With original director Ruben Fleischer replaced by Andy Serkis and star Tom Hardy going the Quest for Peace route copping a co-story credit, this sequel to Sony’s underdog Marvel offshoot hit mostly delivers on the promise of more Tom Hardy talks to himself action and an enormous amount of CGI tentacle-waving. As trailed in the tag scene of Venom, there’s a new antagonist in serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, not reprising the comics-accurate mop of red curls he sported in Venom) who bites reporter Eddie Brock (Hardy) and gets invested with a new generation symbiote (‘a red one’) called Carnage. Who thinks up these names? Oh, that would be comics writers in the 1990s — who even get lampooned in the dialogue here, as part of a whimsical, knowing streak that is sometimes weirdly inspired (Venom’s fondness for pet chickens Sonny and Cher) and sometimes just bizarre.
At a trim 95 minutes, it rushes through a lot of backstory and catch-up to get to the fight stuff. Naomie Harris is on board as Kasady’s sonic-powered girlfriend Shriek, who seems to have been ported in from the now-wiped-away reality of the abortive New Mutants franchise — she barely gets a chance to register as impressively evil before she causes a big breakup in the symiote romance department. Michalle Williams is back along with Reid Scott, who give the impression of hoping to get out of this franchise as much as the characters do out of Eddie’s trainwreck life – though Williams occasionally hints that she’d show more enthusiasm if they let her wear the venom outfit more.
Besides the weird humour, the keynote of this sub-franchise is action and there are a lot of chases, scraps, tumbles and freak-outs … it almost seems that a full third of the film is an interrupted wedding (Reece Shearsmith is the officiating cleric) that devolves into a tentacle-teeth-snarl-splatfight which proves that CGI can now put on screen almost anything a comics artist could envision back in the era of big cynical muscle guy antiheroes whose leers leaped off the page.