A disheveled journalist and an alien symbiote; two self-recognized losers bonded together to become something more than the sum of their parts; the underdog, anti-hero vigilante of San Francisco. Together, they are Venom.
Or are they? “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” tests and pushes the relationship between Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiote, portrayed by Tom Hardy, even further than the first movie did. With an alien-superpowered serial killer on the loose, the two must reconcile their differences and team up again if they want to survive and protect those they love.
The sequel opens in 1996 with an original history for the antagonists, Cletus Kasady, portrayed by Woody Harrelson, and Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris). The two psychologically disturbed childhood sweethearts at St. Estes Home for Unwanted Children are separated when Barrison is taken away to a secret asylum following a violent altercation with Patrick Mulligan, a police officer.
Returning to the present day, the story picks up where it left off in the credits scene of “Venom,” with Eddie brought on by Mulligan to interrogate Kasady about past serial murders. With Venom’s help, Eddie breaks a story revealing undiscovered locations of victims’ bodies, setting his damaged career back on track and sentencing Kasady to death row.
Meanwhile Venom, hungering for a chemical only found in human brains (and chocolate), wants to use his powers for vigilante good as the Lethal Protector and grows increasingly frustrated with Eddie’s reluctance to continue eating “bad guys.”
When Eddie is invited for a final chat before Kasady’s execution, a fight leads Kasady to contract a symbiote of his own, Carnage, who helps him break out of prison. Together, they seek vengeance on Eddie, Venom and those who took Barrison away.
With that, the plot, and heads, really begin to roll.
Eddie and Venom’s relationship remains the heart of the latest cinematic iteration of the “Venom” IP. Though it is often played for laughs, such as a one-off line about how they need marriage counseling, their strained partnership in its “break-up” arc is genuinely distressing and leaves the audience wondering how they will be able to reunite across their emotional rift.
Themes of partnership, compromise and heroism culminate in the realization that Eddie and Venom’s symbiosis differs from that of Kasady and Carnage, and therein lies their strength.
Hardy’s performance as Eddie, as well as the voice of Venom, goes a long way to elevate the pair’s tension and dynamics with other characters throughout the movie, along with the comic relief. The humor generally achieves greater subtlety than in the first movie, making for a more consistent tone. Hardy’s involvement as a writer also smooths this out and allows for a deeper dive into his characters to balance the comedic elements.
Harrelson also fully inhabits his role as Kasady, playing an eccentric, unnerving and ruthless killer whose soft spot for Barrison and partnership with Carnage only drive him to greater violence. However, attempts to humanize his character or provide depth through his backstory fall flat because of his objectively unsympathetic nature.
Similarly, Barrison struggles to find footing as a character due to a lack of information about her origins and her powers. Though she is conceptually interesting with her sonic scream’s ability to destabilize the symbiotes, her role is largely tethered to her romance with Kasady. Her subplot conflict with Mulligan also feels disconnected from the rest of the action.
Visually, CGI shines in this movie. Carnage’s design is impressive to the eye, with a corroded texture to his blood-red skin and thorny tentacle-like appendages. Though a mirror of Venom in many ways, Carnage is made aesthetically distinct in his quicker, more fluid movement style compared to Venom’s heavy, hulking build. The climactic fight between the two showcases this admirably.
While “Let There Be Carnage” is action-packed and entertaining overall, it risks overwhelming the viewer with so much going on. With half of the 97-minute runtime devoted to the antagonists, the supporting cast have little room to breathe. Barrison, known in the comics as Scream, could have been the feature villain of a “Venom” sequel in her own right.
Even so, the symbiotic duo of Eddie and Venom, with their relationship troubles mostly resolved in the end, make this sequel worth a watch. Those who keep up with the MCU will want to stick around for the credits scene, which promises a crossover Venom debut in the near future.