It has become increasingly difficult to view superhero films outside the lens of the MCU. It’s a trial in objectivity to be sure, and I am one of the worst offenders. Zack Snyder’s Justice League was inevitably weighed against Avengers, Man of Steel against Captain America: The First Avenger, Suicide Squad against Guardians of the Galaxy. Though for obvious reasons, the line between those last two has become so blurry I question if there truly is one. The fact of the matter is, Marvel has constructed a monolith and DC has tried desperately to crack at the foundation of it, largely to no avail. Introduce Sony and its prolonged boneheadedness in their dealing with Spider-Man and you have yet another “universe” that so desperately wants to stand next to its big brother and poke him in the eye.
The Sony/Spider-Man legal conversation, as “battle” doesn’t seem accurate (yet), is confounding. It’s the result of a decades-old decision Marvel made as they pondered the future of the company. Many don’t know this, but ’90s Marvel struggled titanically. Strapped for resources, Stan Lee’s comic empire sold rights to the X-Men to Fox, Hulk to Universal, and Spider-Man to Sony. Those deals bought them the time that would prove essential to getting the MCU started, and there were good developments from each production house. We got Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellan. We got Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, and Andrew Garfield. We got Eric Bana and Liv Tyler. But it wasn’t until the MCU spun its wheels up that we really started to feel any interconnectivity between heroes (X-Men as the …exception …sometimes).
Most important to this review is understanding that strange connection and the Spider-Man movies we have gotten. The Tobey Maguire trilogy is generally good and specifically mediocre. The first and second films are very good. Number three is a few threads short of a web (y’all…they cast Topher Grace as Venom…). The Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films are lost to their own ambition and victims of terrible trailer editing, despite Garfield really giving Spidey his signature sarcastic banter. Tom Holland’s arrival marked the beginning of a partnership between Marvel and Sony, the details of which are verbose, confusing, and dull. In effect, the MCU has Spider-Man for now, but Sony retains the rights to make films concerning Spider-Man’s more auxiliary characters. Some of you will remember a Morbius trailer from a year or so ago. Enter Venom.
The first Venom was perfectly acceptable. Riz Ahmed plays a good bad guy, Tom Hardy as self-destructive Eddie Brock worked well (when has Tom Hardy ever not worked well?), and overall it was incredibly refreshing to see the big symbiote given the makeover he always deserved. Venom was big, scary, ate people, and I was in love.
The problem that runs beneath these films is that we, more specifically I, have become nearly incapable of consuming superhero media without looking for ways to connect it to the MCU. Whether that be in comparison to or in an effort to figure out how these characters could slide in next to Cap and Iron Man. Venom needs Spider-Man. Plain and simple. And while the antihero can certainly hold his own on the big screen, it always feels a little like there’s a hole that needs filling. Sadly, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, is similarly afflicted.
The premise of this movie is straightforward: baddy teased at the end of last movie takes the stage, Eddie and Venom beef with each other, eventually make up and fight the big bad. Tom Hardy is excellent, a constant reminder of my sadness he isn’t technically a part of the MCU proper. Woody Harrelson returns as Cletus Kasady, who fans of the comics will know is the name of Carnage’s host (more on that “host” word later). The death row serial killer wants to tell Eddie about the last few bodies he’s hidden and open up about his life story.
If any of that last sentence felt a little uninteresting, I’m right there with you.
In all honesty, a lot of this film’s story feels inconsequential. To its credit, I never really felt like the movie wanted me to care about the story. It was a strange and conflicting experience. On the one hand there is a part of me that wants a traditional story arc with character development and growth, punctuated by low moments and struggle. On the other hand, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, directed by the immensely talented Andy Serkis, is very campy and I’m not convinced that’s accidental.
In the midst of the internal conflict Eddie is having with the symbiote, while Cletus is off to free his only love—a mutant by the name of Shriek (Naomi Harris). There’s a whole Bonnie and Cletus section of this movie that is weird but ostensibly fun as hell. Not to mention the symbiote he is a host to isn’t really different from Venom, but like also really is? Add the love story to the symbiotes, add that to the persistent comedic tone, add all of those to a monster action flick, and what do you get? A campy, goofy, explosive romp. Does it make sense all the time? No. Why would you even ask that? Is it fun to watch when there are space aliens boxing in a cathedral at midnight? Um…yes absolutely.
I’m mixed about this movie. I want to complain about its constant jokes and uneven pacing, but I also want to laud its campiness and willingness to just be weird. It’s almost like I’m arguing with my own symbiote, and all of his points are valid. But then so are mine.
Is Venom: Let There Be Carnage a good movie? No? Maybe? What I can tell you is that checking your brain at the door, for the most part, will be your best decision. Venom eats brains anyway, so let’s just be safe. Also stay through the animated credits. The mid credits scene is damn near worth the price of admission, and beyond my control, nullifies almost fully half of my complaints about the movie. The future of Venom is a very interesting place. | Caleb Sawyer