Venom: Let There Be Carnage

★★★

For all the fantastical things going on in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (now in theaters) the most fantastical is that we’re supposed to believe Woody Harrelson was a teenager in 1996. This is four years after “White Men Can’t Jump,” three years after “Indecent Proposal” and “Cheers” going off the air, two years after “Natural Born Killers” and the same year as “Kingpin” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”

“V: LTBC” picks up right where its predecessor left off. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a journalist who’s still inhabited by the titular alien symbiote (also Hardy). He remains broken up with Anne (a slumming, underused Michelle Williams), who’s engaged to all-around good guy Dr. Dan (Reid Scott).

Brock catches a big story when convicted serial killer Cletus Kasady (Harrelson) wants to do an exclusive interview with him. During one of their exchanges Kasady bites Brock in the hand, which draws blood and eventually transforms the criminal into the symbiote-superpowered Carnage. All hell breaks loose and Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) holds Brock personally responsible. Mulligan has a history with Kasady’s childhood girlfriend Frances Barrison/Shriek (Naomie Harris). She’s the Mallory Knox to Kasady’s Mickey Knox.

“V: LTBC” runs a scant 90 minutes and at its heart is mostly a romantic comedy between Brock and Venom and/or a comic book-y spin on “The Odd Couple.” Brock’s pissed that Venom keeps breaking his shit and trashing his apartment. Venom’s annoyed that Brock won’t allow him to treat the San Francisco Bay Area as an all-you-can-eat brain buffet. They breakup. They make up. This is the crux of the movie and Hardy as both Brock and Venom makes the proceedings fun(ny) and worth watching. (Hardy received a story credit alongside returning screenwriter Kelly Marcel, with whom he co-founded The Bad Dog Theater Company back in 2010.)

As directed by famed motion capture actor Andy Serkis, “V: LTBC” is reminiscent of comic book movies of the 1990s and early aughts as well as Sam Raimi’s earlier/goofier output. The action and special effects are merely OK. The flick’s better than the likes of “Batman & Robin” (my least favorite movie of all-time) or “Spawn,” but not as good as the Ruben Fleischer-directed original. (He returns as an executive producer.) The vibe it most has is that of a way stripped-down “Spider-Man 3.”

If you dug the first “Venom” chances are you’ll also dig “V: LTBC.” It’s worth seeing for Hardy’s antics and an admittedly awesome mid-credits sequence that’s best left unspoiled. 

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