Some of the biggest comic book adaptation franchises these days manage to stay successful by keeping the same creative team on for each film, insuring that there is no wild changes of tone or storytelling quality across the sequels. So if fans of the 2018 comic book adaptation Venom were concerned that Andy Serkis was stepping in to replace departing director Ruben Fleischerfor the new sequel that Venom: Let There Be Carnage, rest assured that this is a lot more of the same.
Now whether you feel that is good or bad news is up to you.
Investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, who had a hand with the script for this installment) has been fused with the alien symbiote known as Venom for some time now. The two have an uneasy alliance, with Brock having to sometimes talk Venom out of some of his stronger impulses, i.e., eating the head of criminals. Brock has been doing a series of Death Row interviews with incarcerated serial killer Cletus Kasady. During the last of the sessions Kasady attacks and bites him, swallowing a little bit of Venom-infused blood. But when they attempt to execute Kasady via lethal injection, the fatal chemicals mix with the trace amount of Venom symbiote in his blood and creates Carnage, a red-hued, even stronger version of Venom. So of course, the two will have to duke it out for dominance.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage, is a lean and trim film. Serkis has cut off any fat, leaving a movie that fairly cooks along through its hour and half run time. The problem is, the fat is where the cinematic flavor happens to be. Any characterization there is only exists if it feeds directly into the film’s plot and is front loaded so as to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. And if you aren’t conversant with the events of 2018’s Venom, maybe give it a quick rewatch before this one. The newer movie jumps right into things, allowing no time for exposition. Serkis seems to be in a big hurry for Venom and Carnahe to meet and duke it out. That’s where the excitement, and a good portion of the visual effects budget, lies.
Like its predecessor, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a throwback film of sorts. It is more tonally and structurally like comic book adaptations of the mid-to-late 1990s. Back then, scripts would only give the least amount of lip service to developing characters and motivations that they could get away with. Plots often felt like the barest of skeletons upon which to hang the inevitable special effects-fueled slug fest finale that ticket buyers were there for. (For the apex of this wave of movies, see 1997’s Spawn, adapted from an independently published comic created by Todd McFarlane, who was also instrumental in the development of the character of Venom when he was still at Marvel Comics.) It was a time when studios expected fans to just be happy that some of their favorite characters were up on the big screen, telling actual well crafted stories didn’t matter so much. Still, the previous Venom movie seemed to strike a nostalgic chord with enough people that it did enough box office to launch this sequel. That crowd should find more to enjoy here. The rest of us not so much.