‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ review: Tom Hardy returns with more comic book chaos

Spider-Man's creepy alien nemesis gets a so-so superhero sequel

After 2018’s Venom exceeded expectations by grossing $856million worldwide, this sequel was inevitable as a new iPhone. Sadly, despite replacing the first film’s director Ruben Fleischer with the always energised Andy Serkis, Venom: Let There Be Carnage doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade. It’s another sparky Tom Hardy performance trapped in a by-the-numbers comic book movie.

Once again, Hardy chucks himself around gamely as Eddie Brock, a down-on-his-luck journalist whose life is made more complicated and exciting by Venom, his wise-cracking alien symbiote. When Venom leaves Brock’s body, he’s a prowling CGI brute who needs another human host to survive, but his voice never waivers. He always sounds like a parody of Sir Patrick Stewart in full-on Shakespearean thesp mode, which is one of those Tom Hardy accent choices it’s probably best not to question. Anyway, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is most entertaining when Brock and Venom are squabbling about who’s top dog in the body they share, which generally leads to the trashing of Brock’s messy but enviable San Francisco apartment.

Venom
Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson in ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’. CREDIT: Sony Pictures / Alamy

Sadly, the story credited to Hardy and screenwriter Kelly Marcel is less enthralling. After Venom helps Brock to figure out where serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) has hidden his bodies, the death row prisoner invites the journo to his execution. However, it doesn’t go to plan because Kasady has acquired an alien symbiote of his own, Carnage, whose extraterrestrial strength overpowers the lethal injection. Now on the rampage with Carnage in tow, Kasady tries to reunite with his teenage sweetheart Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), an incredibly damaged woman who is also capable of wreaking havoc. Her piercing scream is a formidable weapon in its own right.

Harris is wasted in a thinly written role that leaves her locked in a soundproof cell for much of the movie. Another top British actor, Stephen Graham, also gets slim pickings, though there’s potential for his detective character to blossom in a future film. Returning as Brock’s exasperated but loyal ex, Anne Weying, Michelle Williams supplies most of the emotional beats again. Actually, there’s something fundamentally well-meaning about the way this film treats Venom, a quintessential outsider, with sympathy and dignity. When he attends what Serkis has described as a “very sort of an LGBTQIA kind of festival” featuring a fun Little Simz cameo, Venom is greeted with acceptance by his peers, but it feels like a missed opportunity. Like so many moments of supposed queer representation in superhero movies, it’s simply too vague and tentative to strike a proper blow.

The film’s biggest problem, however, is an underwhelming climax that degenerates into a dull muddle of visual effects. By this point, you’ll be longing for the simpler pleasures of the middle act, when Venom makes a greater impression by flinging Brock’s TV out of the window. Perhaps Venom: Let There Be Carnage is really a zingy odd-couple comedy stuck in a so-so superhero flick.

Details

  • Director: Andy Serkis
  • Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson
  • Release date: October 15 (UK cinemas)
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