Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Peggy Lou, and Stephen Graham.
Directed By: Andy Serkis
Where I Watched It: VOD (though it is currently on Starz)
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: The media Access Group
narrated By: Roy Samuelson
The Plot: Because he made a lot of money the last time around, Venom (Hardy) is back, in a convoluted storyline that involves a Bonnie and Clyde type relationship between a serial killer (Harrelson) and his love (Harris) that is locked away in an asylum. After he bites Eddie Brock (also Hardy), our death row inmate becomes infused with a sort of Venom, which turns him into the iconic Carnage. Inexplicably, Michelle Williams, the multiple Oscar nominee, agreed to return for her thankless role as Brock’s ex.
What Works and What Doesn’t: I’m mixing them up together, because some of these things qualify as both. i know that makes no sense, but bare with me. Ultimately, I think what happened here is that Serkis was handed a sequel to a film that was critically derided and one that fans weren’t even sure they liked. If we’re being honest, we’re showing up because we like the idea of a franchise centered around Venom, but not necessarily this franchise.
Serkis obviously saw the first film, used it as toilet paper, and moved on with his life, and Sony mostly just let him do his thing. Venom, as a character, is far more entertaining here. I’m not 100% sure that he’s now remotely close to who he is int he comics, but the wisecracking psychopath that really wants to eat someone’s head off their shoulders, and is tired of having chickens to eat (even though he names them), seems a far cry from the first film where he just talked about turds in the wind.
in general, Serkis set out to achieve many things, which was to make the cast he inherited more interesting, as well as do something exciting with Carnage. Because, it’s Carnage, and fans of the Marvel comics have been waiting a lifetime to see a solid Carnage adaptation on the big screen. Harrelson does what he does with the role, and it’s fine. I would have preferred someone really willing to go full on unhinged for the performance, just batshit intensity. Say what you want about Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, but Colin Farrell as Bullseye was clearly off his rocker with a level that seemed almost too much.
Having that intensity and scary out of your mind performance for Carnage would have elevated it. Harrelson is obviously dangerous and perhaps a little crazy, but he still seems far too put together to end up being Carnage. However, I will give props to the casting department for picking the star of the film Natural Born killers to play Carnage. He’s not a bad pick, but somewhere out there is still the perfect pick.
That being said, I’ve never enjoyed Tom Hardy as Venom. And I enjoy Tom Hardy in just about everything. I don’t like his Eddie Brock, and it’s odd to say that I think gopher Grace made a better Eddie. However, this Venom is a lot more fun if you’re going the hero route, and that’s what Serkis deserves praise for. He reinjected fun into a series that had lost its excitement. Regardless of how you feel about any of these actors, or the interpretation of the characters, there’s no denying that the pacing is better, the lines are funnier, and Carnage is a much more formidable foe. The first Venom had one of the worst on screen villains in a superhero film, so this was a much needed course correction for the franchise.
But then we have Shriek (Harris), who we are introduced to with little backstory. She just has powers.. How? Why? Is she a mutant? Who knows. This film never bothers to explain, and just asks us to accept that in a world that created people like Venom and Carnage, that someone like Shriek can exist. Except, we haven’t been shown anything like her yet. everyone else with powers has them because of the symbionts, and this is due in part to the MCU refusing to allow Venom in. But after the grosses of the sequel, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore Venom, and if Kevin Feige could concede a little, he might regain the kind of control over Venom that he has with Spider-man, which has made those films iconic. In short, Venom 3 could be epic, if marvel was finally willing to embrace it.
And while this film is far from perfect, it is a huge improvement on the first, and far more entertaining. It also is due to Andy Serkis, as he was the biggest change from the first to second. So even though he’s made better films, he just turned a rock into something slightly more valuable.
Oh, and Michelle Williams is still making money by agreeing to show up for a film that is beneath her. I don’t know what to do with that. Serkis tries really hard to make her relevant, but it always just feels like she’s there because of contractual obligations.
The Blind Perspective: Roy is one of my favorite narrators. I’ve just started recently appreciating his work, after becoming a huge fan of Our Flag Means Death, while simultaneously watching The Dropout, both narrated by him. He seems to be a narrator that signs on to projects where the written narration is solid. It’s almost like the top narrators I’ve been seeing can see a bad script coming their way, and they turn down that narration.
This film is done really well, and the narration isn’t easy. I am taking a leap of faith here and trusting the narration, which is all i can do as a blind film critic, but the high difficulty here lies in being to determine whether or not Eddie Brock is present, or if you can partially see Venom through Eddie, or if it’s just Venom’s thoughts in Eddie’s head, or if Venom has completely taken over Eddie, or if he’s separated from Eddie. All of those things seem to happen, and each one requires additional attention to detail.
Throw all of those things into a second character, Carnage, and there’s a LOT of mixed up personalities happening. So, this is a bitch of a film to write strong narration for already, then you throw in all the action sequences, and another character with powers, and you’ve got quite a mountain to climb. However, Roy and his team at Media Access Group seemed to be able to scale the mountain like professionals, and i have no complaints. This film won’t win any awards, but perhaps the audio description should.
Final Thoughts: Anyone who thinks the sequel was worse than the first film, I just question what it is you want from Venom. even if you don’t like the direction they took Venom, this film actually has a villain worth fighting, and mentioning. The pacing is better, and overall it’s just a more entertaining film. I embrace the concept that the translation from comic book to screen may have taken a lot of liberties, but I wish the first film had never happened, and this was the first film in this franchise. We’d be in a much better place heading into the third film.
Final Grade: B-