The sequel to 2018’s surprisingly entertaining “Venom” proves what we already expected.  The only reason it worked is because of Tom Hardy and anyone attempting to do the same would fail gloriously.

Andy Serkis takes over the director’s chair in his 4th feature film.  Although he is an amazing actor and physical performer, he plays fast and loose when behind the camera which lends to very inconsistent pacing.  The opening scenes span 25 years, introduce the villain Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) twice, and then jumps back into Eddie Brock/Venom’s life like the first movie never ended.  Eddie (Tom Hardy) is slightly more respected professionally than before, but according to Venom, still very much a loser.  Venom is bored and frustrated with Eddie.  He yearns to be a “Lethal Enforcer,” devouring the heads of bad guys.  In addition to requiring a compatible host, Venom requires Tryptophan to survive, and amino acid that the movie says only occurs in chocolate and brains.  (*Fun Fact:  Milk, bread, and chicken contain more Tryptophan per serving than chocolate!)  Their Jekyll and Hyde relationship from the first movie has evolved into more of a physically abusive “Odd Couple’ dynamic.

Their incessant and often hilarious bickering is interrupted by a visitation request from convicted serial killer Cletus Kasady who is awaiting his execution on death row. Brock did a story on his capture years ago, but now Cletus wants to tell the world his side of the story.  Through a series of unfortunate events, Cletus gets a taste of the symbiote, which bonds with his body, and escapes from the prison in one of the more thrilling scenes in the movie.

The movie is quite entertaining up until this point.  But once Carnage is born it begins to fall apart.  Eddie and Venom “break up” for a while, separating the lifeblood of this franchise.  Woody Harrelson, who has nailed both comedic (“Cheers” & “Zombieland”) and psychotic (“Natural Born Killers”) roles misfires here.  Granted, the ridiculous lines he’s given don’t make it easy, but where Hardy excels in his delivery, Harrelson falters.  Instead of being scary, insane, chilling, or funny,  Harrelson’s Cletus is simply annoying.   Oh, and Naomie Harris plays the mutant “Shriek.”  She does everything she can with the one-dimensional role, but unfortunately, the script only requires her to exist as a motivation for Cletus’ actions.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” knows what it is but relies too much on the goodwill generated from the first film.  There are moments and action scenes that top the original, but far more of this one feels lazy.  The movie is so eager to get to the action that neither Cletus nor Carnage ever feel like a real threat until the climax of the film.  Shriek, a character that has the ability to easily wipe out both symbiotes is treated as a disposable character.    “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is passable as a matinee popcorn flick, but given the talent involved it should have aimed for the fences instead of just trying to capitalize on the first.

*All things said, this does have one of the more thrilling mid-credit teases I’ve seen in a Sony film.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage