Venom: Let There Be Carnage (3 stars)

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Andy Serkis directs Tom Hardy in an eccentric and largely entertaining superhero sequel

An absolutely storming commercial success, pulling in over $850 million worldwide despite numerous withering reviews, 2018's Venom gave us an origin story for Spider-Man's most toothy archenemy, choosing to paint the alien symbiote as an antihero involved in a wacky dynamic with his human host Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy. It wasn't sophisticated but the bickering and loss of bodily control could be fun (check out the same year's Upgrade if you want to see a similar concept really fly) and Hardy, who also voices Venom, threw himself into the dual role with aplomb.

It's largely more of the same this time round, but with even more exuberant humour, so if you didn't find the original funny then you might want to give the sequel a swerve. Woody Harrelson replaces Riz Ahmed as the film's 'big bad', playing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who was introduced in a mid-credits scene in the first film. This is Harrelson in Natural Born Killers mode and, if we've seen it from him before, he at least seems to relish his role as an OTT antagonist. Naomie Harris joins him on the villainous side, as the thinly drawn Frances Barrison, aka Shriek, while Michelle Williams returns to the pretty thankless territory of Eddie's helpful lawyer ex Anne; Anne once again comes with her current squeeze Doctor Dan (Veep's Reid Scott) in tow, who is the butt of a few good jokes.

This is actor Andy Serkis's third feature as director (he's taking over from the first film's Ruben Fleischer) and it's an efficient-enough effort, coming in at a brisk 97-minutes. However, the welcome brevity comes at the expense of strong plotting and attention to detail and many moments feel rushed or underexplored, while there are distracting little missteps, like the fact that Harrelson and Harris have been cast as close peers (there's 15 years between them in reality). The heavily CG action can be a bit of a yawn; when Venom lingers on screen in close-up he seems tangible, but there's a lot of tentacular grappling and familiar destruction, making the fights feel rather samey.

But the overarching eccentricity is appealing, with the script from Kelly Marcel offering plenty of decent, often pleasingly daft gags, and going full throttle at the idea that Venom and Eddie's strange, shared body arrangement is actually a beautiful and moving friendship, and perhaps the relationship the scruffy and disastrous Eddie has been looking for. Hardy's game performance once again sells it; Eddie's hangdog schtick is nicely contrasted by the wild, slavering and puppyish enthusiasm of Venom. Although it's a cute buddy flick at heart, given its irreverence (and title) its claws seem clipped. Operating within the constraints of its family-friendly US rating (it's a PG-13 there, and a 15 here – though doesn't feel it) isn't a great fit for a film that's rude, crude and doesn't give a crap what critics think.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 15 October.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 1h 30min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Andy Serkis
  • Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson
  • UK release: 15 October 2021

An eccentric and largely entertaining superhero sequel.