“Lethal protector, my ass!” — Venom: Let There Be Carnage

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From August 2017 – January 2020, Keith R.A. DeCandido took a weekly look at every live-action movie based on a superhero comic that had been made to date in the weekly “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch.” He has been revisiting the feature every six months or so to look back at the new releases in the previous half-year. Last month, we covered Black Widow, The Suicide Squad, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Next week, we’ll cover Eternals.

Venom became so popular when he was created in 1988 by David Michelinie & Todd McFarlane as a Spider-Man villain that he soon was made into a sort of antihero—a “lethal protector of innocents.” Shunted off to San Francisco so he could headline his own comics, Venom could no longer be a regular Spidey villain. In the interests of having a symbiote character for Spider-Man to fight against, the character of Carnage was created by Michelinie & Mark Bagley as an offspring of Venom. This time the alien symbiote bonded with a serial killer named Cletus Kasady, thus placing him pretty solidly in the bad-guy column.

When Venom was made in 2018, the mid-credits scene gave us Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady, thus setting up Carnage to be in the inevitable sequel.

Venom was a huge hit in 2018, and the sequel was greenlit pretty quickly. Andy Serkis—best known for his motion capture work in Peter Jackson’s films, and who also appeared in this rewatch as Klaue in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther—was tapped to direct when Venom’s director, Ruben Fleischer, was unavailable due to his filming Zombieland: Double Tap. Kelly Marcel, who worked on the script for the first film, developed the story with star Tom Hardy—the actor’s first writing credit on a feature film—and she wrote the script.

The earliest drafts of the Venom story had Carnage as the bad guy, but it was decided quickly to save him for the sequel so the first film could focus on introducing Eddie Brock and Venom and their unique relationship.

Two other related characters are introduced in this film: Shriek, a fellow inmate of the Ravencroft Institute who has super-powers relating to sound, and Patrick Mulligan, a cop. In the comics, Shriek was introduced in the 1993 multipart event story “Maximum Carnage,” created by Tom DeFalco & Ron Lim in Spider-Man Unlimited #1, where Mulligan debuted in 2004’s Venom vs. Carnage by Peter Milligan & Clayton Crane, becoming another symbiote character, Toxin, in that four-issue miniseries. In both comics and this film, Shriek is a paramour to Kasady, while the film version of Mulligan is Kasady’s arresting officer, and is set up to become Toxin at the film’s end.

Back from the first film are Hardy as Brock and the voice of Venom, Michelle Williams as Anne Weying, Reid Scott as Anne’s fiancée Dan Lewis, Peggy Lu as Mrs. Chen, and Harrelson as Kasady. Also appearing in a mid-credits scene are J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Tom Holland as Peter Parker, last seen in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

New to this film are Naomie Harris as Shriek (with Olumide Olrunfemi as her younger self), Stephen Graham as Mulligan, Sian Webber as Dr. Pazzo, and Jack Bandeira as the younger Kasady (though Harrelson provides the character’s voice).

Hardy, Simmons, and Holland will next appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home. A third Venom film is in development, with Hardy already contracted to return, and Serkis very much interested in directing.

Filming on this movie was completed in February 2020, just ahead of the recent apocalypse, with the post-production work done by isolated teams during lockdown. Originally intended for an October 2020 release date, it finally hit theaters a year later.

 

“That’s bad journalism!”

Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Written by Tom Hardy & Kelly Marcel
Directed by Andy Serkis
Produced by Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, Amy Pascal, Kelly Marcel, Tom Hardy, Hutch Parker
Original release date: October 1, 2021

Image: Sony Pictures

In 1996, both Cletus Kasady and Frances Barrison are imprisoned in the St. Estes Home for Unwanted Children. Kasady is there because he killed his grandmother and mother; Barrison because she has dangerous super-powers. The two have formed a bond, but then Barrison is taken away. She uses her sonic powers on Officer Patrick Mulligan, damaging his hearing, and he shoots her in the face. She then wakes up in the Ravencroft Institute, a bandage over her left eye and head.

Cut to the present day. Barrison’s left eye is permanently damaged, and she’s still a prisoner in Ravencroft, under the snotty supervision of Dr. Pazzo, held in a soundproof cage. Kasady has gone on to become a notorious serial killer, and California’s governor is considering reinstating the death penalty just for him.

Eddie Brock and Venom are having difficulties. Their attempt to become a lethal protector hit a roadblock when the authorities started noticing all the headless corpses. Brock has tried to keep Venom satiated with chickens and chocolate, since both brains and high-end chocolate have the chemical he needs to ingest to survive, but it is not a diet Venom is all that happy with.

Kasady is willing to give an exclusive interview to Brock. Mulligan—now a detective and the arresting officer in Kasady’s case—is suspicious of Brock, especially given his being the only survivor of the Life Corporation’s destruction, not to mention those headless bodies, and the fact that Kasady seems to like him. Brock promises to let Mulligan know if Kasady tells him anything useful, like where he’s buried the bodies of his victims whose bodies are unaccounted for and if there are any more they don’t know about.

Brock and Kasady talk, with Venom making snide commentary in Brock’s head. Kasady asks Brock to print a message, and if he does that, Kasady will tell Brock everything. Brock agrees—it’s a coded message for Barrison, and nonsense to everyone else—but Venom has a photographic memory and observes all the scratchings on Kasady’s wall. One of those drawings looks like the landscape of a seaside area that turns out to be his burial spot. Brock reveals this to the cops, who dig the bodies up. Kasady is livid, and with the numerous additional dead bodies added to Kasady’s ledger, the governor reinstates the death penalty.

This provides a nice boost to Brock’s journalistic career. Unfortunately, he then gets a metaphorical kick in the nuts when Anne Weying asks to have dinner with him and it’s not—as Venom hopes—so they’ll get back together but rather to tell him that she and Dr. Dan Lewis are engaged.

Kasady wants to talk to Brock again. The killer feels betrayed, and taunts Brock about his past. Venom takes umbrage and grabs Kasady. Before the guard can pull them apart, Kasady bites Brock’s hand. Having tasted blood before, Kasady knows that there’s something different about Brock’s, and the “blood” that he finds in his mouth (and then swallows) is instead a bit of symbiote.

Venom apologizes for his reckless behavior, and even tries to cook a meal for Brock (which could charitably be called a disaster), but it soon devolves into a vicious argument that results in Venom leaving Brock. The symbiote hops from person to person, wearing out each host eventually due to incompatibility issues. (It’s unclear whether or not the hosts survive the process, though the events of the first film would indicate not.) His travels take him to, among other places, a nightclub, where he’s a huge hit at a rave (and also covered in glo-stick necklaces).

When Kasady is getting his lethal injection, the symbiote inside him grows and expands to block the poison and then take over Kasady’s body. Naming himself Carnage, he trashes the execution chamber and kills the warden and several guards. He then gets his hands on a computer and hacks it, er, somehow, to discover where Barrison is being held. He attacks Ravencroft, killing Pazzo and several attendants and freeing Barrison. They also burn St. Estes. The two wish to get married, and they each choose a witness. Kasady wants Brock/Venom (Kasady wants revenge on Brock, and Carnage wants to kill his “father”), while Barrison wants Mulligan (who shot out her eye).

Image: Sony Pictures

Mulligan is called to the massacre at Ravencroft, a place he’d never heard of before, and is told that Frances Barrison is missing, a person he thought died when he shot her. Mulligan goes to warn Brock that Kasady is out, and then decides to arrest him. Eddie asks for a lawyer, and calls Weying. However, what he really needs is Venom, as he’s the only one that can stop Carnage.

Venom, starving, brings his latest host to Mrs. Chen, who supplies him with chocolate. Venom then takes Mrs. Chen as a host—and then Weying and Lewis show up, hoping Mrs. Chen might have seen the symbiote looking for food. Weying convinces Venom to take her as a host and return to Brock, mostly by flattering him. Venom takes over Weying and breaks Brock out, but refuses to rejoin with Brock until he apologizes sincerely, which takes a while. Once Brock and Venom are reunited, Brock urges Weying and Lewis to get out of town in case Kasady goes after them as associates of his. Brock thanks Lewis, but Venom punches the doctor. Lewis drives off, angrily saying that those two need couples counseling.

Barrison goes to Brock’s apartment, and doesn’t find him, but does find a picture of Weying in front of her house, which is apparently enough for her to determine where she lives. She kidnaps Weying and tells Lewis to tell Brock where to go if he wants her to live. Meanwhile, Carnage kidnaps Mulligan.

They repair to a church, where they force the priest to perform the wedding. Mulligan is shocked to see Barrison still alive, and Brock arrives as well, having been contacted by a distressed Lewis. Venom is devastated to realize that Carnage is a red symbiote, as they’re the most dangerous. Carnage initially gets the upper hand, but he’s done in more than once by Barrison using her sonic powers, which affect both symbiotes negatively. It soon becomes clear that Kasady and Carnage haven’t completely bonded—Carnage tries to kill Barrison at one point—and Lewis also helps by attacking Carnage with a flamethrower. Venom almost gives up before Brock points out that Kasady and Carnage aren’t fully symbiotic, and he manages to get Barrison to let loose with a killer sonic scream (before falling to her death), which separates Kasady from Carnage. Venom then eats Carnage, absorbing his son back into himself (ew…), and then bites off Kasady’s head.

Mulligan survives Barrison trying to kill him, but his eyes are now glowing blue…

Brock takes a vacation in Mexico, with him and Venom trying to figure out their next move. While discussing the telenovela they’re watching, Venom says that everyone has secrets, and admits that the massive amount of knowledge his alien brain contains would overwhelm Brock if he was exposed to all of it. When he decides to open up a bit of his mind to Brock, it apparently links him to a spell cast by Dr. Strange in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and brings Brock into the MCU, as the hotel room is suddenly nicer, and tuned to a news station showing J. Jonah Jameson revealing that Peter Parker is Spider-Man (as seen at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home).

 

“He did not taste good…”

Image: Sony Pictures

What appeal there was to Venom was mostly on the back of Tom Hardy’s gleefully immersive performance both as the chronic fuckup human and the voice of the violent alien. This sequel leans pretty heavily into that, focusing on the relationship between Brock and Venom, their disagreements, their arguments, how they help each other, and their coming together in the end.

There are many ways in which Let There Be Carnage is a romance, as Brock and Venom are very much like a couple, albeit one in which half the couple is a psychopathic alien. In addition, we’ve also got the even more batshit romance between Kasady and Barrison—which turns into, truly, a love triangle among those two and Carnage, as both Carnage and Barrison want Kasady.

Woody Harrelson is also perfectly cast as Kasady, who’s still in many ways the angry child who killed his mother and grandmother and who had his crush taken away from him at St. Estes. His whiny tantrum when Brock reveals where the bodies are buried is epic, as is his equally whiny complaining to Brock during the climactic fight about how Brock didn’t come back for the next interview like he was supposed to, and didn’t ask the important questions, like why Kasady was that way. Not that it matters. Kasady’s attempts to make himself sound like a victim are pretty weak sauce, and Venom’s declaration of “Fuck this guy” before eating his head is shared by the audience. Kasady is a mass murderer just in the running time of this movie, there’s no excusing that, and no amount of psychological background is going to make that better.

Speaking of the climactic battle, it’s much more coherent than the like fight in Venom, mainly because the color scheme works in director Andy Serkis’ favor. Unlike Venom and Riot, who were nigh-impossible to distinguish, Carnage’s bright red stands out from Venom’s black.

Kudos also to Michelle Williams and Reid Scott, as the closest Venom has to a Scooby gang, with Weying’s verbal manipulations of Venom (“Oh God, I’m never doing that again. God, well, maybe never. I don’t know. Honestly, it’s really fun…”), and Lewis’ frightened commentary (“Anything else you’ve been pathologically lying about?”). Stephen Graham is mostly wasted as Mulligan in this movie, but if he comes back as Toxin in a future film, it should be delightful. (Graham has played psychotics before, most notably Combo in This is England and Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire.)

Kelly Marcel’s script is full of some great lines, most of them Venom’s (Kasady’s are mostly pretty bog-standard oh-look-how-cool-I-am serial killer nonsense, but Harrelson delivers them well). And there are so many great bits, from Venom making a disastrous breakfast while singing, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” to Venom at a rave, to Brock mentioning ice cream and Venom complaining that he gets brain-freeze, to Kasady’s plaintive, “That’s bad journalism!” while bitching about how Brock didn’t tell his side of the story.

The movie has a nice brisk 97-minute running time, so there isn’t any real filler, and it moves at a good pace. Okay, it’s damning with faint praise when that praise is more or less, “At least it’s over quickly.” The movie really only works if you don’t take any of it seriously, particularly the two title characters’ murderous impulses. (Though I will give Hardy and Marcel credit for realizing something the writers of the Highlander TV and movie franchises never did: leaving decapitated bodies behind is the sort of thing that gets noticed by law-enforcement. Brock’s promise to let Venom go around killing bad guys at the end of the first film was mercifully short-lived between movies.) It’s telling that, with all the killing in this movie, the only blood we see is the spider that Kasady smashes on the postcard he writes to Brock (likely an in-joke to both characters’ origins in comics starring Spider-Man).

 

Next week, we’ll finish off this rewatch revival with Eternals. (We’ll cover Spider-Man: No Way Home and The King’s Man in the summer of this year, along with the other early 2022 releases.)

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s first published short story and second published novel were both collaborative Spider-Man tales featuring Venom: “An Evening in the Bronx with Venom,” written with John Gregory Betancourt, in 1994’s The Ultimate Spider-Man, and Venom’s Wrath, written with José R. Nieto, in 1998.

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