That this sequel made a fortune, when it opened in the States, is not itself cause for jubilation. Let there be cash in Sony’s coffers is not a mantra to set the soul on fire. But the second outing for the toothy, long-tongued symbiote known as Venom is definitely more of a pleasure than a pain. How the hell did that happen?
For the first UK press screening of Venom, audiences were supplied with little bottles of champagne. But all the alcohol in the world couldn’t soften the blow of a lazy farce that, despite the best efforts of a lively and intense cast, including Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, often felt like a relic from the 90s.
So the multi-tasking Hardy is back. As well as supplying the voice of Venom, he’s Eddie Brock, the chaotic, self-sabotaging journalist who functions as a host body for the alien life form. And when Eddie gets entangled in the affairs of a San Quentin-based serial killer, Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), it triggers a crisis that threatens to tear the odd couple apart, as well as expose the world to the horrors of Venom’s “son”, a red beastie known as Carnage.
Before we get onto the subject of Venom and his errant spawn, a word about Kasady and Harrelson. We learn that Kasady, back in 1996, was stuck in St. Estes Home for Unwanted Children. Note the word children. The Kasady we see in St. Estes must, by definition. be under twenty. Which would mean that, in the present day, he’s no older than 45. Ahem. Really?
Anyway, things get interesting from the minute Venom and Eddie “split up”. There’s no coyness about what this means. In the first film, Venom was nuts about Eddie’s ex-girlfriend, Anne (Williams). Here, he’s still fond of her, but it’s Eddie he can’t live without. That’s right, Venom is out of the closet and uses that very term at a club, in San Francisco, when he shares the stage with Islington rapper Little Simz (playing herself).
Other nice shocks: Williams shines in a scene that exploits her genius for screwball comedy (when Venom, ensconced in Anne’s body, demands an apology from Eddie). Anne’s boyfriend, Dr. Dan (Reid Scott) gets to be more than uptight, and Kasady’s paramour, Frances (Naomie Harris), whose super-power is a shrill scream, has a cool character arc.
It’s all to the good that Venom 2 barely has time for CGI slug-fests. And the inevitable last battle (shot with energy by director Andy Serkis) is made extra enjoyable by the fact that Carnage is big and strong but also has a cohesive personality (he’s permanently ratty; he’s not a team player).
Throw in Reece Shearsmith as a nervy priest, a lovely bit of stained glass and animation in the Edward Gorey/Tim Burton vein and you have a superhero movie that’s positively idiosyncratic.
The big news, if you’re a fan of the MCU, is tucked into a mid-credits sequence. Even without that bait, though, I’m up for more Venom.
The only freebie at the screening, by they way, was a can of water. Not a problem. Where the first Venom was toxically dull, Venom 2, at its best, is intoxicating.
97mins, cert 15