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The (really) odd couple – ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’

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I’ll be the first to admit that much of the current cinematic landscape leaves a lot to be desired. Formulaic blockbusters laden with CGI, too-similar stories being told again and again. And I assume it’s challenging for an actor who is serious about their craft to treat them, well … seriously.

That said, there’s nothing worse than watching a famous actor go through the motions in one of these films, clearly there for a check and trying their damnedest to appear above it all. You can’t always pick up the full “I’m too good for this” vibe, but when it’s there, it’s a downer.

But there’s a flip side. The flip side is when actors who are wildly talented and incredibly devoted to their work gleefully embrace the madness and go for it. That’s when you can see real joy, these performers who understand that what they do is about play and that every character, no matter how seemingly strange or nonsensical, can shine so long as that character is treated with respect.

Tom Hardy is an incredibly talented actor. He is also, by every indication, a strange dude. But one thing you can say for certain – no matter what the situation, Hardy is ready to give everything he has. And in his new movie “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” he has clearly been told to go big.

And he. Goes. Big.

The film – a sequel to 2018’s “Venom” – is directed by Andy Serkis from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel (it’s worth noting that Hardy has a story credit). It’s a glorious mess of a movie, a slapdash mélange of buddy comedy and superhero CGI and weird body horror that absolutely should not work … and yet it does. Well, kind of. It’s an uneven experience, one where the story sometimes gets lost in the noise. But hey – the noise is a hell of a lot of fun.

We open in 1996, where a pair of young people – a boy and a girl, one of whom is possessed of extraordinary abilities – are living in a decrepit home for unwanted children. When the girl is taken away, intended for your standard creepy underground medical experiments, the boy vows that he will never forget her.

In the present, we learn that the boy in question has grown up to be the serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who we first met on death row in the post-credits stinger of “Venom.” Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who has settled into an uneasy relationship with the symbiote occupying his body – though that dynamic has also contributed to the end of his relationship with Anne (Michelle Williams).

Eddie is brought in by Detective Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham) to speak to Kasady; the condemned killer will only speak to Eddie and Mulligan is hoping for some information regarding some of Kasady’s as-yet-unrevealed victims. Kasady promises revelations if Eddie runs a quote in his story; said story makes its way to Kasady’s old girlfriend Frances (Naomie Harris), who has been alive this whole time, trapped in the subterranean research center of Ravencroft.

When Eddie returns to meet with Kasady again, there’s a confrontation instigated by Venom. Kasady winds up biting Eddie, which leads to him developing his own connection to a different alien symbiote – Carnage – and we’re off to the races.

Of course, while Carnage is wreaking havoc, Eddie and Venom are struggling with their own relationship – there are more than a few squabbles that could potentially lead to the two of them parting ways for good. All this, plus Anne is back in the picture, albeit not at all in the way that either Eddie or Venom might have hoped.

So yeah – two incredibly powerful alien symbiotes, ready to do battle. As for which one will win, well … you’ve seen these movies before. You probably have a pretty good guess.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is a very strange movie. Yes, it exists under the auspices of the superhero genre, but it’s a bit too idiosyncratic to fit the formula. It is both too brutal and too goofy. Now, this is not to say that it is too brutal and too goofy to be enjoyable, because here’s the thing – this movie is fun. Surprisingly so, honestly.

It’s interesting to think about how this movie came together. Serkis is a wonderful choice for a project like this; he has a deep familiarity with the franchise machine – this is a guy who was central to both “Lord of the Rings” and the new “Planet of the Apes” trilogy AND he’s been in the MCU – as well as a likely unsurpassed degree of comfort with the world of CGI-adjacent performance. For a movie built on interactions between regular people and deadly shape-shifting alien blobs, who could be better?

And then, of course, there’s Hardy. This is a guy who commits himself utterly to every project he’s in, no matter how ridiculous and/or ill-advised it might be. He throws himself into the Eddie/Venom dynamic, creating something that feels very much like a genuine friendship, albeit an extremely antagonistic one. There are a couple of dialogue-heavy scenes between the two that are legitimately delightful. And by adding Hardy’s contributions to the film’s narrative, we get an added level of comfort with the material that allows him to let loose. At its best, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” feels like a superpowered version of the minor Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin classic “All of Me.”

The CGI stuff – and by extension, the action – does get a little gnarly and tough to follow at times. Larger set pieces are a touch muddy due to the sheer volume of things happening. Still, it’s a lot of fun, with the filmmakers taking advantage of the flexibility granted by the nature of the symbiotes’ powers. Over the top, but in an entertaining way.

Speaking of … Woody Harrelson seems to be having a blast out there. He is just letting his freak flag fly as Cletus Kasady. He’s a big wad of wide-eyed and gleeful hillbilly menace – a superpowered Mickey Knox, with the supersonic shouter Frances as his Mallory. Naomie Harris handles her business beautifully as Frances, by the way, though she’s a touch one-note. Meanwhile, the incredibly talented Michelle Williams spends most of her time moving the plot along; her contributions are important, but I’d have loved to see a bit more from her. Graham is fine, if maybe a bit too Wahlbergian, while Reid Scott has some fun as Anne’s put-upon beau Dr. Dan.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” isn’t a great movie, but it’s a pretty good one. It is big and messy, a big pile of sloppy superpowered fun. Thanks in particular to the talents and efforts of Tom Hardy, it is far weirder than most superhero fare is ever allowed to be. And there’s something to be said for that; it’s nice that there’s room for some stories that fall outside the standard formulae. Although if the mid-credits scene is any indicator, Venom and his pals might not be outside for much longer.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 04 October 2021 10:17

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