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We Are Not Prepared for the Carnage of ‘Venom 2’

The sequel to one of the most bizarre superhero films of all time seems uninterested in toning it down. Thank God.

Sony Pictures/Ringer illustration

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” Tom Hardy’s character tells Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception, before pulling out a grenade launcher and aiming it at Cillian Murphy’s battalion of dream soldiers. (Inception was a weird movie.) It was a moment so iconic that—and this is true—Hardy’s line became the official motto of my high school graduating class. We all voted and “quote from a supporting character in a Christopher Nolan movie” came out on top in an undeniable win for democracy. To this day, there is a tiny plaque on the school grounds with that Tom Hardy quote instructing students to zig where others zag, and to follow their passions wherever they lead. (Mom, if you’re reading this, you should know that Tom Hardy is the reason I am a blogger.)

I’d like to think Hardy was repeating his Inception dialogue like a mantra while he worked on Venom. Venom had the makings of yet another bland and wholly forgettable superhero movie, featuring a weak antagonist, flat supporting characters (why was Jenny Slate even in this film?), and generic, CGI-driven action sequences. But Hardy carried the film like LeBron carried the Cleveland Cavaliers in his final seasons with the team. He sweated, twitched, convulsed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shat himself, in a performance that feels like it has more in common with the work of Tommy Wiseau than that of Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Evans. At one point—in a scene improvised reportedly on the actor’s own insistence—Hardy’s Eddie Brock, infected with an alien parasite craving live flesh, jumps into a lobster tank and eats a poor crustacean while moaning with satisfaction. FYI, the sounds that come out of Hardy’s mouth are truly NSFW:

Venom was, and remains, one of my most cherished moviegoing experiences: a stealth romantic comedy between a man and an alien parasite (apologies to four-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams) where Tom Hardy seemed to be the only person in the production who was in on the joke. He intuitively understood the tale of a Vice investigative reporter and the surly voice in his head that made him eat tater tots, discarded chicken, and live lobsters was a disasterpiece in waiting. The problem with the rest of Venom was that nobody could compete with Hardy’s gonzo energy; that is, until the film’s mid-credits revealed a worthy adversary.

After Venom successfully saves the world from a symbiote invasion because Eddie’s symbiote is, quote, “kind of a loser” on his home planet and likes feeling cool on Earth, Eddie visits an incarcerated serial killer named Cletus Kasady to conduct an interview for his next big piece. In their brief exchange, Cletus promises “carnage,” a tease of his own symbiote-infused alter ego—though it’s hard to take the dude seriously because he is actually Woody Harrelson in a clown wig:

Sony Pictures

Cletus might look like a live-action Sideshow Bob, but this was good, actually. Harrelson could be the Magic to Hardy’s Bird. If you don’t think the man can compete with Hardy on the weirdness scale, well, you simply don’t know Woody. I humbly submit his work from last year as a Wimbledon spectator, which was arguably more compelling than much of the tournament’s tennis.

After Venom grossed more than $850 million at the box office, the green-lighting of a sequel was a given. My hope was that Sony Pictures would double down on what made the film so captivating: the erotic dynamic between Eddie and Venom, and letting Tom Hardy (and now Woody Harrelson) cook. There were reasons to be optimistic. For one, the sequel was being solely written by Kelly Marcel, who cowrote the first film with Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg. It’s hard to say who’s responsible for what parts of a script when multiple writers are attached, but seeing as Marcel’s previous screenplay was the Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation, I feel comfortable assuming she gave the film its light, kinky BDSM energy. (Venom is the dom and Eddie is the sub, obviously.) Plus, with Hardy “very involved” in the creation of the new story, there’s no way things won’t get strange on the page.

Secondly, Venom 2 will have a new director: Andy Serkis. You probably know Serkis for his many great mo-cap performances, but he’s also done some work behind the camera. Most notably, this was the dude who thought it was a good idea to adapt The Jungle Book—a tale that primarily appeals to children—into a violent, gritty, and traumatic PG-13 hellscape. Between a Fifty Shades of Grey screenwriter, a director who decided he’d introduce little Mowgli as a baby covered in the blood of his mauled parents, and Tom Hardy doing Tom Hardy things, Venom 2 could fire on all of its slimy cylinders with a creative brain trust presumably on the same weirdo wavelength.

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that Venom 2 is my most anticipated film of the year. But after seeing the movie’s early photos from the set, this sequel is possibly the most anticipated film of my entire life.

Let’s set the stage. Venom 2 is in production. Andy Serkis looks like he’s ready to perform a sea shanty. Hardy and Harrelson are vibing. Eddie Brock is in his natural state: dazed and confused. This is all par for the course—but then you see what they’ve done to Cletus Kasady. This is not the Carnage I was expecting.

I have a few follow-up questions: What happened to Harrelson’s clown wig? Is this movie set in the ’80s? Is this outfit what the symbiote forces Cletus to wear because he thinks it’ll make him look cool? Whatever the inspiration, this is somehow worse—and frankly more iconic—than the way the character looked in the first film’s mid-credits scene.

Here’s a list of things the new and not-so-improved Cletus Kasady looks like:

  • The mythical Florida Man
  • My dad who left for a pack of cigarettes
  • Guy Fieri’s edgy second cousin
  • The moderator of a men’s rights Facebook group with fewer than 2,000 members
  • Per my colleague Dan Devine, someone with “Extreme Guy Who Wore Oversized Anime Character Button-Down Shirt to the Club in 1999 Energy”
  • A midtier boss in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
  • Someone who hasn’t paid child support in four months
  • Someone who thought Joker should’ve won Best Picture
  • Someone who doesn’t believe in cunnilingus
  • A person loitering within Port Authority
  • The physical embodiment of a midlife crisis
  • The protagonist of Uncut Gems 2

Shout-out to Just Jared for the most important investigative journalism of the new decade; Eddie Brock would be proud. And I am proud—nay, overjoyed—that Venom 2 might be more absurd than I had expected even in my wildest dreams. The Cletus-Carnage repartee will be incredible; they somehow roped Michelle Williams back into this for the earnest delivery of lines like, “I’m sorry about Venom”; her character’s boyfriend, played by Reid Scott, is returning as the world’s most chill/unqualified doctor, who was willing to pass off Eddie Brock’s symbiote symptoms as a stomach bug; the sequel also has Naomie Harris playing the villain Shriek, who in the comics is Cletus’s love interest, and can you imagine falling for a guy who looks like Even More Washed Josh Homme? If Venom was already a so-bad-it’s-good classic, then Venom 2 is shaping up to be the Citizen Kane of garbage cinema.

I want more Instagrams. I want a trailer. I want to read the script, along with every creative suggestion Tom Hardy made where Sony had to be like, “Sorry, but legally we can’t sign off on this.” I want to inhale every single anecdote from the set. If I could eat the essence of Venom 2 the way Eddie Brock chows on lobsters in lobster tanks, I would. We are Venom, and Venom is me.

We might never get a superhero movie like this again. Let’s sit back and enjoy the Carnage while we can.