The mid-credits sting at the end of Venom 2’s 2018 predecessor saw journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) visit serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) in San Quentin prison. “When I escape, there will be carnage,” intoned the caged psycho, whose fright wig was carnage enough, thank you very much.
And so here we are in 2021 – a year later than planned, courtesy of Covid – with Kasady on the loose and hosting the alien adversary created by writer David Michelinie and artist Mark Bagley in the ’90s Marvel comics.
Plot-wise, you don’t need to know much more, even if more plot did exist – which it doesn’t. Brock/Venom are of course still pining for former love Anne (Michelle Williams), and Kasady likewise suffers from romantic heartache, having been separated years ago from Frances Barrison aka Shriek (Naomie Harris). She’s now residing in a Perspex cube at Ravencroft Institute for the criminally insane, her sonic screams a menace to public and symbiotes alike.
With Venom director Ruben Fleischer making way for Andy Serkis, who knows a thing or two about duality, Venom: Let There Be Carnage clocks in at under 90 minutes, sans credits. The majority of the taut running time is curiously lacking in any major set-pieces, but when one does arrive, at the climax, it’s long and leaden and visually dismal – all crumbling masonry and clashing CG beasties, with tentacles bursting every which way like tendrils of colour erupting from a dropped paint pot. Such is the murk and mess it’s hard to credit this is lensed by three-time Academy Award winner Robert Richardson, a regular of Scorsese and Tarantino.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is better when it focuses on being a relationship drama, with every interaction commented on by its title star. Brock and his parasite make for a fun odd couple, their bickering amplified by Venom’s constant hunger as he tries to subsist not on human brains but chickens and chocolate. There are parallels with the second A Nightmare On Elm Street movie, Freddy’s Revenge (1985), in which Krueger possesses a teenage boy. And like Freddy, Venom is a monstrous slayer armed with killer quips who is destined to become a family favourite – a scene in a club, with Venom lit by glow sticks as he takes to the mic, is his spotlight moment.
Like the critically underrated first film, Serkis’ effort is a pulpy B-movie with a budget. It’s almost Raimi-esque in its treatment of body horror, and has its large, pointy tongue stuffed firmly in its cheek. But it’s just not as sharp, and the action is more smudge than punch. Let’s hope the prospective third instalment gives Brock/Venom the vehicle they deserve. A hugely exciting mid-credits sting ensures even viewers who don’t get on with this movie will be queuing for the next.