The Venom franchise is one of the odder offshoots from the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the character was previously seen to no great effect in the awful Spiderman 3, and then licenced out to Columbia and Sony to see if they could make anything better from the notion of one man and his symbiote. The first Venom film was a somewhat underwhelming experience, and wasn’t helped commercially by coming out in competition as one of Hollywood’s most successful remakes, A Star Is Born. But the follow-up got the timing right in terms of escapist entertainment, and out-grossed the Bond movie by far on the opening weekend in the US.
It’s not hard to see why; Andy Serkis comes in as a safe pair of hands to handle the elaborate CGI required, and the film builds on the back of introducing Woody Harrelson in the first installment. Harrelson plays serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes host to another symbiote called Carnage. Kasady doesn’t seem to have the same issues that Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has with his own parasitical creature, and uses it to reunite with his long love Shriek (Naomie Cassidy). While attemption to placate his hangry symbiote with live chickens, Brock sets out to stop Kasady, but facing up to a creature as powerful if not more so than his own, the stage is set for a smackdown between the two creatures…
Both Venom films double-down on Hardy; San Francisco, motorbikes, leather jackets all add to the Steve McQueen good looks of the star. Despite this, Hardy plays Brock as Norman Wisdom on speed, a twitchy, oddly comic performance that never quite sits right with the Venom special effect. The illusion that Brock and Venom inhabit the same body is just as unconvincing as in the first film, and yet the Gothic trappings just about get this over the finish line. The model for comedy seems to be Deadpool, but like that franchise, Let There Be Carnage seems to be content with easy, dated targets; reference to Barry Manilow hardly seem to be for today’s kids, but Deadpool’s less-than edgy mockery of 80’s icons like Wham or Sinead O’Connor was equally dad-level schtick.
While hardly a ground-breaking movie, Venom 2 is slick and polished enough to satisfy; it’s a goofy affair to be sure, but it hits most of the notes that you’d expect from a dark-toned super-hero flick from orphanages to sinister institutes to a cathedral-top finale. And while Hardy seems perennially unsure of the demands of his part, Harrelson knows exactly where to go with his wild-eyed taskmaster, a neat variation on his Natural Born Killers character with a taste for the carnage mentioned in the title.