Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021, Andy Serkis)

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is under ninety minutes without the end credits, which is fine. While the third act is a perfectly decent bit of action “gore,” once it’s clear Naomie Harris and Woody Harrelson aren’t going to stop embarrassing themselves, the sooner the movie can end, the better.

Harrelson is the titular Carnage, and Harris is his girlfriend. They grew up together in a home for murderous children—though, twist, it seems most of the people these kids would’ve murdered deserved it, or at least the kids were acting in self-defense—and they took Harris away because she’s got superpowers. She has a Canary cry, a sonic cry, or a “Shriek” (her comic book villain name). When she’s being transported, she tries to escape, so the cop shoots her in the head. Everyone thinks she’s dead, but she’s really carted off to the facility where evil psychiatrist Sian Webber experiments on metahumans. I didn’t think metahumans were a thing in Venom 1, but whatever. They’re just all locked up at Webber’s hospital.

Webber doesn’t get a character name and doesn’t do anything but taunt Harris throughout the film, so it’s hard to have much sympathy. Especially since they’re like torturing the people.

Anyway.

We get all that backstory in the prologue, which has Jack Bandeira playing young Woody Harrelson. In the nineties. When Woody Harrelson was in his thirties. Harris is closer to actual age, but… Carnage asks for some extra suspension of disbelief in the silly movie about the head-eating space aliens who banter with their human hosts. Apparently, they really wanted Harrelson, who I hope got a nice check because his performance is atrocious. The part’s not good either, but there are times where there’s not zero potential. Harrelson and Harris’s parts could’ve been breakthrough roles with better writing, casting, directing, and so on.

The film will occasionally stumble into a Bonnie & Clyde-type tone and then run away from it like director Serkis doesn’t want to try anything at all; no one’s more ashamed of taking Carnage seriously than Serkis. With a better script and a less “realistic” visual tone, it might work as camp. But it’d need better performances. Harris, Harrelson, and cop Stephen Graham would have to go.

Graham’s the cop hounding Tom Hardy. Now, Hardy’s the star, but the story’s entirely about Harrelson and Harris, with Graham having been the one to shoot Harris back when she was a kid in his charge. Graham seems to be suffering from guilt over it, but maybe not. It’s impossible to tell with his acting and the script.

The film sets up Hardy—the human—as a complete doofus who can’t function without the Venom symbiote to take care of him. Hardy voices Venom, too, so large swathes of the film are actually just Hardy talking to himself. It’s fine. He’s slightly better as the symbiote than the human because it’s unbelievable Hardy the human could ever function as an adult with even the scantest responsibilities.

Michelle Williams is back as Hardy’s ex-girlfriend, who both Hardy the human and Venom pine for. But she’s marrying doctor Reid Scott, also back from the first one. Williams and Scott are like Hardy’s square friends. Thanks to Williams being phenomenal and holding the movie up whenever she’s around, it works out really well.

And Hardy’s pretty fun. Much of the dialogue’s bad, and Hardy and Graham are terrible together, but Hardy manages to be energetic while dejected, which is impressive. He always seems too good for the movie. It brings a charm, especially with Williams around.

The direction’s fine, albeit unambitious, rushed, and disinterested. Carnage’s script—credit to Kelly Marcel, from a story by she and Hardy—seems like three episodes of a poorly written cartoon strung together, so, really, anything’s a success.

It’s often silly, sometimes inept, sometimes bad, but usually kind of fun, which isn’t bad given all the constraints. If they could just get a better writer, Venom might be good?

Or at least better more of the time. Because despite some genuinely terrible performances from its actors, Hardy, Hardy, Williams, and even Scott make Carnage an almost all right outing.

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