Three years ago, Sony released one of its own movies in the Spider-Man universe, and it ended up being one of the finest super hero films in recent memory. It was fun, innovative and an exemplary example of the kind of story telling which could be done via the super hero genre. And a few months before Into the Spider Verse came out, Sony put out Venom, and it was just ok.
For those of you who saw that joke coming, congratulations, you have experienced a small taste of what Venom: Let There be Carnage is like. In short, it sucks. It flops and flounders around like a helpless fish on the screen, and any poor soul who buys a ticket to watch it has no choice but to watch it struggle lest they walk out and waste nine bucks.
While it’s not the worst thing I’ve seen, or even done a formal review of- that title belongs to the insufferable The Predator– it is doubtlessly poor and riddled with weird and baffling decisions. Chief among those is the title character, Venom, who is a complete and total dope. The prevailing impression throughout the entire film is that Venom is bumbling, stupid idiot. He is childish from start to finish, and as a result, is incredibly difficult to root for. This could be alright if the film had managed to pull off making him stupid in at least a charming or endearing way. Perhaps if he were still earnest and sincere, he could have become something of a loveable idiot in the mold of a Homer Simpson-type character. Instead, we are treated to a creature who pleads for the chance to eat people while engaging in ultra-violence who is also profoundly stupid.
The one thing going for poor Venom is that his childishness is supported by the complete immaturity of the film itself. And it is not an immaturity that is brought about by crude humor, or anything similar; the film is immature because it feels like something for children. Over and over again, the film goes out of its way to make sure that the audience is able to keep up with the most basic and simple of plot points. For example, early on the film, Eddie Brock, after an interview with Cletus Kasady, finds the missing bodies of the latter’s victim’s with the help of Venom. This discovery is significant for Brock as he works to rebuild his career as an investigative journalist, you know, one of the most major plot points of the previous film. This should be elementary: Brock wants to be a great reporter again, he lands a big interview, and makes an even bigger discovery with the help of his symbiotic friend.
It is a straight line, as a basic a character development as you can get. Despite this, the film makes sure that we are up to speed by having a different on screen reporter mention how big a deal it is for Eddie Brock’s career during a news report about the discovery of the bodies. Because of course, when an internationally notorious serial killer’s stash of victims, the location of which had been baffling police and the feds for years gets found, the main draw of the story is what it’ll do for the career trajectory of the guy who found them. It is a small, and entirely superfluous line which only exists because the filmmakers had to make sure that the kiddos could keep up with the movie in between scrolling through Instagram.
Let There Be Carnage’s iron grip on the audience’s hand to guide them through the film is coupled with the tact and subtlety of an angry toddler who was just told they’re not going to McDonald’s for dinner. The above series is an example of when the film decides to slap you right in the face with what is going on for fear that you might miss something. It is shockingly, and often embarrassingly blunt- leaving nothing to interpretation. After all, if the audience is sitting there trying to interpret something, they might miss an important detail! So it’s safer to simply yell in their face so their simple brains can keep up.
This film is an exercise in making a marble sculpture using a massive cartoon mallet, and feels like trying to play a game of Operation while wearing giant rubber lobster claws. It drunkenly stumbles through the room before slamming the importance of any given scene on the table. The filmmakers know that kids in high school will be reading novels and stuff right? If they’re old enough to drive themselves to the theater, they’ve probably read Lord of the Flies, or read a modern translation of a Shakespeare, or at least checked out the SparkNotes for each. Yet the film treats the audience like children, and at no point ever dares to challenge them in the slightest way as to make them think about the film or anything happening in it. The end result is that it feels like a film made by an edgy 13-year-old who just discovered 4Chan, and whose favorite film is Fight Club because Tyler Durden is so freakin’ cool, man. So many characters are cringy and embarrassing- especially the antagonists who feel like dollar store knock-offs of early Tarantino characters. But at least they’re dark and cool, right?
Instead of making a film which is edgy and in your face, the filmmakers only succeeded in making the world’s most violent and expensive pop-up-book.
The final nail in the coffin for this film is its credit sequence. Not the mid-credit scene, which is really the only reason to watch the film at all, but the initial credits themselves. Modern movies often split the credits into two segments with the high profile players in the filmmaking process getting a fancy animated credit sequence before breaking into the traditional scrolling format for the rest of the crew. It’s a nice little touch of production value and part of the final impression for the film- especially as it will often precede an additional scene anyway. This is the credit sequence for Venom from 2018. Now imagine someone took that exact same sequence, swapped out a different Eminem song, and took a red crayon to part of the frame during a smattering of the sequence and you have the credits for Let There Be Carnage. Not a same feeling credits, a near exact clone. The only different part is when a screenshot of Carnage is run through a few Photoshop filters and slapped on the screen like an ugly sticker. The audacity to pull this copy + paste stunt for a film of this profile is shocking, and it functions as one final, “fuck you” to the audience for having made the mistake of watching this thoroughly lackluster film.
Watching Venom: Let There Be Carnage most showcases, and to make me appreciate the brilliance of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. As mentioned at the start, it is a magnificent film,the best of it’s year, the best animated film of it’s decade, and one of a small handful of the best films of it’s decade. And it was made by this same studio. How on earth can they go from that gold to this slop? Let There Be Carnage has already cleared $100 million internationally in what is still a difficult environment to judge success in, so it is nearly impossible to know what Sony really thinks about it without them telling us, but it is safe to assume that there is more to come from this franchise, let’s just hope the people working on the next one discover how to make it up to a 10th grade reading level.