29 October 2021

First Impressions: Venom Let There Be Carnage

Oof. I saw this a while ago and October has been a fairly wacky month, so just getting to it now. What can you say about this? I liked it...sort of...but it was certifiably a bad movie. Let's just dig into this right away with SPOILERS everywhere for Venom Let There Be Carnage.

So, most of my complaints are just going to come out of nerdiness. I was a Carnage fan as a kid (okay, maybe that's weird to say), but he was red and fun and creative, and the movie doesn't even really get any of that right. Hopefully if you read through this blog you'll know that I am never one who gripes hard about films that ignore the source material, but the replacement material has to be equally as compelling. Carnage is pretty much just an edge character, but there are bits in there that are interesting and dangerous, which this film heartedly avoids, and the end result is disappointing.

Let's get into it. Venom (2018) always felt like a fun throwback movie, and by that I mean something like a pre-MCU superhero film like Daredevil (2003) or Ghost Rider (2007). It wasn't connected to anything, wasn't building anything, was dark and sloppy, and didn't really care about the source material. But that was all, fine, it was a stupid movie, but pretty fun, and Tom Hardy is somehow super game for the kitschy material. People gripe about the Venom model, but I enjoyed the take that the symbiote was a bit of a buffoon and tongue-in-cheek evil. It's campy and fun! Now, that movie had a ridiculous amount of problems, mostly due to its Big Grey Villain at the end, inscrutable visuals, and weak character arcs. But it's pretty fun, and never sacrificies that.

Originally, Venom was really designed as a beefier, suped up doppelganger to Spider-Man. And then Carnage was a beefed up, supier doppelganger to Venom. And then they also had a literal doppelganger named Doppelganger who teamed up with Carnage. In many ways, Let There Be Carnage is the Carnage to the previous Venom. It doubles down on what worked, namely, the nonsense, tries to be bigger and badder at everything, and loves its life on edge.

There isn't a story here. Or, there is one but it's relatively incomprehensible. Eddie Brock is impossibly bad at his job as an investigative journalist. I mean that quite literally, he sits there, seeming to not understand anything that Venom is trying to tell him as it pieces clues together about Cletus Kassidy's murders. But it's always unsatisfying because none of this ever really goes anywhere. Eddie finds Cletus' bodies but so what? We don't see that help the victims, Eddie's career, or change what Cletus was ultimately going to do. It's a lot of noise signifying nothing.

And how did Carnage work, anyway? Cletus bites Eddie and swallows his blood, so that's just how symbiotes spread? It just seems like Eddie would bleed a lot and leave bits everywhere. Venom proclaims that he's "a red one" like that's something bad, but we don't know what they can do or how they're different. I guess it has more tendrils? But it doesn't seem tougher than Riot. There is a logic here that's difficult to follow.

But again, my gripe is just nerdy. They seem to have made Carnage too powerful, so they try to neuter him down by removing the biggest difference between him and Venom in the comics - the bond between that symbiote and Kassidy is so powerful that they refer to themselves as "I" and not "we." That's an important distinction. Venom is always a team, but Carnage is a singular menace and that's what makes him so dangerous. The film just decides to go in the complete opposite direction and signifies that Venom and Eddie's bond is stronger so they win. They also reach this destination without doing any of the character growth necessary to get there. They just kind of...are, which is the same theme from the last movie. It just feels like a cop out, that instead of finding a creative way to solve a problem of fighting a stronger opponent, they just win because the Carnage symbiote is an idiot who can't stop trying to kill Shriek.

Who is fine. Shriek was never that well developed in the comics and this movie gets credit for creating a fleshed out character out of her. However, she ultimately doesn't do all that much, except be a motivator for Carnage. This just could have been a bigger ordeal. The obvious title choice, first of all, is Maximum Carnage, which is the most famous run of the character. Maybe they're waiting for Disney to buy SONY and throw Spider-Man into that one. But Maximum Carnage had like, Kassidy and Shriek taking over NYC on a mass murder spree that totally decimated the heroes trying to stop it. Maybe that was too much for a film like this that is trying to have a fairly limited scope, since at that point we need to bring in a few more heroes to deal with it all. But eh, it's nothing that Deadpool 2 (2018) didn't pull off.

Anyway, there is a disturbing lack of murders here. Like, we are supposed to understand how bad this dude is, but we never quite get that sense. He feels like the writers watched a show about serial killers and then wrote all his dialogue. He never really gets under your skin. Some of that is casting Woody Harrelson, who feels like Natural Born Killers (1994) here, which by the way, came out when he was 33 years old, or two years before we see the boyhood flashback for Cletus. That casting was always off. Why not Jackie Earle Haley? Hrmm...as I look him up he's actually exactly as old as Harrelson. Oh well.

But we never really feel the danger of Kassidy. The whole premise of the movie is that Eddie doesn't like Venom eating peoples' brains and is always trying to resist the immeasurable power the symbiote offers him. That's also what always made Carnage a compelling villain - here was a mass murderer suddenly paired with unstoppable power and an alien voice who encourages all his homicidal predilections. We just don't really get that here. And he's red! Why didn't they make him red!? Look at that RED. I did always like the idea that his tendrils were always bubbling around him, like he was so psychotic that he couldn't be contained. This movie does that a little bit, mostly in the first scene when he bursts free, but it kind of calms down after that.

And then he dies! Just like an old movie that finds no reason to keep its villains alive, Carnage just straight up dies. Now, he's been killed many times in the comics, notably when the Sentry took him into space and ripped him in half, but it always just seems like you're burning up your best characters instead of setting up repeated encounters.

Venom himself is well done. Hardy brings it yet again, even if his character is dumb as hell. This Venom is doofy and childlike in his alienness, and I particularly like his hunger for brains, although I wanted to see him eat more. Like, we didn't get a single brain chomp. The whole movie was building to that and we really didn't get anything satisfying. Venom needs to walk that anti-hero line a little bit, and despite the build up to Lethal Protector, we don't really ever see that. The movie seems to be trying really hard to not make its protagonist a homicidal brain-eating maniac for some reason. I understand that that is how they can create the tension between the characters, but I just wanted to see more brain eating. Throw the alien a bone! A skull bone!

Now, I said I was split on this movie, right? See, there are enjoyable bits. Besides all that crap I just said, the movie is wonderfully fast paced, and wastes no time at all worrying about overexplaning anything. Sure, I complained about that, but this film does do what so few contemporaries don't - KNOW WHAT IT IS. It definitely knows it's a weird fun romp and doesn't worry too much about making sense. I just contend that you can have a goofy movie that's still competent, but there are scenes like Venom in the club that largely work. The plot zooms so fast and it's a pretty crisp 90 minutes. That's all that we want from this - it totally doesn't overstay its welcome. Now, the fact that that's definitely an issue and I wouldn't want it any longer is its own problem. Like I said, it's bigger and badder than Venom. It's funnier, meaner, louder, and faster. Everything Venom did right, this movie dials up. That's as good of a good thing as it is a bad thing.

I watched this as a Drive-In double feature with No Time to Die (2021), and the difference was extremely jarring. It was nice to remember that a big blockbuster CAN look good when they want to, and the pacing felt like a screeching halt. But yeah, VLTBC is really a dark, ugly mess without any regard to cinematography. And I truly only say that because I saw Bond right after, which was trying really really hard.

Lastly, should we talk about the post credits? The symbiote seems to have some multi-dimensional powers, or maybe it's just funny business from Loki or WandaVision or Doc Strange, but for whatever reason it seems like we'll see Tom Hardy go against Tom Holland. While that's weird for a lot of reasons, namely, this incarnation of Venom has no reason to hate Spider-Man, it's jarring to see an old man beat up on a young boy, and they tried really hard to make Venom the hero here, so what's going to happen next? At any rate, I'm definitely excited. The Topher Grace venom really wasn't there.

Despite everything this movie was fun. It's a great rainy day throwaway film and I do like this interpretation of Venom, if not Carnage. Go see Bond!
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