We have seen Hollywood testing the limits of the buddy cop movie of late. Marvel tried an asymmetric spin on the formula with The Falcon and the Winter Solider: the racial politics, the quips, and the action went to script, but the TV show also wanted to know how fragile (or not) the buddy cop vibe really was, especially when tested by a series of distinctly superhero problems (having a surprisingly detachable arm, struggling with PTSD, y'know, the usual).
But I admit: the buddy cop vibe explored in director Andy Serkis' Venom: Let There Be Carnage takes the cake, the icing, and the cherry on top. Here, we have an alien symbiote (an organism that lives in a state of close physical association with another) called Venom that had originally landed on Earth as part of a reconnaissance mission. He has now formed a long-term bond with the journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a pairing that bestows Venom's strength, ferocity, and bloodlust upon Brock. And somehow, the two have become best buds at the beginning of this film. It is silly to the point of being ludicrous, really, but this insistence on the buddy cop back-and-forth actually turns out to be the strongest part of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, much more so than the several impressively mounted (but ultimately, assembly-line) sequences of CGI mayhem.
Theirs is the defining relationship of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and this frees up Michelle Williams' defense attorney Anne Weying (Brock's ex-fiancÃ©e) to have much more fun of her own this time around. At one point, she bonds with Venom (a nod to the 'She-Venom' storyline from the comics) to break Brock out of prison, literally (he can'=not help getting into trouble, and she cannot help herself when it comes to rescuing him). She even convinces Venom that Brock is not really a bad guy, when it comes down to it " this is straight-up love triangle stuff, and both Hardy and Williams have a lot of fun ((you can tell) with the twisted emotional dynamics of the scene.
Ironically, the weak link in Venom: Let There Be Carnage is, well, Carnage. When serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) bites off a chunk from Brock's arm, ingesting a small bit of Venom in the process, the red alien symbiote 'Carnage' is unleashed. Carnage is supposed to be Venom's stronger, sleeker, more bloodthirsty offspring. But this father-son thing adds to an already slippery faux-family situation in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. It is not sustainable, emotionally, in a movie that at the end of the day, does not take itself too seriously. And then there is Carnage's own revenge plot, involving his long-lost lover Frances Barrison/Shriek (Naomie Harris), who can weaponise her screams.
Neither Carnage nor Shriek is particularly well-thought-out, as characters go. In certain moments, I almost forgot that Naomie Harris is playing Shriek and not Calypso, her other famous supernatural character, from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. There comes a point when meta-textual nods to past characters become tiresome and kind of coalesce into 'more of the same' programming. Something similar happens here with Carnage and Shriek " we have seen this movie before, and that is precisely why we are seeing it again. Even Harrelson's performance as Carnage has bits of his double role from Now You See Me 2, where both twins were sarcastic, prone to juvenile humour, and not above the comedic low blow.
Director Andy Serkis knows how to use CGI sequences effectively, when it comes to action " I mean, Serkis' own acting career is perhaps the greatest-ever advertisement for the medium of motion capture/green screen itself, so it makes sense that he excels at the behind-the-scenes stuff. But ultimately, it is not enough to make up for an underwhelming story that tries to have it both ways"
it wants to lean in on its inherent silliness, while also raising emotional stakes with a story supposedly about friendship and self-acceptance.
The Venom movies are supposed to be anti-Marvel products, in a way, which is why the much-talked about post-credits scene also came as a bit of a surprise. I will not spoil it completely here, but let us just say that the bookmaker's odds for Venom appearing in the next Spider-Man movie just became much more believable. It is a ballsy post-script, yes, but I would have preferred a better film, to be honest.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is now available in Indian cinemas.
Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist, currently working on a book of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels