What’s a studio to do when they’ve got a surprise hit on their hands? They make a sequel, of course! And that’s what we have with VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, the sequel to the surprise box office hit that millions of people paid to watch even though it didn’t impress critics or Spider-Man comic book fans very much. The first film took in over US$850 million at the box office but holds a 30% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Will box office lightning strike twice for this franchise? Sony, which holds the film rights to both this character and Spider-Man, is hoping it will.
In this outing, anti-hero investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, CAPONE; DUNKIRK; MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) is still bickering with Venom, the extraterrestrial, chocolate and chicken-eating, symbiote that is inhabiting his body. Venom sees herself (symbiotes are female, apparently) as a potential superhero, cleaning up San Francisco’s mean streets by eating bad guys. Eddie, however, would just like to live a normal life, preferably with his ex-fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN; WONDERSTRUCK; MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), but we know that’s just not going to happen. One day, police detective Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham, GREYHOUND; ROCKETMAN; FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL) contacts Eddie to let him know that serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP; SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY; THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI; THE GLASS CASTLE; WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, TV’s CHEERS) wants to speak to him. Mulligan hopes that Eddie can get Cletus to tell him where he buried all the people he killed. Eddie goes to see Cletus and Venom works out the location from Cletus’ cryptic wall drawings, sending Cletus to death row. When Eddie visits him again, this time in San Quentin, Cletus bites Eddie’s hand, ingesting a small part of the symbiote, which grows inside him. With Carnage fully grown, Cletus escapes the prison and heads for the facility where his long-time lover, Frances Barrison aka Shriek (Naomie Harris, the Daniel Craig as James Bond films; COLLATERAL BEAUTY; MOONLIGHT) is being confined. After breaking her out, Cletus, Shriek and Carnage then go after the three people in their lives they hate the most – Eddie, Detective Mulligan and Venom.
This VENOM sequel presents a bit of a mixed bag. If you liked the bickering between Eddie and Venom in the first film, there’s more of the same here – a lot more. If you liked seeing Venom in her full toothsome and serpentine-tongued glory in the first film, there’s more of the same here – a lot more. LET THERE BE CARNAGE is basically the VENOM equivalent of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. It takes everything audiences liked about the first film and serves it back to them amped up to 11. Unfortunately, it does so at the expense of character development. Williams is completely wasted here as is Harris, who is given little more to do than shriek.
Like an episode of TV’s LOST, LET THERE BE CARNAGE asks more questions than it answers, like “How did Frances become Shriek? Is she a mutant?” or “Why didn’t Detective Mulligan know that Frances was still alive?” or “Why did they (whoever “they” is) keep her alive? Wasn’t that just asking for trouble at some point down the road?” or “Why is Harrelson 15 years older than Harris when their characters are supposed to be similar in age?” I also wondered how Carnage could be more dangerous than Venom considering she is Venom’s spawn but a friend of mine who knows the Venom canon explained to me that the lighter the symbiote’s colour, the more powerful it is. That’s some weird sh*t DNA those symbiotes have!
On the technical side, THERE WILL BE CARNAGE is directed by Andy Serkis (BLACK PANTHER; the STAR WARS franchise; THE PLANET OF THE APES franchise; the LOTR trilogy), who knows a thing or two about motion capture and that is done very well. However, like so many fight scenes we see on the big screen these days, this one, too, is dark, and full of quick cuts and shaky camerawork. There was so much going on during the final showdown between the two symbiotes that I lost interest early on. It seems I wasn’t the only one though. When the lights came up in the cinema, my colleagues were all asking each other to explain what happened.
As much as I was pleasantly surprised with the first VENOM film, I was disappointed with this sequel. It’s not a bad film but it’s not great either. It’s really quite forgettable.
VENOM: THERE WILL BE CARNAGE opened in Hong Kong’s cinemas on Wednesday (October 13). It’s been available in the US and in other markets for a few weeks now. We got DUNE and NO TIME TO DIE first; they got this film. I think we got the better deal.
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