With originality dwindling in the blockbuster cinema marketplace, it’s often that viewers might feel like they’re watching the exact same film all over again.

Three years ago, Sony broke through the comic book ranks with a quirky cult hit spin-off for a classic Spider-Man villain that had a unique charm with an awkward buddy comedy dynamic mixed in with Marvel lore.

Returning to the well, the follow-up to Venom has pretty much all the same story beats as the first film, an even shorter cut that reduces the film to an episodic feel; the one you’d have to see to understand the ones to follow. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage takes its rudimentary shape from serial killer films like Silence of the Lambs as reporter Eddie Brock gets exclusive access to death row inmate Cletus Kasady to tell his story and possibly convince him to reveal details of unsolved murders. When Kasady becomes infected by some of Brock’s blood containing a portion of the symbiote Venom that lives inside Brock, Kasady turns into the villainous Carnage and begins a rampage to find his long-lost love.

The primary reason the Venom films work at all is Tom Hardy’s committed, manic dual performance both as Brock and the voice of Venom. It’s a blend of comedy and impassioned, positive psychopathy that creates an anti-hero audiences would want to follow around.

On his own, Hardy’s Brock is pretty much a big loser as Venom admits time and again in both films. He’s a bland, unremarkable reporter with a questionable ability to relate to others and Hardy can be pretty boring to watch when portraying Brock.

But it fits perfectly with his pitch-perfect voice work as Venom, taking the gravelly tones of his work as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and twisting them with a quirky naivety that makes Venom the star and comic relief of the film. The script from Kelly Marcel isn’t much beyond a series of cliches and literary references that young viewers won’t recognize, but Hardy’s ability to breathe life into words on a page works exceptionally well. It’s clear that Hardy’s performance as Brock is triggered by listening to his recordings as Venom so Brock literally talks to himself.

A better movie might have been had if the rest of the film matched Hardy’s dedication and forethought.

Woody Harrelson has his occasional moments as serial killer Kasady, although whatever nuance he was attempting early in the film fades away into obscurity as Harrelson is covered over by a big red CGI symbiote. By the final half-hour, Harrelson is almost doing nothing more than occasional facial expressions, which is sadly more than is given to the women of the film.

Michelle Williams returns as Brock’s former fiancée Anne Weying, a pivotal character from the comics that gets pushed off to the side as damsel in distress. Functionally, there’s not much of a reason for the character to be introduced into the film at all other than to advance plot points.

At least, Naomie Harris’ unrecognizable turn as Kasady’s imprisoned lover Frances Barrison has a significant backstory and moments to shine, even if they are in service of the man in her life.

This Venom ramps up the violence pretty significantly and teeters close to the edge of an R-rating with the chomping of heads, gruesome stabbings and savagery that often happens in a bloodless way or off-screen to keep the film from losing half its target audience. Much of the action occurs in the shroud of darkness, which helps mask the viciousness of what would actually be occurring if the events took place in real life but also helps to hide the flaws in Sony’s CGI-work.

There’s nothing exceptionally special that makes the second Venom film worth a trip to the theaters aside from being spoiled about the major plot aspects as well as a critical mid-credit sequence with significant ramifications for the future of the franchise over the coming years. It’s a brisk 90-minute adventure that could provide younger viewers with the occasional thrill on a weekend where other new releases aren’t on their radar, but Venom: Let There Be Carnage wallows in its relative mediocrity compared to other superhero films like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. 

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