Venom is an odd character. In Marvel comics, he’s a sludge-like alien symbiote who crash lands on Earth and attaches to human hosts, such as Spider-Man and Eddie Brock. He first appeared in Sony’s “Spider-Man 3,” latching onto Tobey Maguire and giving birth to an iconic emo dance sequence — effectively ending that franchise.
The anti-hero didn’t grace the big screen again until his origin movie in 2018. That film starred Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock and took place in a different universe than Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. A massive financial success, “Venom” worked more as a rom-com than as a superhero movie.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” is bigger than its predecessor in every way — more Venom, more decapitated heads and, above all, more absurd.
Set immediately after the events of “Venom,” Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) asks Eddie Brock (Hardy) to interview Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer who will only talk to Eddie. After his interview, Eddie uncovers the location of one of Cletus’ victims and gains notoriety.
As Cletus awaits his execution, he invites Eddie to watch and taunts him. In a moment of rage, the convict bites Eddie, integrating some of the alien symbiote in his blood. Cletus survives the lethal injection and turns into Carnage, a non-stop killing machine. Eddie must work with Venom to take down Carnage as they put their personal issues aside.
The follow-up corrects some of the missteps of its maligned predecessor. New director Andy Serkis (“Black Panther,” “War for the Planet of the Apes”) leans into the silliness and focuses on Venom and Eddie’s dynamic. Their banter was the best part of the first one and is even better in the sequel.
Venom calls Eddie a slew of colorful words but also makes him breakfast, singing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” When he fights with Eddie, Venom finds another host and goes to a rave adorned in glow sticks but feels empty. No matter how much they argue, these two crazy kids can’t live without each other.
Such chemistry hasn’t been seen since Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land” and is proof the rom-com lives on.
The madness isn’t limited to the two lovebirds. Academy Award nominated actress Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine,” “Manchester by the Sea”) is in on the fun. In one truly wild scene, she has to seduce Venom to get him out of an old Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu). This isn’t a typo — she uses a sultry voice and calls Venom “hot” and “big guy.” Give Williams all the awards for this scene alone.
Hardy (“Inception,” “Dunkirk”) is a confusing actor. In all his performances, he’s either speaking behind a mask or doing some weird voice work — lest we all forget the incredible Bane voice. His Venom voice is fine, even if some of it’s inaudible. He seems comfortable in this role which is about the best thing that can be said about the performance.
Other flaws from the first movie find their way here. Harrelson’s (“The Hunger Games,” “No Country For Old Men”) Cletus/Carnage fit the movie’s over the top vibe, but Serkis gives him a bland villainous arc. Him and Shriek (a forgettable Naomie Harris) are one-note villains who find a way to slow down a 90-minute movie.
Both “Venom” films have lackluster bad guys — this isn’t a coincidence. This iteration of Venom is so unique and silly, any antagonist wouldn’t be able to match that energy. He doesn’t fit into this attempt by Sony to make a dark superhero cinematic universe.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is far from a perfect movie. Some will find its chaotic energy off-putting, but those who submit to Serkis’ whiplash direction will experience a quick, mindlessly entertaining film. A game-changing post credit scene only adds more to the film’s carnal nature and sets up Venom for an exciting future.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” rated PG-13, is now playing in theaters.