VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Andy Serkis

Stars: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu

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Because of his reputation in using green screen and motion capture technology to bring to life CGI generated characters in films like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the Planet Of The Apes reboot, Andy Serkis has been handed the reins for this latest Marvel superhero movie. Or should that be anti-hero, as the title character is a sentient, carnivorous shapeshifting alien symbiote with huge teeth? 

The character of Venom was created by writers Todd McFarlane and David Micheline as part of the Spiderman universe in 1984, and was previously played on screen by Topher Grace in Spiderman 3 (2007). Venom: Let There Be Carnage is lighter in tone than the usual Marvel movies, largely due to the odd couple dynamic between Brock and his alter ego. The script from Kelly Marcel (Fifty Shades Of Grey, etc) and Hardy himself contains plenty of humour, especially in the heated exchanges between Eddie and Venom. There is a strong homoerotic streak to their relationship.  

For this sequel to 2018’s origin story of Venom, Tom Hardy reprises his role as down on his luck investigative journalist Eddie Brock who has become the unwilling host of Venom, who lives inside him. Eddie has a love/hate relationship with the snarling black creature that acts as a sort of vigilante and grows frustrated with Eddie’s restrictions and limitations. But then he meets his match when he agrees to interview serial killer Cletus Kasady (a scenery chewing Woody Harrelson) who is on death row in San Quentin.  

Kasady requests that Eddie witness his execution. But before Kasady is given the lethal injection he bites Brock’s hand and becomes infected with some of Venom’s alien DNA, and when the poison is pumped into his body he transforms into a huge red alien creature known as Carnage. Kasady escapes from prison and sets out to find Frances, aka Shriek, (Naomie Harris, looking rather different in a change from her role as Moneypenny in the Bond movies), a sympathetic friend whom he first met at the St Estes Home For Unwanted Children. A dangerous person because of her ability to inflict pain through her high pitched scream, Frances was taken away from the orphanage and placed in the high security asylum, the Ravencroft Institute, somewhere in San Francisco. Carnage begins to lay waste to the city in his search for Shriek. 

Hardy throws himself into his physically demanding dual role here (he also provides the deep booming voice for Venom), while Harrelson seems to be channeling his Natural Born Killers persona with his gleefully malevolent and mischievous performance. For her part Michelle Williams is largely wasted in a fairly thankless role as Anne, Brock’s lawyer ex-girlfriend and is essentially reduced to a cliched damsel in distress role. And Harris’ character is given little depth as well. Stephen Graham brings a sense of gravitas to his role as detective Mulligan, who distrusts Eddie, while Peggy Lu returns as the sympathetic shopkeeper Mrs Chen, who seems to have a soft spot for Venom. 

Serkis, who was brought in to replace original director Ruben Fleischer, employs plenty of state-of-the-art digital effects here, and he maintains a fast and frenetic pace throughout the film’s mercifully short 97-minute running time. Unlike the first film, Serkis at least recognises he is dealing with comic book trash and treats the material accordingly. 

But as with most films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe it all comes down to the special effects heavy climactic confrontation that wreaks plenty of damage but becomes a bit bombastic and repetitive and brain numbing. And it is hard to identify with and empathise with a couple of CGI-created characters beating the living daylights out of each other. And Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, etc) has bathed the whole thing in a garish colour scheme that suits the pulpy material. 

After the disappointing double shot of Shang-Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings and the dull and overlong Eternals, is Marvel losing its mojo? 

★★☆

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