Just as I was thinking what a waste Tom Hardy was in VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, I remembered that Mr. Hardy, who was so impressive in INCEPTION, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and a slew of other films, co-produced this sequel to VENOM, and also came up with the story. The money he will realize from this venture will no doubt allow him to participate in, perhaps even finance, some small indie features, such as his virtual one-man show in the gem LOCKE. That will serve to enrich the moviegoing experience for us, and to allow him to shine as a thespian. The flick under consideration here, alas, does neither.
Hardy returns as Eddie Brock, a failed journalist looking to make a comeback by getting the last jailhouse interview with serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). He accomplishes this, much to the chagrin of SFPD detective Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham) when Eddie’s scoop on where the bodies are buried makes Patrick look bad. Never mind. It’s not like Eddie’s life is a bowl of cherries, or even the pits at this point. His ex-fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) is marrying an effete doctor (Reid Scott). Worse, his other significant relationship, the one with Venom, the symbiote with whom he shares his body, has reached a breaking point that includes the requisite breakage of cherished personal items. The final tiff finds Eddie free of Venom, but not before Eddie got a little too close to Cletus during their last interview, and Cletus takes a bite out of both Eddie and Venom. The resulting symbiote, the eponymous Carnage, breaks Cletus out of the death chamber and before you can say oops, they are tracking down Cletus’ lost love, Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris) the mutant with the killer voice, and plotting revenge against Eddie that will leave much of San Francisco in rubble.
One of the many problems here is that the writing is that of a failed sitcom pilot about bickering roomies with issues but who essentially love one another (God knows why) but can’t stand the living situation. The jokes fall flat, in keeping with the strict one-dimensionality of the characters. Eddie is dumb. Very dumb. He also makes very little effort to disguise the conversations he’s having with Venom while out in public. I mean, how hard is it to put a cell phone to your ear? Little things, like putting the statue of Cervantes from Golden Gate Park in front of the Palace of Fine Arts, fine. It >is< more scenic at night. But the bigger things, like the phone, and why Venom can use his tentacles to duke it out with surgical precision, but still be so clumsy in less dire situations that he destroys Eddie’s apartment while making breakfast, well, it’s grating.
Patrick is no better, figuring out that Eddie is always in the middle of things when it gets weird, but never quite adding up 2+2. As for Anne, the loyal ex-girlfriend with the same middling wig from the previous film, she’s little more than a plot device, which is another waste of a fine talent. As for Woody, he’s the Woody we’ve come to know and love in NATURAL BORN KILLERS and its derivatives.
What this flick does have is gangbusters action sequences, and if that’s all you really want, you are in luck. The plasticity of symbiote tentacles coupled with flipping pancakes and bodies flying in and around Grace Cathedral is certainly a prompt to the adrenalin, even after a painful sequence in which Venom calls club kids weird and then takes the singer’s mic to plead for acceptance of all aliens.
Taking the franchise into the bickering couple route of light comedy and minimal story was, as they say, a choice. Not a good one, but a decisive one. Will it seal the fate of Venom and his hapless host, Eddie? Probably not. For all the flaws in character development on the writing side, Hardy does, somehow and against all odds, use his considerable skills to make Eddie a loveable shmoo, bumbling along with a blank look of befuddlement and the heart of a good Samaritan. He even achieves an unexpected rapport with the chickens to which both Eddie and Venom have taken a shine. It’s not much to work with, but VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE makes the most of what it is has to work with, and runs with it all the way to the bank. .