By Elias Savada.

A frothy, silly flick, full of gory hijinks and dumbster fun. Let the slapstick continue.”

I wonder if anyone at Columbia Pictures, the studio that has that small chunk of the other Marvel action figures that Disney hasn’t encased, remembers that it was also the movie company that brought us The Three Stooges. Why? Because Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the latest installment in one of its comic book franchises, feels like it’s pulled a bunch of old (yet refreshingly funny) gags from the lunatic minds of Moe, Larry, and Curly, then plopped them into two stooges — an alien from another planet and the frantic, fitful human being that acts as his host. Table manners be damned, full freak ahead.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Plenty of foolish physical immaturity runs amok here. The peculiar circumstances that surround reporter Eddie Brock and his uncomfortable alliance with the symbiote phantom he houses create many self-flagellating clash- and crash-filled moments in this sequel to Ruben Fleischer’s Venom. The bombastic alien symbiote that he is, Venom loves to constantly escalate his imprisoned chomp-and-stomp life into rock ’em sock ’em mode. Oh, sure, there’s a menacing plot, but it’s the comic schtick between poor schlub Brock and his inner alien being that drives this film into looney land. Thomas Hardy is blessedly back as the discombobulated newsman, doing a great job acting opposite himself. He even voices the throaty, low-pitched intonations of the other entity inside his character. While I equate that to Levi Stubbs (the carnivorous Audrey II in the 1986 film version of Little Shop of Horrors) with a mouthful of gravel, Hardy, in an interview with Screen Rant, offers his inspiration. “Redman, Busta Rhymes, and James Brown as ingredients and then I played with it to create the fusion of sort of what you hear, which sounds nothing like that, but initially was like a vibe or heartbeat that I wanted to bring to it. That kind of bombastic, playful, like dark, witty, clever, you know, honest, but with a power familiar friendly sound which is palatable.”

Screenwriter Kelly Marcel (working from a story she and Hardy concocted) is promoted from co-screenwriter to sole scribe, robustly setting the eponymous anti-hero created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie on a collision course with an offshoot of himself. Of course, the amorphous creature that offers a slight resemblance to the chest-busting monster in the Alien films (and is quite a bit less acidic), got its start as a troublesome attachment to Spider-Man in the mid-1980s. [Reminder: Do stay through the end credits for a wink-wink suggestion on where Venom 3 might be headed.]

In this first sequel to the 2018 original, the villain — on an unlikely road to super villainy — is Cletus Kasady, a serial killer turned Venom offspring. Woody Harrelson, who cameoed in character at the end of the first film, is indeed a terrific choice to play Cletus, the human home to Carnage, Venom’s meaner, humorless, psychotic child. While the Emmy- and Oscar-nominated actor has a mischievous, wild, chameleon-like ability to portray a wild range of characters, I’m still very partial to his comedic talents as the Twinkie-addicted Tallahassee in the two Zombieland films. Harrelson beckons back to his earlier zombie-fighting character in the new film, but twists the comedy to a Level 11 on the maniacal scale. Cletus/Carnage also has a likewise damaged girlfriend, Frances Barrison/Shriek (Naomie Harris, also appearing as Moneypenny in the latest James Bond film), and the casualty level increases accordingly. This super-paired relationship appears doomed as her best superpower, a really loud yell, is one of the symbiote’s weaknesses.

Back again, as romantic interest (of sorts) is Michelle Williams as Anne Weying, Eddie’s former squeeze has realized that a menage-a-trois between the two of them is a game changer. She’s now engaged to Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), but some fortunate climatic reconciliations allow for all of unlikely pairings, as well as the dogged Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham), to participate in a clocktower climax.

The renown Andy Serkis tosses off his motion-capture garb as Gollum (in the numerous Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings and related J.R.R. Tolkien spinoffs), as the biggest classic primate of all time (2005’s King Kong, also by Jackson), and the smaller beast Caesar in the Planet of the Apes films, to sit behind the camera and direct here, his third feature. He made a small dent with his earlier efforts, the traditional love story Breathe (2017) and the visually stunning Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, 2016’s live-action adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic that streamed on Netflix. As he’s progressed into bigger budget terrain, he’s embracing a broader sense of humor, no doubt helped by Marcel’s blueprint and the comic antics of Hardy.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a frothy, silly flick, full of gory hijinks and dumbster fun. Let the slapstick continue.

Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).

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