Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)
PG-13 despite a lot. You know that there's this real desire for this to be a hard R and the studio is just toeing that line. Sure, Deadpool can get away with an R-Rating, but this is a Spider-Man adjacent property. But the f-bomb gets dropped pretty hard. Also, Venom is known for eating people's heads, so that happens. Really, there's all kinds of not-safe-for-kids stuff going on with Venom. Keep that in mind.
DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis
Lord knows I'm being tested right now. I don't want to be writing. But I also know that every Christmas break, I tend to watch too many movies and those movies build up to the point where I spend weeks playing catch-up. So if I don't write this now, I'll have to try to remember what happened weeks prior to writing. And the thing is, I have some pretty intense feelings about Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
I hated the first Venom movie. Given time, I took the complete opposite opinion from most audiences. I saw it as cornball CG trash. But the back of my brain kept saying that I should like this kind of stuff. I mean, Venom himself looked cool. I liked the idea that the movie played up the notion that the symbiote was not only consciousness, but a fully-fleshed out personality. There was something in that horrible movie that could potentially bring about a really good movie. So when the first movie teased out the notion that Cletus Kassidy would become Carnage, I couldn't help but have my interest piqued. Carnage, in the comics, is a big deal. Honestly, I've lost my mind more over the teases of Carnage on the horizon than I did Thanos. Now look at me. I'm completely in awe of Thanos and Carnage came across as a forgettable villain.
Since I'm here already, I'm going to talk about what I didn't like about the movie. Carnage should absolutely be a bigger deal than this. Really, the movie lowered the stakes on just about everything. Sometimes a smaller sequel might not be a bad idea. I know that Joss Whedon (whose name should not have been mentioned) wanted to make Avengers: Age of Ultron a smaller movie. But Carnage is the big bad of the Venom universe. He's a guy who gives Spider-Man a real run for his money. Because he's that agent of chaos that the Joker is for Batman. Now, that's going to ruffle the feathers of the DC fanboys out there. I'm not saying that they are on par with one another. I get that the Joker is the heavy hitter of the DC Universe. But in terms of knowing how bad it gets when the villain gets out, Carnage and the Joker are on the same level. These are both villains who have event arcs built around them. Last summer's Absolute Carnage event was bananas. A lot of that comes from the fact that Carnage's name is appropriate. There is no moral code for Carnage. Cletus Kassidy, like the Joker, loves the notion of bloodshed and fear. We don't really get a lot of that here.
Sure, there's a really cool animated backstory to Cletus Kassidy in this movie. But that is such a set up for something larger and stronger than anything we see from Cletus Kassidy in the movie. If anything, Carnage is almost more about the joy of freedom and the notion that he wants to kill Venom. And how do we know that he wants to kill Venom? Well, Carnage tells us. That's really about it. There's this very artificial relationship between Eddie Brock and Cletus Kassidy. We don't really know why the Carnage symbiote wants to kill Venom outside of the fact that he's his father. But there's nothing that really is sold beyond that initial concept that we can lock onto. Really, much of the movie is telling us that these two have to fight, so they just do. The stakes are just that low.
Also, I get that someone behind the scenes really wants to pay tribute to Natural Born Killers with the casting of Woody Harrelson, but the Shriek storyline just seems to water down both villains. There's something a little too human about Cletus falling in love with Frances. Like the Joker, Kassidy is about the chaos of the situation. There was the Joker / Harley thing (and later, Joker / Punchline). But the foundation behind the Joker / Harley thing was that Joker would always turn on Harley if it meant throwing the world into a deeper anarchy. If anything, giving Cletus Francis makes the whole serial killer thing seem like an act. Cletus really does feel very small in the whole thing and that's a real bummer because, even though I am not the biggest Carnage fan, I know the potential of what Carnage could be. There's this tease that Carnage is "a red one" that never really gets addressed because Venom's first confrontation with Carnage is a success. I know I'm always talking up the beauty of a short run-time, but this might be too short considering how easy everything is.
But the movie does something that does really work: it makes Venom an interesting character. I know that most people would state that the first movie does the heavy lifting on a lot of this and that this movie is more of the same. But considering that Eddie and Venom hardly interact with anyone in this movie, it actually provides some real quiet moments that are filled with comedy. The dynamic of Eddie being used to Venom is actually kind of refreshing. The first movie, Tom Hardy played Eddie as this over-the-top neurotic. There are still elements of that in the sequel, but it never really feels like a sledgehammer. Instead, Hardy seems to be having fun without fully embracing the hammy nature of what this character could do. Sure, a lot of the jokes fell flat with me, but that almost feels just like the humor wasn't for me. I get where the joke was going, but I didn't really need that for a lot of the film.
There was a lot commentary with the release of the first movie that Venom might have been the first on-screen queer Marvel character. I love reading analysis of characters and applying queer theory to Eddie and Venom kind of works. It just felt a little bit like the people behind Venom heard the criticism and decided to embrace it a bit harder. It kind of sort of works, but it also brings up something that is absolutely troubling. If Venom and Eddie are a representation of a nontraditional queer couple, that relationship is completely abusive. At one point, Eddie actually shouts the word "abuse" to Venom, so it really isn't abstract. Venom is toxic as heck. Also, the power dynamic is completely skewed by Eddie as a whole. I don't mind the notion of Eddie and Venom being more than partners in the Lethal Protector game, but that needs to be without throwing objects around the room or forcing Eddie to do things he voices against. Eddie tells Venom what he's comfortable with and Venom actively ignores him. Yet, Eddie is the one who is constantly apologizing to Venom throughout the film. It's almost taking a sick joy out of having the abused claim responsibility for the abuser's behavior. This kind of stuff comes up with cinematic criticism. If one thing is true (Eddie / Venom queer theory), then the abuse stuff also might have to be true as well.
So it's better. I read somewhere that if you liked the first movie, you'll probably like the second movie. Adversely, the opposite is also true. I really hated the first movie, but the second movie was all right. It had a lame story and a lame villain, but the character stuff was a lot better. There was a lot that didn't feel like a boring CG fight, which the first movie did in spades. Grounding the character went a long way, but the movie really has to start really workshopping the story before these movies become great.
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