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‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ review: Marvel and Sony’s dreary sequel could use some brains in more ways than one

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Tom Hardy produced and shares story credit in addition to starring in this follow-up to the 2018 film, with Andy Serkis sliding into the director’s seat, having previously helmed the effects-heavy “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.”
Serkis’ dexterity in the realm of motion-capture performances doesn’t translate into this endeavor, as the movie essentially pummels the audience for 90-some-odd minutes.

In expanding on the original, the heart of the film becomes a weird cross between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and a buddy comedy, with Hardy’s journalist Eddie Brock uncomfortably sharing his body with the perpetually hungry alien symbiote Venom, having worked out a system to control his ornery guest — who keeps making demands like “Let me eat him!” — by simply saying, “You live in my body, you live by my rules.”

Their strange and strained symbiosis occupies a sizable chunk of the movie (at one point couples counseling is suggested), but it’s not the driving portion of the story. That belongs to the imprisoned serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, setting a new standard for overacting), who during an encounter with Brock manages to bite him, inhaling just enough not-exactly-blood to create his own monster, the red-hued Carnage.

While Brock wrestles with containing his inner demon — and continues pining for his ex (Michelle Williams) — Kasady gleefully unleashes his as he/Carnage embark on a killing and revenge spree seeking to reunite with his long-lost love (Naomie Harris), who possesses her own superpower that’s incompatible with the whole symbiote thing.

Although Venom stems from Sony’s screen stewardship of Spider-Man, the horror underpinnings of the character push into darker territory, and if the first just barely landed on the reasonable side of a PG-13 rating, that label appears even more questionable this time out. Suffice it to say any parents thinking the funny big-toothed monster is appropriate fare for younger kids should be prepared to have them sleeping in their rooms.

Granted, there’s space for edgier comic-book fare (see “Deadpool”), but “Venom” mistakes chaos for excitement. Then again, at least that might explain why the title characters are so starved for brains, residing as they do in a movie blessed with so few of them.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” premieres in US theaters on Oct. 1. It’s rated PG-13.

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