The very day after the Marvel/Disney merger was first made public, 20th Century Fox announced that they were putting a Fantastic Four reboot into development. No mention of the cast, director, or screenwriter, never mind a release date, Fox was moving forward with another Fantastic Four movie. Over six years later, Fantastic Four (2015) was finally released to a critical and commercial thrashing, losing the studio an estimated $80-$100 million.
Meanwhile, Fox kept trying to make the X-Men into a massive superfranchise on the scale of the MCU. Thus the screen times kept swelling and the budgets kept ballooning, to the point where Fox went bankrupt before Dark Phoenix was even released.
In both cases, I get what Fox was going for. They were trying to keep the rights from Marvel for as long as possible, trying to beat Marvel at their own game with their own properties. Even if they lost money in the process, at least Marvel wouldn’t have the film rights to make them look bad by succeeding where they failed. Trouble was, those six years Fox put into developing their Fantastic Four reboot were six years of spending money without getting anything for it. And the swelling budget of the X-Men films, plus market oversaturation and decreasing interest of the fandom, meant diminishing box office profits.
I get what Fox was trying to do, and I understand how things came to their inevitable conclusion. But I have no idea what the hell Sony thinks they’re doing with their Spider-Man holdings.
Sony came out with Amazing Spider-Man 2, their most ambitious and lowest-grossing Spider-Man movie to date. Their dreams of a Spider-Man Universe were clearly untenable, and Sony decided to cut their losses rather than drive themselves into bankruptcy trying to build a wretched superfranchise. (You know, like Fox did.) But Sony just couldn’t let go of their aging cash cow, so they “worked out” a rights-sharing situation with Marvel so arcane and convoluted that nobody seems to know who can use what in which situation. Thus when Sony makes a Spidey movie that doesn’t feature Tom Holland, everyone is perpetually confused as to whether or not that movie is canon with the MCU.
(Side note: The mainstream Marvel Comics universe is the iconic Earth-616, the defunct Ultimate Marvel line is on Earth-1610, the MCU is registered as Earth-199999, and even our own non-fictional real world has been designated Earth-1218. From the beginning, the Marvel Multiverse has been structured in such a way that every new line of comics, TV shows, and movies has its own numbered universe. So broadly and technically speaking, literally EVERYTHING is canon in Marvel.)
Case in point: The upcoming Morbius. Yes, that movie is still coming out. But you’d be forgiven for not knowing that, as Morbius is at best a D-tier character in the Spider-Man mythos and an obscure footnote in the Marvel stable. Then they cast the notoriously insane Jared Leto to headline the movie, then the reshoots happened in February 2021, and Sony dumped the film in January of next year. Also, we haven’t seen a trailer or any ads for the movie since freaking January of 2020. This is the very same trailer that ended with a brief glimpse of Michael Keaton to hint at a possible connection with Spider-Man of the MCU. I’m pretty sure that cameo from The Vulture is all that anyone still remembers from the trailer, despite or perhaps because of the fact that we still have no additional information on any MCU connection nearly two years later.
Then there’s the issue of Venom, in which Sony tried to make a film about an iconic Spider-Man villain — a character specifically made as a dark copy of Spider-Man, motivated by their hatred of Spider-Man — but without Spider-Man. It was not a good movie, but the film made a worldwide total of $856 million on an estimated $100 million budget, so here we are with Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
Our antagonist this time is Cletus Kasady, played by Woody Harrelson. As a young boy in a demented foster home, Cletus met Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris) and the two fell in everlasting twoo wuv. Trouble is, Frances — somehow, inexplicably — has a voice capable of powerful sonic blasts. The movie briefly implies that she’s a mutant (consistent with the character’s origins in the comics), but we’re not getting into that barrel of snakes because the film sure as hell doesn’t. Bottom line: Frances was carried off to spend her life in captivity at the Ravencroft Institute (Marvel’s answer to Arkham Asylum, basically) while Cletus went on to be a notorious serial killer.
Cut to just after the end of the first movie. Cletus is stuck behind bars, and for whatever unknown reason, he’ll only talk with Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, once again). With a bit of help from Venom (who apparently has a photographic memory now), Brock is able to locate the missing bodies of Cletus’ other alleged victims. With this new evidence, Cletus’ body count goes through the roof and he’s cleared for execution. Thus Eddie Brock’s career is revived and the money starts coming in, but there’s still one last interview with Cletus before the serial killer dies.
Long story short, the interview goes sideways and Cletus gets a mouthful of Eddie’s symbiote-infused blood. The Venom particles proceed to mutate until Cletus gets his very own symbiote and thus we have Carnage.
Meanwhile, Eddie and Venom have apparently been bickering nonstop since the previous film. As with the first movie, Venom is a creature of pure id, desperate to eat brains and run around free with absolutely no regard for consequences. By contrast, Eddie isn’t comfortable with randomly killing strangers and he’s afraid of attracting the kind of attention that could get them locked up or worse. It makes for a fascinating comparison with Cletus, the homicidal maniac who’s perfectly happy with killing people, loves abusing the powers of a symbiote, and seems to get along perfectly well with his alien partner.
Still, there are problems here. Freaking big ones.
To start with, there’s the crappy internal logic. We’re told numerous times that Venom needs to eat brains to survive, but he seems to be perfectly healthy on a diet of chocolate and live chickens. For that matter, even when Venom or Carnage chomp somebody’s head off, it doesn’t seem to improve their health or strength in any appreciable way. Without that, we only have Venom whining and moping about how he never gets to eat anybody, and it gets annoying very quickly. Forgive me if I don’t find any sympathy for a protagonist who wants to kill people for effectively no reason at all.
Another huge problem is that at one point, Eddie and Venom part ways entirely. The two of them go through the entire second act apart from each other so that Eddie can have his quiet life as a journalist and Venom can live openly. Trouble is, Eddie doesn’t do much of anything except make some huge revelation that everybody would’ve figured out five minutes later anyway. As for Venom, he does literally nothing except fuck around all night. Yes, it’s a thematic point that the two are completely useless without each other, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that our protagonists are completely useless through the entire goddamn second act!
Moving on, there’s the matter of Carnage. First of all, it’s worth noting that the previous movie featured something like half a dozen symbiotes in addition to a superpowered mad scientist who wanted to launch a rocket to try and take over the world. Here, we just have the two symbiotes (namely Venom and Carnage) plus a randomly superpowered sub-villain, and the main villain is just out to kill people on his way to freeing and marrying his long-lost childhood love. Oh, and Carnage also wants to kill Venom for reasons that are never adequately explained.
The stakes are much, MUCH lower in the sequel, and I’m honestly okay with that. After all, Deadpool and its sequel kept the stakes relatively small, and that worked out great for those movies. As with Deadpool, Venom isn’t exactly the type of character to save the world on a regular basis. And from a business standpoint, it makes sense to keep the film small so there’s more room to take risks. The film can be unconventional and push boundaries and go over-the-top, without risk of any serious box office losses if these experiments don’t catch on with the audience.
The problem with that is that Deadpool and its sequel were both defiantly rated R. Venom and its sequel were both rated PG-13. As a reminder, the filmmakers on the first movie gave the symbiotes an addiction to human brains, then doomed that premise to a bloodless and lackluster execution with a PG-13 rating. And in the sequel, they gave a brain-hungry bioweapon to a goddamn bloodthirsty killer, and it doesn’t work because of the PG-13 rating. So are we trying to push boundaries and go over-the-top, or are we trying to water down a film to appeal to the widest possible audience? What are you doing, Sony?
Then there’s the matter of the world-building. To list one example, the trailer has a bit where Venom is deathly afraid of “the red one”, and this is never explained in the movie. There’s also the matter of Venom’s “light-years” of intergalactic knowledge that has never been mentioned up until now and never gets utilized except maybe in the mid-credits stinger. All of this implies some massive greater world that we don’t have time to develop because the film is only 90 minutes long. So are we trying to expand the world, or are we trying to keep the scale and the screen time (thus the budget) low? What are you doing, Sony?
Moving on to the female leads. It’s like the filmmakers want to keep Michelle Williams around as Anne Weying (they definitely wanted to rehash her most memorable story beat from the previous film), but they’re deathly afraid of putting her in any position where she’s remotely capable of overshadowing Tom Hardy. The filmmakers want her on the marquee, and they might as well make use of such a marvelous talent while she’s still under contract, but they have no idea how to use her. Likewise, Naomie Harris is utterly wasted on a character who changes motivations on a dime and has no appreciable agency in the plot.
What’s worse, the inclusion of these two romantic leads complicates the film to the point of incoherence. See, the thematic cornerstone of the film is in the concept of friendship and teamwork. This is most clear in the aforementioned contrast between the horrifically smooth integration of Cletus and Carnage, as opposed to the strained and grudgingly non-violent partnership of Eddie and Venom. We also get a somewhat effective comparison between Cletus and Eddie, as the film draws parallels between the two characters as an explanation for why Cletus would only speak with Eddie.
But then we have the conflict between Venom and Carnage, in which the two of them have to destroy each other for reasons never explained. We’ve got the dysfunctional Cletus/Frances/Carnage triangle that plays like several reels of film are missing. We’ve got the triangle of Eddie/Venom/Anne, which expands out to a quadrangle with the addition of Anne’s new fiance (Dr. Dan, played by Reid Scott). There are so many relationships going on in this movie, without sufficient screen time to explore each one or how they all affect each other. Thus the central theme of friendship is convoluted and watered-down, spread out into so many different directions. It’s all a mess.
As an example, Frances is a character capable of emitting sonic blasts. Cletus loves her, but Carnage hates her because of the symbiotes’ natural aversion to loud noises. Thus Carnage wants to keep her quiet, but Cletus wants her to use her gift, and Frances is just kinda caught in the middle. On a similar token, the filmmakers try for some half-baked same-sex marriage metaphor in which Venom wants for him and Eddie to be open and happy about who and what they are, but there’s friction because Eddie wants Venom to keep quiet. And there’s a kind of parallel in that Carnage wants Frances to stay quiet and keep her power stifled except that Cletus doesn’t want that… the whole thing is so half-assed and unfocused that nothing about it works.
Last but not least, there’s that mid-credits stinger. I know we’re not supposed to talk about it for fear of spoilers, but trust me, freaking EVERYONE will be talking about that stinger in a couple of weeks, if they aren’t already. Put simply, it’s yet another example of how Sony’s approach to this whole franchise is so confused and ass-backwards. Are they trying to create a franchise independent of Spider-Man or do they want to tap into the character’s popularity? Are they trying to make a franchise that competes with or at least coexists alongside the MCU, or do they want to ride Marvel Studios’ coattails? Because right now, it looks like they’re trying to have it both ways and it’s not fucking working.
(Side note: I notice that the filmmakers tucked away a picture of Stan Lee. That’s a sweet way to keep the tradition going, and I’d love to see more filmmakers follow suit.)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage has all the hallmarks of a movie made by people with no idea of what they want to make except money. It’s a film that reeks of desperation, scrambling in every contradictory direction in a slapdash attempt at appealing to the widest possible audience. Yet they tried to cram all this shit into an economical 90 minutes, making a film about brain-munching aliens and homicidal psychopaths with a PG-13 rating.
The filmmakers are going through the motions of making a hyperviolent and over-the-top comic book franchise with all the appeal of the Deadpool films or James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, but they won’t commit to anything R-rated, shocking, or the least bit creative. They’re pandering to the fans that made Venom an icon, but they don’t understand what made Venom iconic to begin with.
You want to know what we want, Sony? We want you to sell back the rights to the whole Spider-Man franchise, and give it up wholesale. We’re sick and tired of dealing with all this rights-sharing, continuity-juggling bullshit, and I honestly think that you are too. You leased the Spider-Man rights in perpetuity so you could play with Marvel’s toys and you didn’t have to give them back until they were so battered and broken that Marvel couldn’t play with them anymore either. Well, you did it, Sony. You made your billions, you had your fun, you broke Marvel’s toys, and now you have to give them back. Call it a day. YOU. ARE. DONE.
And while you’re at it, maybe get out of the film business altogether. Sell your studios and your few remaining profitable IPs to somebody who gives a shit. Focus on being an electronics company and keep making video games, that seems to be making you a lot more money for less of a headache.