In certain instances, movies work best as relationship stories doused in silly banter. That is exactly what Venom: Let There Be Carnage cuts itself out to be when boiled down to its core and fits the bill to be more of a romantic comedy than it is a serious sequel.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is keen to keep in stride with its predecessor as it borders the line between identifying itself as a comic book movie and comedy that pokes fun at the all-too-serious superhero movies that have come before it. Tom Hardy two-times Eddie Brock and his symbiotic alien counterpart, Venom, who has an unrelenting desire to decapitate whoever he deems to be a “bad guy.” By his own standards, anyone has the potential to be a “bad guy” if he’s hungered for far too long. There’s that familiarity of the back-and-forth between the unlikely pair whose at-stake relationship sits at the heart of the sequel, and their quarreling adds a bit of comedic ease to intended tense thematics.
With “Carnage” in the film’s title, there is more rapport between Brock and his bodily co-host than there is any confrontation between Venom and Carnage. Woody Harrelson bites into the insanity of Cletus Kasady with every intention behind an unsettling, truly deranged disposition, though his overacting is underappreciated. Venom: Let There Be Carnage feels more of a backstory for Kasady as he unloads his bounds of trauma without providing every necessary piece of context. Any question pertaining to why a red symbiote is considered to be a bigger threat, or why Carnage wants to kill Venom, are dismissed altogether. Harrelson’s portrayal is Kasady is unsettlingly uncomfortable, though his bark may be stronger than his bite. He takes the time to talk about his unleashing of carnage more than the carnage is actually unleashed.
There is an absence of feeling like a “true” superhero movie as the most intense battles are dripping in CGI. Even amid these ferocious, symbiotic smackdowns, Venom and Carnage are washed out into a muted, flat, and gray background. Carnage’s gleaming crimson red complexion refuses to pop as it’s expected to, and that visually assertive splash of color doesn’t quite make the leap from the comic pages to the silver screen. Venom: Let There Be Carnage settled on a PG-13 rating, meaning that the sequel is relatively bloodless, and declines to detail how violent Carnage is in actuality. The destruction of San Francisco subscribes to the guidelines set by the MPA, and the PG-13 rating leans more into humor than it does the opportunity to sink into unbridled havoc.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage still remains a superhero-adjacent movie, meaning that the entirety of the run time cannot be dedicated to Brock bickering with his oily alien companion. While the sequel resumes where the open-ended Venom (2018) leaves off, it relies heavily on prior knowledge to propel itself forward. Brock’s career as a journalist is drawn to a minimum and would almost be forgotten if not worked into the sequel. Kasady’s capacity of how ruthless he can be is stifled back through ominous poetry and an off-kilter demeanor, alluding to how unhinged he is when written into Marvel Comics. The swapping of brutish brawls for self-aware exchanges makes the return of Brock and his parasitic partner so redeemable.
Through its formula, Sony and Marvel safely choose to level Venom: Let There Be Carnage on a similar wavelength with Venom, carrying over the same level of quality with a slight improvement made around the screenwriting. The sequel stalls when asking itself to drive the story forward, with the exception of the mid-credit scene, looping back to the habits of the first entry into the Venom cinematic series. It finds comfort in its sameness and sticks with what it knows how to do instead of challenging itself to dive into deeper, more elaborate themes that its grittiness could open up to. It remains fairly light on its feet, only teasing what it could have achieved.
Just because it stems from Marvel Studios, it does not mean it is marvelous. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a two-hour reminder that Brock and Venom are in desperate need of couples’ therapy.