I’ve been watching superhero movies religiously since the early 2000s. And yet I cannot remember any movie causing as wide a divide between the critics and regular moviegoers as Venom (2018).
Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty that critics adored and fans considered a bore (non-Iron Man early MCU movies come to mind). Likewise, fans have liked plenty of movies critics have torn to shreds (I will fight anyone who talks smack about the first Blade and I know for a fact I won’t be alone!).
But what makes Venom (2018) such an interesting case is that to this day people disagree where it falls. This is not a case of a subset of critics re-examining the movie and finding certain redeeming qualities (a la Jennifer’s Body). Nor is it the case of “so bad it’s good” cult classic.
Venom’s fans genuinely enjoyed it back in the day and enjoy it now (as proven both by amazing box-office AND streaming numbers). While the critics keep doubling down on it being all-around terrible.
So who’s in the right? Apparently, the folks who pay for the tickets. Since the response to the sequel is bizarrely similar to that of the first movie.
Yes, Venom: Let There Be Carnage Makes All the Same Mistakes. Yes, It Was the Right Decision.
Let’s clear the air outright: if you didn’t like the first movie, then you’re not the target audience. Rarely (if ever, honestly) have I seen the movie that understands its intended audience this well. The audience for Venom: Let There Be Carnage is very clear from the get-go. It’s for the people who liked the first one.
Usually, when tasked with creating a sequel creators tend to either 1) listen to the critics; 2) listen to the audience’s negative response. That’s understandable. You want to satisfy as many people as possible with your movie to expand the prospective audience and make more of those sweet green dollars.
People behind Venom: Let There Be Carnage seem to have done the complete opposite. They took the positive feedback they got, sifted through it to identify what it was that the audience enjoyed, and then doubled down.
This is a movie for fans made by people who seem to understand what it’s actually like to be a fan.
This movie isn’t an attempt to make a good movie on its own. Rather it tries to create an enjoyable experience for the fans which makes it a good movie in the end.
The audience likes being treated with respect. Who’d have thought.
The Set-Up: Straight to Buddy Cops Skipping Honeymoon Phase
The first movie was often compared to a romantic comedy with no romance. Go to youtube, put the right keyword in the search bar and you’ll get treated to dozens of spoof trailers (some better edited than official ones).
If we continue genre comparison then Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the stage where the partnership has settled and the partners have figured out that no amount of love will ever make them get along 100%.
(Largely because one of them eats people and the other gets queasy at the idea).
This means there comes a time when cracks in the partnership end in complete separation because the partners in question need to figure out if their cooperation is worth it.
Only our buddy cops in question choose literally the worst time to break up.
See, Eddie Brock the investigative journalist has a serial killer obsessed with him. And the serial killer in question – Cletus Kasady – who’s on death row, is determined that Eddie should be the one to hear his final words.
The meeting between Eddie and Cletus ends in a brief physical confrontation where the latter manages to take a bite out of Eddie. Yes, a literal bite. And while those few drops of blood shouldn’t be a big deal, they are. Because they’re enough to give Cletus his own symbiote.
And this one is all determined to cause Maximum Carnage. Just after he sets his evil mutant girlfriend Shriek free.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a Good Movie. As Long As You’re Looking for the Right Things.
Tom Hardy has a story credit on this one, so I like to imagine he was one of the driving forces behind doubling down on all the perceived mistakes that weren’t mistakes at all.
In the end, what the audience enjoyed in the first one was the relatability of the main characters.
Eddie Brock is a mess trying to make sense out of his increasingly weird life was something the audience found unexpectedly attractive in a superhero.
Everyone can aspire to be Iron Man. Anyone can be Eddie Brock. It just takes a little courage.
And on some base level that is a comfortable, warming thought. This is not a guy you’d necessarily ask for an autograph, but he’s someone you’d go to a bar with. He’s not a god or an icon, he doesn’t have super intelligence or superhuman charisma.
He just lucked (?) into being an ideal match for an alien symbiote. And it didn’t magically help him find a new purpose. In fact, in the sequel it’s Venom who insists they should be out there protecting the city, Eddie is just trying to get his life on track, dammit!
Eddie Brock doesn’t even get the girl at the end of the movie!
That’s another thing that viewers (especially women) liked about the first movie and this movie highlights further – Anne Weying is not a prize for Eddie Brock to win for being a hero.
Sure, Eddie’s a nice guy who’s in love. Sure, Anne cares about him. But in the real adult world, it’s not enough for relationships to work.
So their relationship doesn’t get back on a romantic track. Which doesn’t stop the movie from portraying Anne as an infinitely courageous and loyal friend, ready to help Eddie out of another blunder when he needs it.
And neither does it stop her boyfriend-turned-fiance Dan from being a genuinely nice guy who may not have any powers, but who continues to demonstrate quick thinking skills, and the ability to adapt to weird situations.
(A friend of mine commented that Anne and Dan are what Pepper and Happy don’t really get to be in the movies. Gotta admit I find this analogy surprisingly accurate.)
In the end, this is a movie that treats its characters, and by default its audience, with respect, without sacrificing the fun.
And, I feel, in the end, that’s the gist of it. This movie is fun. It’s not here to deliver some great message or have you ruminate on important questions. Those movies have their place, of course.
But sometimes you just need pure fun. And that’s what the Venom franchise is for.
Where Venom: Let There Be Carnage Falls Short
There are moments in the movie which feel clunky and heavy-handed. Not a good thing to have in a movie with a runtime shorter than 2 hours.
For example, Venom’s escapades after his temporary separation from Eddie feel far too prolonged and almost literally hit you over the head with their purpose. (Yes, I mean literally. Venom does an entire speech in a microphone about it).
Also, Naomi Harris deserved better. There, I said it.
In the end, Shriek is probably the most misused character in the movie. Harris, an industry veteran whose talent is second to none, makes an amazing attempt to squeeze as much from the part as possible. She just doesn’t have much material to squeeze to begin with.
If there were a reason to make runtime any longer, it would be to allow Shriek a separate fight sequence. One where Harris could flex her acting chops as a deranged villain with powers inherently antagonistic to symbiotes.
As is, she’s just the villain’s girlfriend and the main motivator of his actions. While she does have a minor revenge plot of her own (which is better than nothing), it doesn’t really have anything to do with our heroes and serves no purpose to the plot.
For a franchise that’s been showing its female characters nothing but respect, it could do better with its first supposedly major villainess.
Don’t go into Venom: Let There Be Carnage with any expectations that they “fixed” the first movie and you won’t be disappointed.
This movie does its best to deliver an enjoyable sequel for people who liked the first movie. And it does a marvelous job at that.
It’s a 90+ minute ride of Eddie Brock being the messiest hero, Venom acting like a bloodthirsty cat, and secondary characters (Anne and Dan) being more enjoyable than they have any right to be.
If there’s a critic against the first movie that creators took to heart, it’s the critic leveled against the villain. Woody Harrelson’s Carnage is infinitely more entertaining to watch than Riz Ahmed’s Riot. But he has the inherent advantage of being Venom mythos’ most iconic villain.
There was no way the final showdown between the two of them wouldn’t be entertaining. Unless the creators made extra effort to totally blow it.
Spoiler: they didn’t blow it. In fact, it’s likely to be one of the most entertaining action scenes you’ve seen all year. And also the most entertaining moment of character swearing. But I’ll leave you to catch it on your own.
(From a tad biased reviewer who genuinely enjoyed the first one!)