Venom: Let There Be Carnage has to be a first among movie sequels. Somewhere in its production, the filmmakers must’ve realized that the first film was howlingly, hilariously, bad. Like, MST3K bad. So, they decided to embrace this shambling ineptitude and join in the giggling with us. Carnage is chocked with goofball shenanigans and a lighter approach that immediately distinguishes this film from its dour predecessor. Yeah, I’ll go ahead and say it with a shrug: This film is better than numero uno, but making anything worse than Venom would’ve been a challenge that would probably require a deal with Satan.
Carnage kicks off some time after the shitshow contained in the previous hootenanny. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has settled back into his groove as a struggling investigative reporter. Anne (Michelle Williams), the supposed love of his so-called life, has moved on with some other schlub (Reid Scott). Of course, that also means that Eddie now lives in the miserable squalor of mopey bachelorhood. And, as anybody who’s seen the first film will surely know, he isn’t alone in this pitiful drudgery: That’s right, gang! The Venom symbiote, that burpy-voiced alien who resembles a cross between a Spider-Man costume and a BP oil spill, is back for more hyuck-hyuck shenanigans!
It’s here that film makes a marked detour from Venom, Mach One: You see, Eddie and Venom spend much of the story squabbling like Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy. They yell and snark and…oh my God, you guys…they actually love each other! This dynamic sets up a lot of dippy humor, and your appreciation of this movie will largely depend on your tolerance for it. About 40% of my experience was spent in powerful eye-rolls.
Anyway, Eddie develops an awkward relationship with Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a death row nutbar who feels like a hybrid of Hannibal Lecter and Ernest T. Bass. It seems ol’ Cletus was once in love with Frances (Naomie Harris), another inmate in the asylum where they grew up. Frances shares her beau’s love for killing, which she achieves with a piercing mutant shriek. These lovers were cruelly separated, and Cletus has been stacking up revenge victims ever since. As the movie begins, he taunts Eddie with cryptic clues about his crimes. Does Cletus harbor some secret affection for Eddie, or is he just playing games?
What follows is the cinematic equivalent of a tension headache: It’s loud, dull, and overbearing. In both cases, your best hope lies in Advil, booze, or some combination of both. Even at a paltry 97 minutes, director Andy Serkis (yes, he played Gollum and King Kong) smacks you in the forehead with a cricket bat of noisy, overloaded action scenes, replete with sirens, screaming, and horrible alien voices. Ultimately, your best option is to let your eyes glaze over and simply go along with it. Actually, that’s your worst option. Just about anything this side of a torque wrench to the Nutter Butters is an upgrade over these Venom movies.
As for the performances, much like when the Doobie Brothers sing about Jesus, well…they’re just alright with me. Hardy still sounds like he’s doing Moe Howard in a Martin Scorsese movie, and you’re either down for it or not. Once again, Michelle Williams gets absolutely wasted as the requisite love interest. Seriously, she’s been nominated for four Oscars, we can’t give her something to do other than scream and get rescued? I will award a few points to Mr. Harrelson, who goes gloriously off the rails with Kasady’s hillbilly kingpin. Whenever his charged Natural Born Killers energy pops onscreen, Carnage gets a jolt of life. Otherwise, this might’ve been the most boring movie about aliens eating brains that could’ve been made.
And don’t get it confused: This movie is still primed to take home that award. Carnage‘s final third features the expected onslaught of CGI creatures slamming into each other. We get treated to fake tentacles and fangs, all dripping with fake goo. There’s also fake punches, stabs, and screams. Hell, I don’t even think the instruments on the soundtrack are real. With all that, it might sound unbelievable that this is better than the first Venom. But that’s also like saying that herpes is better than chlamydia. As for me? I’ll take a hard pass on both.
97 min. PG-13. On demand.