Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) | poster excerpt

‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ Should Have Cut the Carnage

Little did the filmmakers behind Ruben Fleischer’s Venom know that Carnage would become a poisonous burden to Andy Serkis’ sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Andy Serkis
Sony
1 October 2021 (US)

What’s Wrong with Some Carnage?

As the film opens, journalist Eddie Brock is in a career slump. On top of that, he is symbiotically bonded to a gooey black alien who longs to eat brains. Eddie’s apartment is a mess. It is full of Venom-induced damage, a hanging tire for Venom to chew on, and two chickens to which Venom has become too attached to eat. Concerned about the damage he can cause and about alerting the authorities, Eddie insists on restricting Venom’s basest tendencies. Venom feels held back like his talents are being wasted. Eddie feels like he is being responsible and that Venom is lashing out and abusing him out of anger. Their relationship is strained.

Meanwhile, Eddie’s ex-fiancee, Anne (Michelle Williams), reveals that she is getting married, which sends Eddie into a spiral. Anne plays the important role of wise, friendly ex-partner in this relationship film. She is the character who can call out Eddie’s flaws as a romantic partner while also caring enough to play the reluctant relationship counselor.

Incarcerated serial killer Cletus Kasady reaches out to Eddie to provide his life story in exchange for publicly printing a message (secretly to his incarcerated girlfriend, Frances (Naomie Harris)). Police detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) is uncomfortable with the arrangement but hopes Eddie will share valuable information on Kasady’s undiscovered victims. Instead, with the help of Venom, Eddie deciphers etchings in Kasady’s prison cell and publishes a story on the location of the victims’ remains, giving his career an enormous boost. Mulligan feels passed over, and Kasady feels betrayed. On the day of his execution, Kasady grants Eddie a final interview. He insults Eddie, causing Venom to lash out. This allows Kasady to bite Eddie, swallowing his blood and gaining his symbiote.

The Carnage storyline then plays out mostly in parallel while the Eddie/Venom relationship hits a breaking point. Eddie blames Venom for Kasady’s attack and claims to want to live in peace. Venom hits him when he is frustrated, constantly talks inside Eddie’s head, and constantly demands to eat brains, and Eddie is fed up. They have a violent break-up, trashing Eddie’s apartment. In the aftermath, Eddie fixes up his place and tries to live happily until he learns of Kasady’s escape from prison. Venom, meanwhile, jumps from host to host (partner to partner), but no other host can handle Venom for an extended period. Venom goes to a rave where he takes the stage, covered in glow sticks, to proudly announce he is “out of the Eddie closet.” But he misses Eddie.

When Eddie is arrested for his connection to Kasady, he sends Anne to find Venom. The wise, friendly ex-partner is now tasked with reconciling the central couple. She tracks down Venom and commiserates with him over Eddie’s flaws as a partner. Venom then bonds with Anne, forcing Eddie to perform his apology to Venom through Anne, which is a funny, unique situation. Anne can hear Venom’s snide, bitter comments about Eddie in her head, while Eddie cannot hear Venom. He says he was a loser before Venom came along and that Venom made him special. Venom accepts the apology, and they are reunited. All of this relationship storyline is well-handled and strong comedic work. The relationship, break-up, and reconciliation are mostly played straight, allowing the inherent absurdity of a man’s rocky romance with his alien parasite to speak for itself. Marvel writes it perfectly, and it is oddly relatable. This part of the film works, but it is not enough to sustain a full-length film. There needed to be a villain plot in this film.

In the best hero/villain adventure narratives, the hero has to grow, change, learn something or overcome some personal hurdle, and the villain thematically represents that. In this film, Eddie and Venom need to learn to live together through compromise. Eddie needs to allow Venom to follow his base instincts sometimes, while Venom needs to acknowledge and mitigate the negative impact that can have on Eddie’s life. A stronger version of Venom: Let There Be Carnage would have Carnage serve as a reflection of that dynamic to compare or contrast, or Carnage would serve as a major driver in Eddie and Venom’s development. But he does not. The Carnage storyline either chafes against the central Eddie/Venom love story (at best) or undermines it (at worst).

Cletus Kasady grew up an abused child who tortured animals and killed family members. In 1996, a teenage Kasady falls in love with a young Frances Barrison, who has the power to unleash destructive sonic waves from her mouth. Frances is transferred to the Ravencroft Institute to study her powers, and Kasady never sees her again. 25 years later, Kasady has aged 45 years and uses his newfound symbiote to escape his execution. Serkis hoped to make a lean thrill-ride of a film, only 90 minutes with minimal setup. But Carnage does not appear until 40 minutes in. The Carnage symbiote wants to ensure its survival by killing Venom, but Kasady insists on freeing Frances first.

Symbiotes are particularly weak to fire and sound, making Frances and her sonic attacks an ill-fitting companion to a symbiote. Once she is free, Frances and Kasady plan a wedding ceremony. They kidnap Anne to lure Eddie/Venom. This is especially unfortunate because Anne’s function in the film has been interesting and refreshing until she is reduced to a damsel in distress in the climax. An action climax ensues, in which Venom triumphs because he has the help of his friends and because the Carnage symbiote tries to kill Frances. Kasady loves Frances, but Carnage sees her sound powers as a threat, so Kasady is torn. This contrasts with Eddie/Venom, who are united in their goals, allowing them to prevail. This all seems to track at first glance, but it does not work.

First and foremost, Eddie and Venom have a serious, deep, deeply dysfunctional relationship. They begin the film fighting over their differing goals, and that even causes them to break up. Ultimately, their differing goals remain, but they reconcile on the promise of a better compromise. Venom will never remain responsible, and Eddie will never freely allow the consumption of brains, but they will try to be more flexible. The idea that they are a stronger, more-aligned couple than Kasady and Carnage is absurd. The film does not provide enough of a glimpse into the Kasady/Carnage dynamic to truly judge their relationship. It should be used to mirror Eddie/Venom, but it is too underdeveloped for that to happen. From what little we are shown, however, Kasady and Carnage agree on almost everything. They both love the murder and the mayhem, but they disagree about Frances. They have one disagreement, whereas Eddie and Venom disagree on everything. Claiming that Venom is stronger and thus wins because Eddie and Venom are more aligned is inconsistent with the rest of the film. It undermines the rest of Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

Just as Eddie/Venom should mirror Kasady/Carnage, Anne and Frances should also be comparable characters. Eddie still loves Anne but seems to be happy she is moving on. Venom seems to like Anne fine and wants to help Eddie get over her. Anne seems invested in Eddie and Venom’s relationship working out. On the other side, Kasady loves Frances, Frances loves Kasady, and Frances seems to have no strong feelings about Carnage. Carnage decides to kill Frances at a very inopportune moment. Anne is not a character who comes between Eddie and Venom, but Frances does come between Kasady and Carnage. The Kasady/Carnage/Frances dynamic should be similar enough to the Eddie/Venom/Anne dynamic to enlighten or enrich the latter, but it is not. It is close, which makes it all the more frustrating.

In the end, Venom: Let There Be Carnage has a very strong storyline of Eddie Brock and Venom having relationship issues and a far weaker, undercooked storyline featuring Carnage that fails to resonate with the relationship storyline thematically. If the film’s thrust was Eddie and Venom’s relationship, then Kasady/Carnage should have spoken to that meaningfully. If Kasady was going to be focused on Frances, that should have had some resonance to the Eddie story. The two storylines seem frustratingly close to cohering in a meaningful way, but they don’t. I am left wondering if Venom: Let There Be Carnage would have been better off, more focused, and more thematically pure if Carnage was not in the film. The filmmakers were so boxed in by the popularity of Carnage and by promising him at the end of the first film that they had to include him, even when the script developed into something that would have been much better without him.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage was filmed almost entirely in late 2019 and early 2020, aiming for an October 2020 release. When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down came in March 2020, the filmmakers completed post-production remotely. The release date was shifted several times, attempting to predict when theatres would reopen and audiences would feel comfortable returning. Ultimately, it was released in October 2021. The film grossed almost the same in North America as the first Venom film.

However, it made significantly less worldwide, as the pandemic still compromised the global theatrical market. Even so, Sony plans to move forward with a sequel and may even cross Venom with other Spider-Man villain films. Despite its flaws, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a significant improvement over Venom, so who knows, maybe the third Venom film will be worthwhile.


Credits Scene(s): 
In a fairly surprising mid-credits scene, Eddie is hiding out in Mexico, experiences a strange flash of light in his hotel room, and finds himself in the MCU. J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) is on the television discussing Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who sparks Venom’s interest. This scene seemed to set up Venom for an appearance in the forthcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home (Watts, 2021) and a linking of the Venom films with the MCU. The resolution of this scene occurs in the credits of No Way Home.

First Appearances:
Stephen Graham portrays Patrick Mulligan, a detective who becomes a symbiote in the comics. This film hints at that, so I imagine Graham will return.

Next Time: Marvel Studios takes a gamble on an indie verité director and an obscure comic book property.

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