There’s a sequence in Venom: Let There Be Carnage where Woody Harrelson’s serial killer villain engages in mayhem with his crazy girlfriend (Naomie Harris). The deadly duo wreak their havoc in a ’66 Mustang and, for a moment, I was reminded of the actor’s appearance nearly 30 years ago in Natural Born Killers. Call it Muckey and Mallory this time as the amount of extraterrestrial goo is easily doubled in this sequel.
Speaking of natural born killers, it’s an apt description for the title character. The alien symbiote longs to bite humans heads off, but he’s mostly under control due to his human host Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). Poor Venom has to settle for chickens. Continuing the banter that was the highlight of the original, Carnage still allows for Hardy’s bizarre but oddly effective comedic performance.
For those who forgot (and 2018’s Venom was a bit forgettable), Eddie is a San Francisco based journalist whose expose into scientific experiments stuck him with the black liquid alien that now lives in his body. Our loony reporter is put on assignment when Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) tasks Eddie with extracting evidence from death row condemned psycho Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson).
Their jailhouse interview leads to chaos and Carnage – as in the name of a Venomous offspring that invades the already crazed Cletus. And there’s the aforementioned love interest played by Harris. Confined to the Ravencroft Institute (where we first met Cletus in a Venom post-credits bit), Frances Barrison can manipulate sound to get herself out of sticky situations. This earns her the moniker Shriek due to those deadly decibels.
Andy Serkis is in the director’s chair (replacing Ruben Fleischer) and he keeps Carnage short, light, and full of CG action. The screenplay strains a little to justify bringing back Michelle Williams as Eddie’s ex-flame. I suppose someone’s gotta get saved by the hero in the third act. Reid Scott reprises his role as her boyfriend and there are a couple of humorous moments with his character.
I couldn’t quite recommend Venom though I came close solely based on Hardy’s batty work. This is no comic book masterwork and even the great Harrelson’s villainous turn is passable at best. Yet I more or less came around with Carnage. I give it props for foregoing a bloated running time (it’s just an hour and a half). It’s hard to not be entertained by Hardy and his skull chomping companion. In the constantly growing universe of comic book based franchises, it’s getting common for the sequels to improve upon the originals. The first entries always have to go through the origin story while the follow-ups can be a little more fun. That applies here.
*** (out of four)