Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

A kind of weird thing about Marvel movies (mainline or not) is that they seem to turn around sequels much faster than studios had for the past twenty years or so. The pandemic sort of hides that in this case, but Venom 2 was meant to come out last year, just a couple years after the first, when three years had sort of become the traditional sequel turn-around time. I guess that when you're so locked into the idea of a franchise that you've cast the second movie's villain and shot a scene to introduce him at the end of the first, you're getting the wheels moving earlier.

Still, it's kind of weird that the result of Sony wanting a steady stream of Spider-Man-derived movies plus the pandemic has resulted in a spurt that has Regal offering a "see three in four months" deal for Venom 2 (October), Spider-Man: No Way Home (December), and Morbius (January), though I think the original plan would have still been pretty aggressive - 15 months instead of four - although maybe they've finally got some others close enough to ready to roll that it won't be a spurt and then nothing. I'm kind of intrigued by something in the Morbius trailer that ties it pretty definitively to the main Marvel Cinematic Universe, although I'll be kind of annoyed if they're basically putting something from the mid-credit tease into the trailer because, geez, who wants to see a Morbius movie starring Jared Leto otherwise? It's interesting to see the hints that various areas of the Marvel Universe are possibly existing simultaneously but mostly out of each others' way in the way that the mutants, Avengers, Spider-folk, etc., do in the comics. Although…


I've spent a few too many brain cycles trying to figure out what the timing on the Venom 2 post-credit scene is. It feels like it should be the snaps, but that doesn't quite line up unless whatever Venom was doing at the time kept them out of the main timeline for a little longer. It could tie into whatever the deal is with timelines jumping the tracks in Loki, or maybe whatever's going to happen multiverse-wise in Spider-Man: No Way Home, but it would seem to be too early for that.


Anyway, I can't say I quite liked this as much as the first movie, but I'll probably be keeping an eye open to see if Sony is releasing a combined 3D/4K disc, because this is actually really nice in 3D - Shriek's cell in Ravenloft is clearly built to have layers, while all of the other gothic, creepy places (including the run-down church of the finale) are built to have a lot of depth and foreground/background contrast. Not bad for a conersion job, I say as the Last Person Who Likes 3D.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 October 2021 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

The first Venom movie was not, I suspect, what anybody involved wanted it to be; I'd love to know who thought they were making a sort of sci-fi horror movie, who was making a comedy, who wanted straight-ahead superhero action, and who saw a weird queer-ish romance underneath it all and decided to play that up. Somehow, don't ask me how, the movie worked better than it had any right to, even if it was not what one would call above-average. The sequel is clearly the result of Sony trying to reverse-engineer what happened and do it again, and deliberately replicating chaos doesn't come easy.

It's been some time since reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) fused with the intelligent alien symbiote "Venom", and in that time he's once again become respected as a reporter, although he naturally has to keep it hidden, which has meant a split with ex-girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams). Serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) will only give Brock his story, which leads to the pair finding where his missing victims are buried, but also to Cletus getting a symbiote of his own. With "Carnage" potentially more powerful than Venom, Cletus will stop at nothing to look for his long-lost and similarly psychopathic reform-school girlfriend Frances "Shriek" Barrison (Naomie Harris), whose mutant(*) sonic powers have had her locked up in a top-secret facility.

(*) I can only imagine what sort of legal wrangling was involved around this character given that Marvel had licenced "mutant" properties to Twentieth Century Fox and the "Spider-Man" characters to Sony, who I believe started work on this film which is not meant to be obviously connected to Spider-Man and which is very careful to use "mutation" rather than "Mutant" before Marvel parent company Disney acquired the former. Imagine being those lawyers.

As the most noteworthy villain in the Venom corner of Marvel's Spider-Man line, Carnage was teased at the end of the first movie, so returning writer Kelly Marcel (a frequent collaborator with star Tom Hardy, who shares story credit) was working from that on the one hand and the way audiences responded to Hardy blowing straight past Eddie and Venom bantering to play them as a strange romance with Venom clearly seeing Anne as potentially the third part of some sort of throuple. Squint, and you can see Cletus/Carnage/Shriek as a sort of twisted reflection of that, but it doesn't quite work; the Venom side is almost all weird breakup jokes and the Carnage side barreling through the plot at full speed. It takes a while for Cletus to get his symbiote with Eddie not having much to do while the audience waits, and despite all the eventual CGI slapstick, murder, and hints of something bigger with this mysterious mutant(*) prison, there's not all that much going on.

It doesn't really help that the cast seems out of sync, and not necessarily in a way where it's fun to watch people who think they're in different movies bump up against each other. Hardy's double act as Eddie and Venom is a little less its own thing and more familiar beats, but he's still entertaining in doing it. Naomie Harris has to work hard to outdo Woody Harrelson in chewing the scenery, but she manages, though Harrelson is doing a fine sort of bloodthirsty creep who thinks his disdain for human life makes him smarter than everybody else. There's a disconnect between Hardy and Harrelson, though; for all that Harrelson's trying to be repulsive as Kasady, Hardy's Brock seems a little too arch and able to interact with him as a normal human being, and it doesn't quite work with how he and Venom are fighting about the latter's desire to eat brains. He should be either a little more principled or uncomfortably hypocritical.

As a result, the movie really doesn't come together until the big climactic fight, when it doesn't have to try to figure out whether all the weird stuff of the first movie is going to be subtext or just right out there, and just has everybody yelling what's got them angry as they distort into grotesque shapes and pound each other. Unlike a lot of these movies, everybody has something to do (well, Williams is kind of stuck with hostage duty, but she at least seems annoyed by it) and can be cartoonishly thrown against a wall and knocked unconscious when they're not needed. Director Andy Serkis obviously knows something about making big motion-captured performances entertaining from the actor's side and is able to bring some of that to bear from the opposite end. The movie develops a little more personality when he and the crew can lean into pulpy creepy-building imagery, and those sequences are maybe half-a-star better when seen in 3D (it's a conversion job, but someone is having fun with depth and layers).

On top of that, the movie is 97 minutes long including credits and the inevitable mid-credit tease, which is something of a relief when so many of these superhero movies routinely stretch forty-five minutes longer out of sheer shagginess. Admittedly, that speed comes from the movie not having a lot to it because Marcel, Serkis, and the rest couldn't find more of whatever happenstance made the first sort of work, but there are many worse ways of being a mediocre movie than not wasting any more of the audience's time than necessary.

Also at eFilmCritic

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