Review: ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage,’ starring Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson

September 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tom Hardy and Venom in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage”

Directed by Andy Serkis

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, the superhero action film “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Venom, the demonic alien anti-hero that inhabits the body of journalist Eddie Brock, does battle against a similar creature called Carnage, which inhabits the body of convicted serial killer Cletus Kasady. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” will appeal primarily to fans of star Tom Hardy and people who like silly, over-the-top and predictable action movies.

Carnage (pictured at left) in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

The good news is that “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” isn’t as wildly uneven as its predecessor, 2018’s “Venom.” The bad news is that it’s consistently stupid in its campiness and appalling lack of originality. It’s very obvious that the filmmakers of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” have a “go for broke” attitude about leaning into the unintentional comedy that “Venom” got a lot of criticism for by fans and critics

The prevailing attitude in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (directed by Andy Serkis and written by Kelly Marcel) seems to be: “You laughed at ‘Venom.’ Now, we’re going to be in on the joke and tell the joke so you can laugh with us, not at us.” And there’s nothing wrong with turning this Marvel Comics movie franchise into a quasi-superhero satire or parody. The problem is that “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” doesn’t have an interesting or original story.

Marcel and “Venom” movie franchise star Tom Hardy are credited with coming up with the “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” story that serves as the basis for the movie’s screenplay. Marcel was a co-writer of the 2018 “Venom” movie, which was directed by Ruben Fleischer, who failed to have a consistent tone for the film. In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Marcel is the only credited screenwriter. She also wrote the 2015 movie “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which means that she has a track record for churning out terrible movies that are ripe for parody.

Every single thing that happens in “Venom” is tiresome and predictable. And the “jokes” are very stale and unimaginative. The visual effects are bombastic and sometimes cheap-looking. And the movie is so enamored with its own bad taste that it keeps going back to the same gags over and over. There’s a recurring joke about chickens that gets tiresome very quickly. Another joke involving a clerk at a convenience store is over-used to the point of boredom.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is also a uselessly blaring action movie that wants to pretend that being unnecessarily noisy in certain scenes means that it’s somehow proving its worth as an action movie. Loud action scenes are expected in a movie like this one, but there’s too much shouting by people in the non-action scenes. And there’s a character who literally causes tornado-like damage when she shrieks like a banshee.

In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which takes place in San Francisco, investigative journalist Eddie Brock (played by Hardy) is still struggling with the knowledge that he has a human-eating demonic alien living inside of him called Venom. Eddie can usually control Venom by deciding when Venom can appear outside Eddie body. However, when Venom gets too hungry or too angry (which happens a lot), Venom can act of his own free will, which usually involves the destruction of things or people.

Just like in the first “Venom” movie, expect to see Eddie having numerous arguments with Venom. Because people can’t see Venom when Venom is inside Eddie’s body, it often looks like Eddie is talking to himself when he’s really talking to Venom. In the real world, this unhinged persona would have serious consequences on his career as a journalist, since people would question Eddie’s mental health and the ability to do his job well. But since this is a comic book movie, viewers are expected to go along with this unrealistic aspect of the story.

Venom constantly craves human flesh, and Eddie will only allow Venom to eat criminals. Eddie hasn’t encountered any criminals lately, so he’s been feeding a steady diet of live chickens to Venom. In the movie, Venom constantly complains about being tired of eating chickens. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” keeps going back to this questionable well of jokes until it runs dry and becomes cracked to the point of irritation.

Every superhero movie has a villain. In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” the chief villain is Cletus Kasady (played by Woody Harrelson), a convicted serial killer who is awaiting his sentencing while he’s in prison. Law enforcement officials think that Cletus has killed more people than has been proven in court, and they want Cletus to tell them where the bodies are before he gets sentenced. In the media and in the public, people have been speculating if Cletus will get the death penalty or not.

Eddie is doing a story on Cletus, so he goes to the prison to interview him multiple times. Cletus doesn’t give Eddie any useful information, but he does get angry during one of the interviews and bites Eddie hard enough to draw blood. Cletus immediately notices that Eddie’s blood doesn’t taste completely human.

And you know what that means: Cletus has been infected with the same DNA that Venom has. And so, red-haired Cletus finds out that he has a red demonic alien inside of him. That creature is called Carnage. You can do a countdown to the inevitable battle scene between Venom and Carnage toward the end of the film.

In the meantime, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” has some filler scenes involving Eddie’s love life. In “Venom” (mild spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie), Eddie was engaged to district attorney Anne Weying (played by Michelle Williams), but she broke up with him at the end of the movie. Anne became so disillusioned with law enforcement after her experiences with Eddie/Venom, she left the district attorney’s office and began working in the non-profit sector.

In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Eddie is still nursing a broken heart about Anne, who wants to be on friendly terms with Eddie. They meet for dinner, where she tells him that she’s now engaged to be married to another man. His name is Dr. Dan Lewis (played by Reid Scott), who’s somewhat wimpy and gets nervous easily. He’s exactly the type of person you know is going to get stuck in some battle scenes later in the movie.

Cletus has his own lovelorn woes. In the 1996 flashback scene in the beginning of the movie, it’s shown that teenage Cletus (played by Jack Bandeira), who was a problem child from an abusive home, was sent to live at the co-ed St. Estes Reform School. At the reform school, Cletus met and fell in love with another student named Frances Barrison (played by Olumide Olorunfemi), who is nicknamed Shriek because whenever she gets upset, she shrieks loud enough to cause unnatural destruction. During their romance, Cletus gives Frances a ring and calls her “my angel.”

However, the destruction that Frances has caused is enough to get her sent away to a psychiatric institution for criminals. Cletus is distraught over this separation. Before Frances leaves, he tells her, “They can’t take you away from me! You’re my one bright light!”

In the police van that is transporting Frances to the psychiatric institution, she is being guarded by a young cop with the name tag P. Mulligan (played by Sean Delaney), who foolishly doesn’t have a partner with him as backup. It wouldn’t matter much anyway, because Frances does her shrieking with such force that it causes the the van to crash, and she escapes.

This movie is so sloppily written that it’s mentioned later in the story that most people who knew Frances believe that she is dead, even though her body was never found. It would make more sense to have her described as a missing person. But then again, if Cletus thought she was missing and not dead, he wouldn’t be so heartbroken.

Frances is really alive, of course. As an adult (played by Naomie Harris), she’s being secretly held captive by the government for experiments. Frances is deliberately mute while in captivity, but there comes a point in the movie where she finally does talk. Not that it makes much of a difference, because the dialogue she’s given is absolutely idiotic and forgettable.

Eddie lives near a convenience store. And for some weird reason, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” wants to make the convenience store’s owner/sales clerk Mrs. Chen (played by Peggy Lu), who had a cameo in the first “Venom” movie, into some kind of wisecracking foil to Eddie/Venom, similar to Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow character in “The Hangover” movies. However, the “jokes” that Mrs. Chen utters just aren’t very good. Everything about the “comedy” in this movie is extremely simple-minded, like something you might see in a children’s cartoon, not a live-action superhero movie where adults are the majority of the audience.

The rest of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” plays out exactly like you’d expect it to play out, because it does exactly what many other mediocre-to-bad supermovies have already done in the story arc and battle scenes. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is like the 2018 “Venom” movie on meth: It’s filled with the loud scatter-brained nonsense, gibberish dialogue and repetitive hyperactivity—resulting in one giant, annoying headache. The pace of the “Venom: There Will be Carnage” doesn’t drag like “Venom” did, but there’s no real suspense either.

Except for Harrelson, none of the actors seems to have any enthusiasm or genuine emotional connection to their roles. Maybe because it’s too hard to get excited when you have to say such moronic lines of dialogue. British actor Hardy (who’s a producer of the movie) looks like he’s going through the motions to collect his financial payout.

And even though Eddie is supposed to be American, Hardy’s natural British accent can occasionally be heard in the dialogue. Hardy has mastered American accents in several of his other movies where he portrayed an American. The fact that he has flaws in his American accent in this movie is an indication that he’s not artistically committed to the Eddie Brock/Venom role, and this “Venom” franchise is probably more about the money for him. Hardy and Williams still have no believable on-screen chemistry together, either as a couple, a former couple, or as friends.

The cop who was with Frances when she made her 1996 escape has now been promoted to detective. (His first name is not mentioned in the film.) Detective Mulligan (played by Stephen Graham) is as generic as generic can be. Detective Mulligan plays a fairly prominent role in the movie, which is so badly written that Detective Mulligan puts himself in many dangerous situations without having a cop partner as a backup. Keep in mind, this isn’t a small town police force. This is supposed to be the San Francisco Police Department.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” does not have an end-credits scene, but there’s a mid-credits scene that suggests that there will be a movie where Venom will eventually interact with Spider-Man, who is Venom’s nemesis in the Marvel comic books. It would be the first time that Venom and Spider-Man will be seen on screen together in a live-action movie. However, the tone of the “Spider-Man” movies (high-quality action) and the tone of “Venom” movies (low-quality schlock) are so vastly different from each other, it will be a challenge to bring Venom and Spider-Man together in live-action movies without sacrificing some credibility in trying to merge these two very different worlds.

It’s why the “Venom” movie franchise does a disservice to other Marvel Comics-based movies where there’s potential for Venom to cross over into these other Marvel movie franchises. The way that the filmmakers and film studios treat any Venom crossovers into other Marvel movies will be have to be treated just like chefs who have to prepare a meal with incompatible ingredients. Using that meal analogy, for people who want superhero movies that deliver an interesting and creative story, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Columbia Pictures will release “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” in U.S. cinemas on October 1, 2021.