Venom: Let There Be Carnage, by Albert W. Vogt III

The past few days have been, well, different.  Not to get into too much detail at the moment, but there has been a certain amount of hecticness and worries that has made me somewhat forgetful of what are ultimately more mundane matters. That is a long way of saying that I almost did not remember Venom: Let There Be Carnage was premiering this past weekend.  As it was, I was steeling myself to endure The Many Saints of Newark, a film I assumed would be chock full of a bunch of images I would rather not see.  I was never a fan of The Sopranos, either, but the same could not be said for my dad.  He and I are currently on the road together, and I figured, if nothing else, he would have been able to explain some of the lore (for lack of a better word) surrounding the iconic series about organized crime in New Jersey.  And then, at the last minute, I saw a commercial for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and pivoted to see that instead.  So did my dad, as it turned out, which was a strange set of circumstances.  He is not a Marvel fan, or one who enjoys comics in general, so he was not impressed.  My reaction was a little different.

The first part of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is done in flashbacks in order to set up the people with which Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), host of the alien symbiote known as Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy), has to contend.  The primary one is Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer who we get to see as a young man in 1996.  He is being held at the St. Estes Home for Unwanted Children, along with his girlfriend Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris).  Other than Cletus’ proclivity for violence, there is nothing special about him.  Frances, on the other hand, has a mutation that allows her to scream quite loudly, rendering anyone at which it is directed useless.  She is taken away to be studied, but tries to escape in the process.  In doing so, she is shot by a young police officer named Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham).  In more modern times, Cletus is behind bars and seeks out the down-on-his-luck reporter Eddie to tell his story.  The hope is that Cletus will reveal the location of his victims and bring closure to their families.  During one of their visits, Eddie gets close enough for Cletus to bite him, ingesting some of the reporter’s blood.  One of the reasons why Eddie is having trouble is because of Venom.  Venom’s whole motivation in life revolves around eating, preferably the heads of bad guys.  Unfortunately for him, Eddie has instituted a strict “no eating people” policy.  As Venom’s host, the alien reluctantly goes along with this plan, but is constantly nagging Eddie.  Venom is also in favor of Eddie reuniting with his ex-girlfriend, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), and thinks Eddie is a loser for them not being together.  This is somewhat confirmed when Eddie meets with Anne and discovers she is engaged to another man, Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott).  This puts Eddie into a funk, and when Venom’s attempts to cheer him up go unappreciated, it decides to leave and seek another host.  Remember that bite?  Well, as Cletus is about to be executed for his crimes, there manifests within him a new alien symbiote that breaks Cletus free of prison.  This new symbiote, whom Cletus names Carnage (voiced by Woody Harrelson) wants to get revenge on Venom, but Cletus wants help in springing Frances from her confinement.  The person who is suspicious of all this is Patrick Mulligan, now a detective, and he arrests Eddie as the only suspect he can link to all these events.  Eddie’s prison phone call goes to Anne, and he makes her understand that Venom is missing and he is needed to stop a new threat.  Anne is able to track Venom down to a local convenient store that he and Eddie went to for Venom’s second favorite food, chocolate.  With Venom retrieved, Anne then visits Eddie at the jail and is able to reunite the two.  Now, Eddie must go to confront Cletus, who has also managed to get a hold of Anne.  At first, Venom is reluctant to face Carnage because it is red.  Only when Eddie agrees to let Venom eat everyone does he agree to fight.  Carnage, though, appears to be more than a match for Venom.  It is only when Venom tricks Frances into using her sonic powers, loud noise being one of the symbiotes’ weaknesses, that Carnage and Cletus are separated.  Some well-timed fire, their other weakness, keeps them divided, and Venom ends up eating Carnage and Cletus.  With the day saved for now, Eddie takes Venom for some needed rest and relaxation in some tropical locale.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage, despite its suggestive name, is meant to be taken in a rather lighthearted manner.  Yes, there are serial killers and people being eaten, but never does it live up to the title “carnage.”  Hence, maybe the subtitle should be: We Tricked You With Carnage?  The word, of course, is meant to be connected to the Marvel villain of the same name.  It had been a longtime nemesis of Venom and Spiderman, thus it was a little surprising to see the character killed off after one film.  I suppose if you want “carnage,” you will have to be satisfied with that one death.  Still, the reason I said “lighthearted” a moment ago is because, as director Andy Serkis put it, he wanted the relationship between Venom and Eddie to be an homage to The Odd Couple.  Eddie is bad at doing good, whereas Venom is great at being bad.  In the end, in an admittedly strange way, they realize they are perfect for each other.  I guess that is something?

There are some Catholic moments in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, though some of them are annoying.  It starts with the St. Estes home.  I get that this may be a Marvel thing, but I just want it to be made clear that there has never been a St. Estes.  Hollywood does this in order to introduce an unfamiliar subject with something that the brain might recognize.  The role the Church has played in taking in wayward souls is well-known, and honestly not as dark as popular culture will lead you to believe.  They then invent names like “St. Estes,” I think, in order to not completely offend Catholics.  Then again, I doubt many such people outside of myself takes notice.  I will give the film religious props, though, for having Eddie tell Venom not to eat the priest that is there to marry Cletus and Frances (against his will, of course).  That is short lived when Carnage devours the priest anyway.  So, not so great, particularly when you add in the fact that the final battle took place in a church.

Still, I did not mind Venom: Let There Be Carnage.  I minded it a lot less than did my dad.  It has all the right elements you would expect from a Marvel film, if a little more adult in its language and content.  There is nothing too objectionable, thankfully.  Even the part where Venom bites off Cletus’ head is not shown directly.  Hence, I leave seeing it up to you.

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