the few intervening years since then and over the course of the tumultuous time we’ve all been through, Venom has become a much more beloved figure, leading to the hype for the sequel to reach surprising heights. We surely all appreciated how hard Tom Hardy dove both into the lobster tank and into the dual roles – giving it his all and fully committing to the tale of a down-on-his-luck journalist being taking over by an alien symbiote. The struggle between Eddie and Venom was real, but by the end of the first movie they had maybe not reach symbiosis, but a begrudging truce.
Now with Andy Serkis at the helm, we waste no time in being reintroduced to the dynamic duo, still wrestling control of Eddie’s body and mind. It is lovely to see the great Stephen Graham reteam with Hardy after Taboo, as Detective Mulligan, who reluctantly collaborates with Eddie, as he is trying to find his feet in journalism once more. Eddie goes to visit Cletus Kasady in prison and Venom uses clues in his cell to solve a cold case and find one of his victim’s bodies. This helps Eddie’s career, something that Venom will not let Eddie quickly forget. Meanwhile, Venom is still hungry for human brains, but Eddie is keeping him on a diet of chicken and chocolate. Cletus’ childhood beau, Frannie Barrison (Naomie Harris), is being kept in a secure facility due to the fact she has the super-ability to shriek extremely loudly. During Eddie’s final death row visit with Kasady, Venom is provoked into coming out, bits of him get into Cletus and Carnage is born. This leads to Kletus escaping and teaming up with Frannie to seek revenge on those who have wronged them.
I’ve gotta be honest, it feels great to watch a superhero blockbuster with a relatively simple storyline and low stakes. There’s no time travel or multi-verses to wrap our heads around (for now, at least), and the villains’ actions only really affect Eddie and a couple of his loved ones (with the usual collateral damage). The entire universe isn’t at stake, just the people that Eddie cares about. Although Eddie would not want to admit it, chief among them is Venom himself. Their enemies-to-lovers relationship is the main thing that has people clamouring in their droves to see the sequel. Their endless bickering, banter and bust-ups are what makes these movies so great. The entire endeavour rises and falls on Hardy’s performance and his commitment to the bit, something he does with aplomb. His voice work as Venom, combined with his physicality as Eddie is truly extraordinary and works in a way that say, Jake Gyllenhaal going “big and weird” as Mysterio absolutely did not.
I do think there’s something about watching Hardy, Harrelson, Harris and Michelle Williams – every one of whom are Oscar-nominated, and Graham who is BAFTA-nominated (and should have won several for This is England alone, let alone any of his other roles) that adds a layer of prestigious hilarity to the whole thing. Harris is really good in a smaller role – her ability gets absolutely zero backstory – we just meet the character and accept that she can shout really loudly, but Harris sells the hell out of it. Harrelson does more of the knowing wink to the audience in his performance, which this movie absolutely does not need and its frustrating that he is given quite a bit more time than Harris. When the likes of Michelle Williams and her magnificent wig are turning up and playing it completely straight – you don’t need someone else hamming it up and letting the side down. Williams isn’t the only carefully coifed figure this time, with Harrelson and Graham both getting artificial barnets that do stirling supporting work. I want to know everything about the wig department on these two movies, up to and including their budget.
While the real joy of this film is the love-hate relationship between Eddie and Venom, one of the best sequences does come when they are briefly separated, after having a lovers’ tiff. Venom enjoys his freedom at a club full of costumed misfits, delivers a moving speech and then hangs out within Eddie’s corner store friend Mrs Chen, who gets to share a memorable scene with Williams’ Anne. It’s the smaller character and relationship moments that really make it and although the big action finale does have some enjoyable violence, it is not the biggest selling point. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a rare example of a studio realising what it is that worked about the first film and leaning into it. Serkis’ direction has streamlined the story, Hardy is now completely comfortable with these characters and they know that the humour, particularly the Eddie/Venom banter is what needs dialling up to eleven. A triumph.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is currently in US theatres and comes to UK cinemas on 15 October, 2021.