When we last saw reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), he had formed an uneasy alliance with Venom (also Hardy), the symbiote living in his body. A symbiote is basically a second personality that can interact with its host, but also occasionally appear in physical form as a being with superpowers. The setup is reminiscent of “Malignant,” a horror movie from a few weeks ago. But this movie spent millions of dollars on a CGI Venom, whereas that movie spent what looked to be a couple hundred bucks on a puppet. The puppet was way creepier.
The sequel sees Eddie and Venom settled down, but the alliance still uneasy. Venom wants to eat people, but Eddie won’t let him eat anything smarter than a chicken. Eddie is trying to regain his credibility as a reporter, which he can do by landing an exclusive with incarcerated serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). The information provided by Kasady himself is disappointing, with him wanting nothing more than to get a message out to his girlfriend Frances (Naomie Harris), who is locked away in a separate institution. But Venom notices a mural on the wall of Kasady’s cell that reveals the location of his victims’ bodies. Eddie relays the information to the police and is hailed as a hero, much to the chagrin of Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham), who had been working Kasady’s case and has a history with Frances. Kasady, meanwhile, is sentenced to death and vows revenge on Eddie, though not necessarily over the impending execution.
Kasady invites Eddie to his cell one last time, where he antagonizes him into throwing a punch through the bars. The close proximity allows Kasady to bite him, which he would have considered satisfactory revenge, except that he notices that Eddie doesn’t have proper blood. It was the loose-tempered Venom who threw the punch, and some symbiotic fluid was transferred to Kasady. Kasady develops his own symbiote named Carnage that he uses to escape the prison, free Frances, and go on a rampage. The plan is for Kasady (and Carnage) to marry Frances in a twisted wedding ceremony that will also include the deaths of Venom, Mulligan, Eddie, and Eddie’s newly-engaged ex-girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams). Mulligan and Anne are easy enough to kidnap, but Eddie and Venom will have to show up of their own accord, which will be tricky since they had a falling out over the punch. Can they patch things up, crash the wedding, and save the day? The emphasis on stained-glass windows in the film’s advertising should be all the clue you need.
As with the first film, the action is all CGI muck. It’s a bit easier to follow this time because someone bothered to pay the electric bill at the church, so the lights are on, but that only helps a little. The real appeal lies in the Eddie/Venom chemistry. And sure, it’s sometimes funny to see a human comically mismatched with a bloodthirsty alien, and Hardy puts his back into realizing the characters as always, but Venom’s staggering fakeness makes it very apparent that the performances are not taking place anywhere near each other.
Venom is a villain from “Spider-Man,” but so far the character in this continuity has not met up with the webslinger. A much-ballyhooed mid-credits sequence tells us that that’s about to change. I’m glad that it is. Not because I’m particularly excited to see a Spider-Man/Venom showdown, but because this is hopefully the end of standalone Venom movies. With clearer action and a better villain (Harrelson’s serial killer is at least more interesting than yet another evil industrialist), “Let There Be Carnage” is a better “Venom” movie than the original, but I’m still not sold on the character as a lead.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references. Its running time is 90 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.