Venom 2, or “Let There Be Carnage” follows on from Sony’s 2018 hit starring Tom Hardy. As the world was hitting peak Superhero fatigue, we got the anti-hero we didn’t know we needed. The sequel was greatly anticipated, especially due to the inspired casting of Woodie Harrelson as Cletus Kasady, the hick serial killer of the Spiderman comics. Cletus is better known as “Carnage”, the spawn of the symbiote Venom; pure evil, hell bent on chaos and, well…carnage!
As if the movie’s subtitle wasn’t enough, we start off in a new location with a young Cletus Kasady talking through a pipe, sending a token down to his love interest. She is forcibly removed, and in the opening minutes you see her powers (sound), witness her get shot in the eye, and see her confined to her new cell (this onslaught of revelations robs the story of weight). Soon after, we’re back to the modern day where Eddie Brock relentlessly argues with Venom, on his way to meet with Cletus (at the request of Detective Patrick Mulligan, another character you won’t care about). This sets up the main events of the story – Cletus becoming Carnage, and the inevitable slug-fest of Carnage vs Venom.
I don’t hate that I watched it, but its utter mediocrity left me wanting more at every turn. Tom Hardy is the sole reason for those 2.5 stars, which is strange considering how much I love Woodie Harrelson. If he had been on form, it could have been a 4 or 5 out of 5 – I was expecting the Woodie Harrelson from Natural Born Killers to show up…instead, we got the Woodie Harrelson from “A message for the world” – bland, uninterested, and just missing the mark. As disappointing as that lackluster performance is, it’s not the only reason for the lack of stars. The pacing is off, the plot equivalent to “and then they fight” – in the wake of 2019’s Joker, and Marvel’s foray into TV with Loki & WandaVision, that’s just not good enough any more (especially when that fight is a garbled mess, making as much sense as the shakycam fights from The Bourne Identity).
Full disclosure, I’m a Marvel fan – I’ve read a lot of comics, and as with most people of my vintage, Venom/Carnage are my favourite antagonists of Spiderman. Not only that, Carnage is my favourite villain full stop; he is not causing the end of the world, but the stakes are still high because he is a super-powered serial killer, who will brutally murder as many people as he can, until he is stopped (giving strong impetus to stop him, and soon). I find this type of conflict more intriguing than yet another seemingly impossibly strong creature coming to destroy Earth.
In Detail (beware of Spoilers)
Cletus Kasady should have been the best thing about this, and instead he only managed to be slightly less annoying than Shriek (Frances Barrison). His origin animation was beautiful, and easily the standout for the whole film, but it’s not enough to save it. There was a complete lack of chemistry between Cletus and Shriek, not to mention the horrible writing concerning Cletus and Carnage “not being symbiotes” stating that Venom and Brock were operating as one, and thus were stronger. Given that one of primary pieces of Carnage’s character is that Cletus and the symbiote are closer aligned than any of the others, which is what makes them so difficult to handle – stronger, faster, and more brutal.
Carnage had zero motivation to kill Venom – Cletus would be justified in hating Brock, however in the same vein he was responsible for his inevitable escape from prison, which on the cosmic aegis might give him a pass (especially since direct conflict would cause considerable risk). A certain amount of slack can be given if you consider that a deranged serial killer might not be thinking too straight, but that only excuses Cletus. The same slack does not apply to other characters whom act in similar ways.
The movie spends too long trying to get on with it, going over ground already covered. It trades too heavily on Tom Hardy’s charisma, and is packed full of scenes that don’t do anything to serve the story. The “exciting” scenes feel overly edited, as if tweaked by focus group, and the big action elements lack weight. The off-kilter Sony Bravia cameo was unnecessary, and pointless, falling into the same category as the random Bud Light moment from the mouth-breathing Wahlberg Transformers movie that I cannot be bothered reminding myself of its title (Rise of the dark of the age of no-one cares anymore).
Venom’s Big Day Out was entertaining, but lacked any proper pay off, and is emblematic about why this movie doesn’t work – it is a collection of storyboards and set pieces, loosely tied together by the thinnest of threads. Rather than having a clear flow, you are navigated to set-piece after set-piece, and you’re just left feeling empty…just like eating two BigMacs and a McFlurry; the enjoyment is fleeting, and instead you’re left with the bitter disappointment and self-loathing.
The main problem is that this film is a by-numbers effort at mediocrity – it lacks charm, originality, and has no soul. There are no memorable stunts, and even fewer quotes. Go see it to show some support to the cinemas, but just don’t expect anything from it.
Re-writing the Film (Spoilers)
Something I bore my wife with (endlessly) is rewriting (aloud) virtually everything we watch; analysing what didn’t work, and what I would do instead. Sometimes that can be limited to dialogue, or in the case of something like this, it is a complete teardown! Please note that this will only really make sense if you’ve seen the movie
In the film, Eddie is brought to question Cletus Kasady by Detective Mulligan, because for some unknown reason Cletus took a shine to Brock. Mulligan hates Brock, showing clear animosity, and we see that Venom is unhappy with their current arrangement (craving human brains). Still, Brock goes ahead with the meeting, going as far as to do what Cletus asks and prints a message in the paper. As he walks out past Cletus’ cell, Venom takes note of the scrawling on the wall, pointing out to Brock where the bodies are dumped, restoring Brock’s reputation.
This setup works well – there is an established conflict between Mulligan and Brock, and Cletus is stated to be a serial killer. That is more than enough to go on for the time being. Instead of how the next part panned out, I would instead have Venom take control over Brock, convincing him to reward him for salvaging his reputation, and going out to stop evildoers (for good…by eating their brains). Unfortunately, Mulligan has enough evidence to blame Brock for the deaths of these criminals, and puts him in jail. Venom abandons Brock, leading to considerable resentment…especially as he ends up in a cell with Cletus. Cletus hates Brock for the betrayal, and attacks him – they fight, punching, kicking, biting, anything to get the upper hand. Stopping short of trying to kill each other, this fight is about letting out their collective anger. As they tire, they start talking more, amidst exchanging blows, revealing more about their characters (motivation, history etc).
Venom has his own adventure, briefly (in much the same way as he does in the movie), except for the fact that he finds that he needs Brock (either from lack of enjoyment, or from not gelling with other hosts). Feeling guilty for abandoning Brock, Venom is determined to break him out of prison. He uses various people to position himself, before breaking a hole in the wall of Brock’s cell, abandoning his temporary host to merge with Brock once more. In the process, Venom unknowinlgy leaves a piece of him behind that bonds with Cletus. The new symbiote, filled with Cletus’ hatred of Brock, is overcome with anger for Venom, mistaking Celtus’ feelings for its own, and conflating Brock and Venom. Cletus, now as Carnage, breaks out of his cell into the main prison, brutally murdering anyone in his path. Freeing all of the inmates, he declares himself the new warden, briefly wearing the skin of the old warden, as he makes many of the inmates fight each other for sport.
Anne, Brock’s ex-fiancé, sees the prison-break on the news report, and is sickened at what Venom has done – she sees the photos of his escape from prison, along with the photos of his murder victims. The report continues, showing the scenes of the prison security footage, and she sees glimpses of Carnage. Blaming Brock, and Venom, for the onslaught at the prison – her loyalty to Brock fades, and Anne seeks out Mulligan. She gets to the station, and sees the mad scramble as tactical teams suit up. In the confusion she manages to get right up to him, and says they’re all going to die unless he listens to her. She tells him about the symbiotes’ susceptibility to sound. He is sceptical, taking her aside to find out how she knows. Anne tells him about the other symbiotes (from the first movie), and although he doesn’t quite trust her, he doesn’t have anything to lose by humouring her. He orders the tactical teams to double-up on flashbang grenades, grabbing two for himself. Mulligan recalls the woman he shot in his youth, and asks another officer to check for details on her, before leaving with Anne to find Brock.
Brock sits alone, hiding far away from the prison, sirens going off in the distance. Enraged at Venom having both abandoned him, and having made his crimes much worse, Brock wants nothing to do with him. Venom starts trying to make amends – tells him that together they could be more than the sum of their parts. Their pointless failed lives could have meaning.
In the car en-route to find Brock, Mulligan gets a call to say that they’ve found Frances Barrison (the young woman he shot in his youth), and that she is a resident of Ravencroft. Anne asks who that is, with Mulligan explaining that she’s “a dead woman” – he says that she’s the reason for his hearing aid, and that she could come in useful. They find Brock, and Anne approaches to keep him calm, however when Mulligan draws his gun on Brock, Venom comes out. Mulligan throws a flashbang, briefly stunning Venom, causing him to retreat into Brock, before exploding back out violently against Mulligan. Anne pleads with him to stop, and Brock acquiesces. Mulligan, recovering says that he believes her now…and that they will need to spring the “sonic-bitch”
Mulligan and Anne go to Ravencroft, trying to convince the staff to let them see Frances. Even with Mulligan flashing his badge, they are met with staunch resistance. Meanwhile Venom works to break her free, making sure to gag her in the first instance as soon as they breach the soundproof cell. Back at the prison, the tactical team breach and are annihilated in vicious and brutal fashion. TV crews from the perimeter film the carnage, before they’re given a front row seat to their own personal horror show. Cletus reveals himself from the symbiote form briefly, killing several journalists live, amidst calling for Brock to join him.
Venom, Mulligan, Anne, and Frances make it to the prison – Venom swings into the yard, whilst Mulligan meets with the remaining tactical teams, briefs them and sneaks in with Frances in tow using Venom as the distraction. Dispatching various inmates as they breach, they make their way into position, following Mulligan’s orders.
Carnage and Venom fight in spectacular fashion, and Mulligan finally forces Frances to use her powers by shooting her in the foot, and holding her hair to aim it at the two symbiotes. The attack is brief, as Frances cries instead. Still, it is enough to strip back the two symbiotes so that it’s Cletus vs Brock, just as it was back in the cell. Snipers try and get a clean shot, as the smackdown continues. Frances is re-gagged, and flashbangs are thrown in at regular intervals, dazing the two but keeping the symbiotes down. Brock eventually gets the upper hand, and knocks Cletus into the bleachers, impaling him on a broken handrail, allowing a sniper to get a clean shot on Cletus’ forehead.
Carnage, the symbiote, beings to envelop Cletus’ body, however Venom crawls back out and consumes the Carnage symbiote, leaving Cletus’ body with a bullet in the head, and a rail through the gut.
Carnage is a superb villain that wants murder. This re-write hits virtually all of the same beats as the main film, except that it gives each character more motivation, aligns with the comics more closely, and keeps avenues open for the return of Carnage. Also, by working with Mulligan, Brock has someone prepared to muddy the water allowing for his escape. From a business perspective, you could use it to force a change from San Francisco and bring Venom to New York…where he belongs…with Spiderman; just saying!
So there you have it – this is how I would treat Venom 2. For now, I’ll have to settle with my imagination. Here’s hoping future entries have a little more ambition to be something other than mediocre.