As a follow-up to the 2018 film “Venom” directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” sees legendary motion-capture performance actor Andy Serkis settling into the director’s chair, with Tom Hardy returning as the titular antihero. Based on Marvel Comics, this particular corner of the universe is under the Sony umbrella, whereas the majority of other Marvel intellectual properties are supervised by Disney and its many divisions. Thus, for all intents and purposes, stories with the Eddie Brock/Venom character portrayed by Tom Hardy are considered to be outside the boundaries of the 25-film Marvel Cinematic Universe, and allowed more room to breathe creatively. Ultimately, I would say this is much to the benefit of Serkis’ film.
Walking into “Let There Be Carnage,” I did not expect to find a romantic comedy awaiting me. Granted, it is far from the traditional Julia Roberts and Richard Gere story, but in a roundabout fashion combining 1980s sci-fi schlock with heartfelt 90s rom-com clichés, the foundational elements are present. While the relationship of Eddie Brock with the alien symbiote Venom is not necessarily “romantic,” it is played in such a way to go through all the same motions that you would find in a rom-com. The narrative formula felt familiar, but the environment in which it was presented made for such a wonderfully weird contrast that was still complementary to its goal.
In addition to acting in the lead role, Tom Hardy was also given a story credit for the film. His fingerprints are all over the characterization of Brock/Venom. He had a handful of opportunities to display this wild expression in the 2018 flick, but I got the notion that there were other moments in that film where he was being held back from doing everything he wanted to. This cannot be said for “Let There Be Carnage,” as Hardy and the rest of the cast get to let loose and go for broke. There are even rumors that Hardy wrote portions of the script using the Notes App in his cell phone, which would be very on-brand for this film with the wild production stories that keep coming to light. For instance, in an interview with Screen Rant, Location Manager Christopher Kusiak had this to say about one particular sequence on set, which involved piggybacking off the resources of “The Matrix: Resurrections” as it was shooting nearby:
“Lots of stuff impacted filming. A lot of our driving shots went away because ‘Matrix’ controlled all of downtown… We ended up moving a stunt up onto the top of the parking garage because we couldn’t get to the areas we wanted because of ‘The Matrix.’ But if we would’ve been there first, it probably would’ve gone the other way. The helicopters were actually on the ‘Matrix’ movie. ‘The Matrix’ was filming at the same time so we were catching part of their activity on camera.”
As for the rest of the cast, there is a star-studded lineup of prestigious talent including: three-time Oscar-nominee Woody Harrelson as the villainous Cletus Kasady/Carnage symbiote; Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris as Frances Barrison/Shriek, the love-interest for Kasady; and four-time Oscar-nominee Michelle Williams reprising her role as Anne Weying, Eddie Brock’s ex-girlfriend. This is not to mention that Tom Hardy himself is an Oscar-nominated actor as well. There is something refreshing about seeing so many highly acclaimed actors taking part in a film this zany and eccentric. Some actors would turn up their nose at working on a film like “Let There Be Carnage,” which they would have every right to do – but, the major fun factor in the mix with this amazing talent in the cast has some undeniable charm.
This is only the third feature-film directed by Andy Serkis, but he has been a pioneer of motion-capture technology, and right in the thick of grand-scale filmmaking since the turn of the century. From working on the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong” with director Peter Jackson, to the most recent iteration of the “Planet of the Apes” saga, and even stepping into the “Star Wars” universe with “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” Serkis has developed a unique understanding of visual storytelling and maintaining emotional weight in frenetic, action-packed films. Also, having Robert Richardson as the director of photography – one of the great cinematographers of his generation, and a frequent collaborator of Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino – was an inspired choice, and made for a noticeable improvement in the visual style compared to 2018’s “Venom” film.
While most of “Let There Be Carnage” worked for me, that is not to say that it was without faults. The editing from a narrative standpoint was one of the weaker elements in the film. It feels like there are about 15 minutes missing somewhere in movie – but, I cannot really pinpoint exactly where those 15 minutes should be placed, or which scenes should be extended. The total runtime is 97 minutes, which makes “Let There Be Carnage” one of the shorter comic book films in recent memory. This is by no means a negative, and its brevity may even come as a relief to some viewers. Still, I have not been able to shake the sensation that there is a slightly longer, more cohesive film on the cutting room floor somewhere.
In comparison to the predecessor of “Let There Be Carnage,” I had my fair share of gripes with Fleischer’s 2018 inaugural installment into the franchise, including its struggles to maintain a tonal rhythm in balancing the horror and comedic aspects. The story of the Venom symbiote from the comics has its dark and gruesome aspects, but there is a level of dark humor there as well that can be explored in an entertaining fashion, if done correctly. Attempts to achieve this were made in the original “Venom,” but the final product was a messy patchwork of fascinating ideas that were not equal to the sum of their parts. On the other hand, Andy Serkis’ sequel navigates this maze with just enough steadiness and confidence to reach its destination on its feet. I would even say that “Let There Be Carnage” could appeal to a wide range of audiences – from the loyal comic book blockbuster crowd, to those on the market for a popcorn comedy flick, to viewers craving a little bit of horror.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is now available on VOD and digital.