Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Directed by Andy Serkis

Screenplay by Kelly Marcel

Story by Tom Hardy and Kelly Marcel, based on Marvel Comics

Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson

Let it be said that the sequel to the wildly successful and exciting “Venom” will be full of carnage. If you’ll note, I didn’t capitalize that word about the film’s antagonist, Carnage, aka Cletus Kasady.

There will, however, be spectacular feats of gravity mixed with copious amounts of banter between Tom Hardy’s loose reporter Eddie Brock and his alter-ego symbiote, Venom. In this sequel, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Brock and Venom quarrel rather than banter. The story by Hardy and Kelly Marcel, screenplay by Marcel, sees the two squaring off like two college buddies who play off of each other’s weaknesses to get what they want, almost like a Felix and Oscar routine, something that director Serkis confirmed. As we get deeper into these two characters, and their stakes are raised, the less the Felix/Oscar schtick works.

Be aware that Woody Harrelson is dangerously fun as Cletus Kasady, who manages to wreak havoc all over San Francisco, putting Venom on notice. Serkis begins the film with Kasady’s journey, filling in some of the backstory for the character, which sets the present-day . . . carnage into motion. Naomie Harris offers a double threat to Venom as Shriek, alias Francis Barrison and a love interest to Kasady. Together, they make a formidable foe for Venom once Kasady assumes the Carnage symbiote. Harrelson is clever in his psychotic serial killer role. Although he stays true-to-form, the presence of both Shriek and Carnage doesn’t amount to much; yes, they overpower Venom at one point, as Carnage is distracted both by the psychosis of Kasady and the love for Shriek. The film can’t handle both antagonists. It has enough to do with the Felix/Oscar routine inhabited between Venom and Brock. The film does cleverly distinguish the yin and yang of the two different relationships.

The story backtracks before it moves forward to establish more about Kasady, his relationship with Francis, and another relation between Francis and Stephen Graham’s Mulligan.

For a 97-minute movie, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” felt like it spent too much time on the establishing backstory and not enough time to the action we’re accustomed to seeing. It does leverage the antics between Brock and Venom, and both Hardy and Harrelson look like they were having fun interacting as each alter ego. At its emotional center, the story is about the relationships we form and the work it takes to keep the relationships healthy, except for when you survive on a diet of chocolate.

By keeping the film to a shorter-than-usual run time, the benefit is that we only have to endure so much of the antics between the characters. The risk is that the backstory trumps the protagonist’s heroic moments. On the other hand, the film does give Michelle Williams’ Anne Weying and Brock some time to try to resolve their differences before it gives way to . . .

Carnage. I don’t know if Sony or Marvel intended this, but we’re left with carnage from the mess of a story that this film is. Serkis had an idea of where he wanted to take the movie, and it ended up being anticlimactic; the risk doesn’t pay off.

To be fair, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is fun when the action is on the screen; it is cloyingly endearing when Venom and Brock banter. There is an intimacy cinematographer Robert Richardson strikes in the City by the Bay that matches the tone of the character’s relationships, which I hadn’t expected. It narrows the field of battle, almost as if destiny were playing out.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” lets itself out this weekend in theaters. It has a limited window to attract audiences to the premium theatres before Bond takes over next weekend. It might be a mess; however, it leverages the relationships that made the first film enjoyable, yet it is still a fun mess.

Oh, and stay for the mid-credit sequence. It’s a doozy!

97 minutes, PG-13, Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment