Well, I guess this means I can be a little more optimistic in my upcoming “Are we about to see more release date delays?” post. Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage, opening September 24, is essentially the kick-off movie of the post-summer season. And while much of this summer’s movie offerings were financially flexible horror movies (even The Forever Purge will at least triple its $25 million budget) or commercially questionable biggies (Space Jam: A New Legacy and Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins were almost certainly doomed in any circumstance), the end of the year will (barring further delays) feature a slate of “big” movies (No Time to Die, Top Gun: Maverick, Dune, etc.) that studios are expecting to break out.
With the important caveat that we’re talking about a Venom sequel and nobody’s expecting this one to challenge The Last Duel or West Side Story in this year’s Oscar race, this looks frankly terrific. Andy Serkis is directing this time out, a canny choice in terms of filmmaker matched up with material, and it’s arguable that Serkis is just enough of a name to qualify as “marquee director.” The second trailer continues to sell the idea that Sony understands why Venom became a surprise super-smash, and it’s not because of the first film’s somewhat generic fx-driven action beats. We get plenty of Eddie (Tom Hardy) and Venom (Tom Hardy) internally squabbling, which continues even when the film’s marquee baddie (Woody Harrelson’s Carnage) takes center stage.
Yes, this second trailer is all about highlighting the major added value element, namely a fun/respected actor playing a very well-known baddie. I’m not going to make Dark Knight comparisons, especially “in the time of Covid,” as this trailer purposely avoids falling into “darker, grittier sequel that directly challenges the moral simplicity of its predecessor” sandbox. It does follow the modern (going back to at least Spider-Man) franchise formula, where the first film has a corporate-ish baddie who wants to destroy or remake his world while the sequel features a singular/lone wolf bad guy who just wants to create chaos. Think (relatively speaking and it’s not an exact match), Green Goblin to Dock Ock, Ra’s Al Ghul to Joker and Nero to Khan.
Without knowing the comic origin offhand, the simplicity of Cletus “becoming” Carnage just by biting Eddie and tasting his blood is breathtaking in its efficiency. Naomie Harris’ Shriek remains shrouded in mystery, but I’ll happily wait. Establishing that Michelle Williams and Reid Scott are still together and happy assures folks that A) this movie remembers that it’s a sequel and B) it’s not going to waste time with Eddie trying to win back the woman he lost in the first film entirely through his own selfish incompetence. And, yes, offering a solid character-specific joke even when Eddie first encounters Carnage works as an assurance that this film isn’t afraid to lean into the camp pleasures of its “not quite good, but better than it should have been” predecessor.
The first film earned an incredible $214 million domestic, $269 million in China and $856 million worldwide. Even in non-Covid times, that might have been a tough number to match, as the first film wasn’t all that great and at least some folks fall into the “only curious the first time” box. Still, that first flick cost around $90 million, and this one (which seems to take place in and around the same city) doesn’t look like Columbia and friends went and spent $180 million on the follow-up. So, even if it does the thing where the sequel to the over performing original “disappoints” by only earning about as much as we all expected from the first film, that’s somewhat okay on a Covid curve.
Come what may, Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens theatrically, and only in theaters dammit, on September 24. It frankly looks terrific, and I’m shocked to find myself more eager for this one than any of the recent/upcoming MCU movies, but that could partially be “blank slate” versus “known entity.” My ten-year-old is more jazzed for this flick than anything else on the horizon. Presuming all goes well, Venom 2 will open domestically right as No Time to Die opens in the U.K. in advance of its October 8 domestic launch. I guess I can finally schedule that “Naomie Harris is Hollywood’s most underrated blockbuster utility player” essay that I’ve been meaning to write since, well, when was No Time to Die first supposed to open?