What to Watch Verdict
'Venom: Let There Be Carnage' could very well be the rom-com of 2021, take that how you will.
🩸 Tom Hardy gives 110%
🩸 It's big, stupid fun
🩸 Love the Venom and Carnage designs
🩸 Gets stuck on gags
🩸 Humor becomes a distraction
🩸 Narrative misses some stakes
Andy Serkis’ Venom: Let There Be Carnage gives the people (aka you lunatic Venom supporters) what they want — a slapstick superhero comedy that cites The Odd Couple as inspiration for its buddy antics between Eddie Brock and his Venom symbiote. Ruben Fleischer’s Venom origin is too over-serious to let such hilarity shine between Tom Hardy and his pixelated stowaway, which becomes the live-or-die goal of Hardy and co-writer Kelly Marcel’s screenplay.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the movie I see others describe Venom as, except better because it leans into sitcom gags and actually includes a third act. It’s unabashedly silly and owns its hot nonsense of a narrative that touches on everything from Natural Born Killers to Hallmark bromance dramedies — what appreciating audiences "raved" about in Venom has become the film’s focus for better and/or worse.
There’s no real mystery around where Venom: Let There Be Carnage starts and ends since Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) appears in Venom. Kasady beckons Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) to his prison cell, telling Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) the disgraced journalist is the only person he’ll converse with in any capacity. Brock’s investigative intuition — aided by Venom — leads to the discovery of more bodies tied to Kasady’s killing sprees, and in turn a launch back into the professional limelight. Kasady gets the death sentence, Brock regains some public respect and Venom feels unappreciated as Brock displays agitation toward his forever-friend’s needier requests for sustenance or crime-fighting heroism.
Brock still yearns for an everyday life with Anne (Michelle Williams), which can never happen if Venom’s constantly demanding to eat brains — a falling out is inevitable. If only Brock and Venom’s bickering could wait until they defeat Kasady as Carnage, an enemy their differences create.
Hardy’s investment in Eddie Brock and Venom’s platonic love affair is paramount to Venom: Let There Be Carnage — it’s his first feature screenplay credit, after all. That doesn’t stop the squeal from getting crazier than Hunter S. Thompson on cocaine or messy in ways that can’t cleanly develop Brock and Venom’s relationship alongside Kasady’s establishment of Carnage’s personality.
One minute Brock stumbles through an awkward dinner conversation with Anne, who very much is still in love with Dr. Dan (Reid Scott); the next, Harrelson drives a cherry-red ‘60s convertible while Carnage nonchalantly tosses pedestrian drivers off a bridge. Any chance at tonal consistency is jettisoned well before Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu) calls Dr. Dan a dirty word or Venom attends a masquerade rave where he proclaims himself “out of the Eddie Brock closet” (intentional phrasing). It’s as if Serkis commands a film that continually tries to top the infamous lobster tank sequence from Fleischer’s previous entry, consistency and narrative dignity be damned.
To be fair, such an approach does elicit many a guffaw and belly-buster laugh from audiences who crave double the insanity this time around.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is at its best when everyone loses control. Hardy presents himself with a comedic vulnerability since he’s playing Eddie Brock and voicing Venom, unlike anything in his prior catalog of stern-faced, squinty roles. Whether it’s a bro-to-bro chat about heartbreak where Venom drops the cheesiest but most compassionate romantic comedy line or Brock and Venom’s drag-out, television-smashing breakup fight, Hardy generates legitimate companionship between the two conjoined entities. The charade may feel slight when Brock and Venom split because we know they’ll reunite to challenge Carnage, but that doesn’t downplay the fact that Hardy makes us care about a selfish, sabotaging Eddie Brock and his alien partner who finds comfort in raver's glow sticks and eating brains. It’s every '80s buddy comedy cliché churned in a blender with black elastic goo and a spoofy-serious lens that only accentuates the ridiculousness of Venom chaotically cooking Brock breakfast to radio tunes — a Venom that some might not accept.
The rest of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is all the paint-by-numbers expectations of Carnage’s destructive mission. Harrelson commits as much as Hardy to his symbiotic connection and struts a psychopath’s can’t-touch-me swagger as Kasady. There are nary conflict stakes as he frees his superpowered girlfriend Shriek (Naomie Harris), but their easygoing Bonnie and Clyde routine does emphasize the film’s stress on Brock and Venom’s arc. Harrelson’s best when still flesh-and-bones Cletus Kasady, taking hints from The Riddler as he speaks in soliloquies around a befuddled Eddie Brock — you can tell how much fun Harrelson is having, embellishing the film’s deranged approach.
That’s not to discredit a third-act rumble that smashes cathedral bell towers and competently navigates the CGI-clunky fight sequences that have become the signature of superhero cinema. Yet, it remains true that Serkis’ best direction exists between men and their extraterrestrial monsters.
To many’s pleasure, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the reflexively humor-heavy continuation y’all demanded after shipping a version of Eddie Brock and Venom that the original buries under dourness. It’s zanier than a Saturday morning cartoon, and that’s a testament to an entire ensemble cast that’s giving more to a blockbuster B-movie than some Oscar hopefuls during prestige awards season. I applaud and admittedly adore the sincerity in Brock and Venom’s lover's quarrel without ignoring the sloppiness of slapdash comedy that fails structural integrity. Venom: Let There Be Carnage can be its own worst enemy, which is also the madcap vigilante title’s greatest asset.
The best note I can leave on? I had roll-your-eyes fun with this certifiably insane addition to superhero cinema, and I hope you do too.
You can watch Venom: Let There Be Carnage in theaters when it premieres on Oct. 1.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.