Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is one of the best comic book movies I’ve seen.  There, I said it.  Damn me to hell, or force me to have breakfast with Venom.  How can I make this claim with a straight face?  Notice that I said “best comic book movie”.  Unlike the vast majority of superhero movies put out by Marvel and DC, Venom: Let There Be Carnage (a.k.a. Venom 2) isn’t striving to be taken seriously.  That doesn’t mean that the movie wasn’t created with skill, it certainly was.  Venom 2 has no pretenses about wanting to be mistaken for a great dramatic experience, filled with angst, paint, guilt and self-doubt intermixed with fistfights.  No, Venom 2 only wants to entertain you, and it succeeds so thoroughly I hope the other superhero movie factories take notes.  Highly Recommended.

While not a lifelong comic book reader, I’ve read many comic books, and I felt like the filmmakers behind Venom 2 knew exactly what they were doing.  Like the best comic books, Venom 2 wastes no time establishing who the bad guys are.  That would be Cletus Kasady and Frances Barrison (a.k.a. Shriek).  They were a match made in Hell as teenagers, and you know the two will be reunited to cause havoc soon enough.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is down on his luck again, but is thrown a bone by Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham).  (At some point, somebody in these movies has to ask Mulligan if they get a “do over.”)  Inmate and all-around gleeful psychopath Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) wants to reveal his life story to Brock.  After Brock interviews Kasady, Venom, the more clever of the two, notices drawings on Kasady’s cell wall.  This leads to the discovery of some of Kasady’s victims.  As thanks, California decides to reinstate the death penalty just for Kasady.  (If you didn’t realize Venom 2 has no basis in reality, here’s your clue.)

When Brock goes back to see Kasady prior to his execution, Kasady bites his finger.  Kasady becomes infected with a symbiote, and you just know that’s not good.  He manages to survive a lethal injection and escape San Quintin, singing a little Johnny Cash on his way out.

Meanwhile, Anne (Michelle Williams) tells Brock that she’s engaged, and Venom is not happy.  Brock isn’t happy either.  He’s had just about enough of Venom dominating his thoughts and his life.  Venom is quick to point out that without him, Brock would be nothing.  Venom is right, but without Brock, Venom can’t exist.  Well, he can and he can’t.  The two break up, and Venom takes his show on the road.  The idea of Venom latching onto unsuspecting San Franciscoans is a pretty hilarious idea, and I wished they had Venom do more than attend a dance party, tell everyone he’s out of the closet and drop the mic.  (I admire the sentiment, but the execution is clunky.)

Kasady manages to free Shriek from her holding cell in a place called Ravencroft.  (The meaning of the place in comic book lore escapes me at the moment.)  Together again, the two decide to consummate their relationship by getting married and killing those responsible for their torment afterwards.  (I’m assuming afterwards, but with these two, I shouldn’t assume anything.)  In order to save the city from Kasady and Shriek, Brock and Venom must learn to work together to defeat the bad guys, and the resulting slug-fest is straight out of a comic book.

The performances by Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson are worth the price of admission alone.  Hardy, known as much for his serious turns as his more eccentric performances (see: The Revenant, Peaky Blinders and The Dark Knight Rises), definitely is in on the gag.  As Shakespeare would say, Hardy gets two parts he can “tear a cat in”.  He gets to play chronic screw-up Brock (with a “New Yawk” accent that still seems out of place in San Francisco) and the unleashed id that is Venom, frequently in the same scene.  (I can think of so many movies that would be improved if they had a Venom commentary track.)

Critics will complain that Venom 2 goes by too fast, and that there isn’t enough time spent on the supporting characters.  True, I would have been fine with spending more time with Michelle Williams’ Anne, or Naomie Harris’s Shriek, but in all honesty, I was perfectly fine with those two being relegated to second banana status.  While I can only speak for myself, I would assume that most moviegoers want from a Venom movie is (in no particular order): Eddie Brock and Venom’s bizarrely funny vaudeville act, Woody Harrelson’s first truly demented performance since Natural Born Killers, some truly wicked CGI violence from Venom and Carnage, and a finale featuring a pummeling cage match between the two at the end to “settle things”.  On those fronts, Venom 2 delivers big time.

Given how free-wheeling Venom 2 is, I wished it would keep exploring the biological relationship between Brock and Venom.  We see what it’s like for them to have breakfast together (completely hilarious).  What about other bodily functions and needs?  Does Brock no longer dry his hair, given how Venom hates noise?  Does Brock need to shave anymore, or does Venom trim his hair with his ultra-sharp claws?  Given how much chocolate and raw chickens Venom consumes, I’m guessing their shared bowel movements must be epic.  

Andy Serkis keeps things moving along at a frenetic clip, which I honestly appreciated.  The effect reminded me of when I would spend several hours watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid.  They were a mixture of jokes, action and cartoon violence, all presented with visual flair, only desiring to entertain.  Venom 2 may be the first movie based on a comic book that both acknowledges and delivers exactly what fans of the comic book want: humor, action and spectacle, in no particular order.  This sequel barely acknowledges the first movie, and honestly, you can watch this movie with little to no knowledge of one that preceded it.  Which is kinda how the best comic books series worked: you can start reading them at any point and still be able to follow along and enjoy them, for the most part.

Marvel movies, God love them, spend so much screen time indulging their heroes in their pity-parties, how bad they feel over the bad thing(s) they did in their past.  Tony Stark spent three solo movies, one Captain America movie and four Avengers movies trying to make up for his past life as an arms dealer.  Thor is always unsure on whether he’s worthy of Moljinar (he is, you rogue!).  Bruce Banner spends so much time not wanting to be the Hulk.  The television shows on Disney+ have even more navel-gazing.  WandaVision spent eight episodes that were all about Wanda’s unresolved emotional issues.  And The Falcon and the Winter Soldier spent six episodes watching Sam wrestle with taking the shield, giving it up, only to ultimately take it back. To all of that, Venom proudly lifts his middle finger (literally).

Venom has no regrets and only lives in the moment.  He just wants to be a superhero and eat the heads of bad guys.  He’s so into being a hero he came up with his own tagline:  The Lethal Protector.  (It is pretty good, I have to admit.)

Like any good superhero comic book, Venom 2 keeps the mushy, romantic stuff to a bare minimum.  As Anne, Michelle Williams is on screen just long enough to remind us that comic book superheroes always have knockouts for girlfriends.  She’s engaged, Brock and Venom aren’t happy about it, but eventually the two come to a shared acceptance with the situation.  That’s it.  No scenes of Brock crying about his bad luck.

Much has been written about the Brock/Venom relationship, and what it symbolizes.  Is it a gay romance?  A bromance?  A riff on The Odd Couple?  A remake of The Mask?  The brilliant thing about Venom 2 is that you can apply any interpretation that works for you.  To those analogies I would add middle-aged man and ten year-old boy (no sexual connotations, mind you).  Brock is the middle-aged man, obviously, full of insecurities, self-doubt, caution and restraint.  Venom is the ten year-old boy, who just wants to run and jump around, eat all the time and party, but has zero interest in girls.  (He has an affection for Anne, but like all superhero movies, it’s more like admiration.  Now I’m wondering what a sex scene would Venom would look like.  What is wrong with me?)

Director Serkis has highlighted Venom’s “coming out” scene in the movie.  In it, Venom talks about coming out of the closet.  If Venom is an LBTGQ hero, I’m cool with that.  He’d be the strangest ally they’d ever have, but better to have Venom on your side than not, right?  If this truly was the intent Serkis and Hardy had in mind, the scene really should have featured some Lady Gaga music, that would have been perfect.  (Yeah, I know Venom is not a “little monster”, but still.)
I will save you some time by telling you that there is only one credit cookie.  I won’t give away what happens, other than to say that it helps (retro)fit Venom into the MCU’s big plans for Phase 4.  Aside from that, check out Venom 2.  I thoroughly enjoyed it’s Looney Tunes mentality, and I can’t think of a more fun way to spend ninety-some minutes in a theater.

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