Reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is washed up. Worse, he and his alien symbiote, Venom (also Tom Hardy), aren’t getting along too well. In classic serial killer movie fashion, incarcerated murderer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) declares that he’s willing to reveal where the bodies are buried but will only talk to Brock, who seizes the opportunity to try to get his career back on track. During one of their visits, Brock and Kasady scuffle, and a new symbiote, named Carnage (also Woody Harrelson), arises from the violence to pair up with Kasady. Lacking any moral compass and inclined to cause as much harm as possible, the seemingly perfect duo set out to free Kasady’s childhood sweetheart, Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), as well as exact revenge on all who wronged them. Eddie Brock and Venom have to learn to get along well enough to try to stop them.
Josh: I actually enjoyed this a lot! I was laughing almost continuously.
Arley: I thought it was entertaining, but I think you liked it a lot more than I did.
Josh: It’s all about Tom Hardy’s acting. It’s such a change from what he normally does, and he pulls it off really well. It’s also entirely his vehicle right now, because he has a story by credit, he’s one of the producers, he’s starring in it, and as we mentioned in our review of the first Venom film, the other screenwriter, Kelly Marcel, is Hardy’s friend. I think Tom Hardy must be a Venom fan, just like how Nic Cage is a Ghost Rider fan and Ryan Reynolds is a Deadpool fan. They pour a bunch of money into it so that they get to play their favorite superhero. That’s basically what this is.
Arley: Tom Hardy is a Venom fan, and you are a Tom Hardy fan!
The plot of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is fairly simplistic and predictable, but no one is buying tickets for this movie hoping for breathtaking surprises and tons of subtext. The biggest surprise is probably the humor, which leans into a mix of an odd-couple trope and a misunderstanding/breakup trope (centered on Venom and Brock’s rocky partnership) but does so pretty damn well. Similar to The Suicide Squad, there’s enough in the opening to set the comic book tone, which creates different kinds of expectations than any number of superhero movies which take themselves too seriously – the recent Batman and Justice League films, for example, which seem to try to out bleak each other.
Josh: I was expecting the filmmakers to take a chance and just run the story off the rails, because it’s the tail-end of COVID, so anyone will watch anything you put in the theater, basically. Although I think this was filmed before the pandemic and just kept getting delayed.
Arley: If anything, there were possible plot choices that seemed obvious, that would work really well, but that they didn’t take. It didn’t feel like they weren’t made because they wanted it to be fresh, it felt like maybe they just didn’t think of them.
Josh: One of the disappointing things about it is that it’s Venom fighting another parasite. It’s always the hero fighting a villain that has the same or a very similar powers to the hero, rather than a mismatch of abilities or origin stories. It’s definitely a trend in comic book movies.
Arley: In a way I’m also disappointed that it’s symbiote-on-symbiote violence. I mean, in a way I’m not, because you know that going in. You know that from the previews. But I still agree with you that I want things to be shaken up a little bit. The one character they had with different powers was sorely underutilized.
Josh: Yeah, she has exactly the power that would stop them. It’s like if she were made out of kryptonite but didn’t go fight Superman.
Arley: Her character was really cool, she could have been a centerpiece of the movie, and that would have been more interesting. She was made an accessory. It could have been, like, how does Venom stop her when she’s the exact power than can stop him?
Josh: Even an air raid siren going off could stop him. There are possibilities to take the plot in more interesting directions and exploit his vulnerabilities, but that’s all right.
One of the main draws of the movie is the visual effects. Venom as a design bears similarities to Todd McFarlane’s other iconic character, Spawn. As you would expect from a movie featuring these kinds of character concepts, there are some great moments of cool imagery, but as an overall production, it’s not quite as polished as many of the recent Marvel movies. It sometimes verges into the cartoonish, giving vibes of The Mask or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but not necessarily in a terrible way. Occasionally the effects do look pretty bad, resembling silly putty or early-era CGI. The fight scenes are okay, but there are a few moments where it just gets too ridiculous, such as an early scene where Carnage somehow becomes a tornado several stories tall. While he’s breaking out of jail, he’s also breaking our suspension of disbelief.
Josh: I think the visual style, looking kind of like a ’90s movie, actually made me more forgiving of the plot coherence. It reminded me of my first exposure to comic books and that type of cover art. There were a lot of scenes where I thought the dialogue or the action was so corny, but then I pictured how it would appear on page, and it really seemed to fit that style. It captured the feeling of reading a comic book, but on screen.
Arley: This movie is really leaning on the humor as the reason to watch it, or if you are really into the Venom comics, rather than having a quality story.
Josh: I do not like Woody Harrelson. I think he’s a terrible actor.
Arley: I think Woody Harrelson plays Woody Harrelson.
Josh: Yeah. Kinda like how Nic Cage plays Nic Cage sometimes.
Arley: Yeah. Woody plays his own personality and the only acting he does is, “Now I’m acting angry. But I’m still Woody Harrelson.” So, if you like Woody Harrelson, you will like him in all his movies, and if you don’t like him, you won’t like him.
Josh: I like him – well, I don’t “like him” but I think he’s okay, or acceptable, in some roles, it’s just very rare.
Arley: He’s camping it up a bit more in this one. I feel like he’s trying to tap into his Natural Born Killers role, as opposed to Zombieland. It’s almost like he’s not camping it up enough, or he’s camping it but in a too-serious way? Sort of like Jared Leto playing Joker instead of Jack Nicholson playing Joker. Like, just go over the top. Don’t try to walk this line.
Josh: Don’t try to be edgy or whatever. Overall I like this one better than the first one – I can’t remember the first one at all.
Arley: I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t tell anyone it was a good movie! (laughs)
Josh: Oh yeah, I agree with that! It’s a good performance but not a good movie. I like Tom Hardy, it has cool aliens, and I’m laughing at the jokes. It’s a very personal, subjective, “Yes, I enjoyed it,” but it’s not necessarily going to appeal to a lot of the same people who might have liked other Marvel movies, which have a broader appeal.
Arley: I think if you liked the first one you’ll like this one, and if you didn’t like the first one, why are you watching this one?
Josh: My wife walked out of the theater and said, “That was… fun enough.”
Directed by: Andy Serkis
Written by: Kelly Marcel, Tom Hardy
Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu
ARLEY SORG, Senior Editor, has been part of the Locus crew since 2014. Arley is a 2021 World Fantasy Award finalist for his work as co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine. He is also Associate Editor and reviewer at Lightspeed & Nightmare magazines, columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and interviewer at Clarkesworld Magazine. He grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and lives in Oakland, CA. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he can be found at arleysorg.com – where he has started his own “casual interview” series with authors and editors – and on Twitter (@arleysorg).
JOSH PEARCE has stories and poetry in Analog, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Cast of Wonders, Clarkesworld, IGMS, Nature, and more. Find him on Twitter: @fictionaljosh, or at fictionaljosh.com. One time, Ken Jennings signed his chest.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.
©Locus Magazine. Copyrighted material may not be republished without permission of LSFF.