Comic book fans everywhere are nervously waiting for the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage. The first film in the franchise wasn’t necessarily a terrible film but it certainly wasn’t as good as what it should have been either. And while its predecessor didn’t exactly set the world on fire, this Venom film’s trailer seemed to offer a ray of hope for those fans who knew there was a decent Venom story waiting to be told.

This second film sees Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy – The Dark Knight Rises) still leading a relatively lonely life. He is still separated from the love of his life, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams – Brokeback Mountain), but at least his crime writing has picked up once again and now he has constant daily battles with Venom who remains co-existing with Brock’s body and demanding to eat bad guys and not chickens.

It is Brock’s crime writing that soon leads him to an interesting interaction when Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham – Snatch) calls him in to interview serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson – Zombieland). While Brock feels that his interview does not answer any of the questions that the Police want answered about Kasady Venom sees things differently and a glance at Kasady’s artwork through Venom’s eyes provides clues to where the remains of more of Kasady’s victims lie.

That results in Kasady being placed on death row and he demands one last meeting with Brock before his death. One bite later and suddenly Kasady also has a ‘being’ living inside him – the destructive Carnage – who allows Kasady to escape prison and join forces with his mutant girlfriend, Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris – No Time To Die).

The man responsible for some of the most iconic characters of modern day cinema, Andy Serkis (Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle), takes over the directional reigns and that feels like a great move from the very beginning. The inter-play between Brock and Venom takes centre stage this time around the result instantly feels like a film with depth as the correlations of what Brock is going through and what somebody with mental illness may experience comes to the fore instantly adding to layers to what could have become a dangerously formulaic comic-book film.

Screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks) also allows for more characterisation this time around. Not only do we get a better sense of who Venom is the film also properly develops its villain. It has often be said that Marvel villains are often forgettable but that is not the case with Cletus Kasady. A back story is provided with flashbacks while the performance of Woody Harrelson allows the audience to connect with Kasady as a character in the same way they will have done with characters like The Joker and Catwoman from the DC Universe.

The only unfortunate thing about Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the length of the film. With such well-explored characters facing off against each other it feels like parts of the story are wasted in one of the shortest comic book movies ever made. As a villain, Kasady certainly deserves more. The result is a film that seems to build and build on characterisation only to then slightly let down its audience with an all action finale that seems to almost be over in a blink of an eye. This is one time when you actually wish that a Marvel film was longer and perhaps could be extended into a Disney+ series.

The highlight of this film though are the performances of Hardy and Harrleson. The pair play worthy enemies and both men bring their A-Game to their roles. Hardy (who also wrote part of the story this time around) plays up both the seriousness and comedic parts of his relationship with Venom while Harrelson goes all out as he creates one of Marvel’s most memorable villains to date.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is certainly a step in the right direction for the franchise. A good story and some great character interactions make for a much more layered and mature film than the first film. A great teaser after the credits suggests that this franchise is about to get much bigger and with Tom Hardy at the peak of his game true fans will definitely find themselves saying “bring it on!”

3/5 Stars