Tom Hardy the prestige actor is dead, long live Tom Hardy, gonzo master of schlock. If the first Venom, with its mad human/alien goop double act and lobster tank antics suggested an anarchic B-movie taste from Hardy, Let There Be Carnage quadruples down on it, letting Hardy loose in one of most enjoyably silly performances ever given in a superhero movie. New director Andy Serkis leans much further into the wackiness of the original, for a fun and surprisingly sweet adventure that finishes up in a tight 90 minutes, a refreshing antidote to the all-too common blockbuster bloat.
Following on from the first film’s mid-credits scene, Carnage finds journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) called in by the FBI to interview death-row serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) where, with the help of Venom (voiced by Hardy again), he manages to find out where Kasady’s victims are buried. This brings fame and respect to Eddie, but at two costs; one is that Venom, having won Eddie status, wants a share of freedom to go out and eat criminals by night and the other, more serious problem, is that the traces of the Venom symbiote left behind infect Kasady, creating giant red symbiote monster Carnage.
Though the stakes are obviously higher in the Carnage plot strand, Serkis and writer Kelly Marcel (alongside Hardy in his first writing credit) have much more fun in the Eddie-Venom domestic disputes. The dynamic is essentially played as a couple going through a relationship rough patch, which gives Hardy ample opportunity to have very funny arguments with himself, culminating in a hilarious break-up where Venom, sans Eddie, goes to an LGBT rave to deliver a speech about coming out, acceptance, and missing his partner. It’s sweet and sincere, the sort of playful scene that should be seen more often in these kinds of movies.
On the other hand, everything to do with Carnage is pretty terrible, fun and jokes giving way to an overly serious character that never really does anything interesting. Harrelson is hilariously ill-suited to the role of Kasady, which is written for someone 20-odd years younger, and Naomie Harris, as Carnage’s sonic-powered girlfriend Shriek, is equally dull. That said, the final fight is at least a major step up from the first, if only because this time out Venom’s enemy is a distinctive bright red, instead of the nearly invisible grey goo that defined the last film’s finale.
Crappy villains in superhero movies is hardly a new phenomenon, though, and Let There Be Carnage makes up for it with its goofy but earnest humour. You won’t find many MCU-style quips here, but gags about Venom childishly making friends with chickens land just as well, and give this sequel a unique identity and voice outside of ‘generic comic book adaptation’. Some of the sequel-baiting is pretty unwelcome – I feel an expansion of Venom’s world will only serve to dilute the fun of the character – but, with a swift runtime, this is a pleasingly self-aware bit of superpowered entertainment with a strange but welcome heart of gold.