“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” has two not-inconsiderable virtues. Its badness makes you appreciate how pretty-good or even better than that Marvel superhero movies usually are. This one is DC-leaden — if not also, thankfully, DC-long. That’s the other virtue, though even with a 90-minute runtime it feels long.
The movie’s a sequel to “Venom” (2018). The subtitle does double duty. This one certainly does have a lot of carnage in it, belonging as it does to that subdivision of superhero movies that get their mojo mostly from nastiness. (Rated PG-13, the movie should be R.) And Carnage is a character. Like Venom, he, or it, is an alien symbiote.
Some explaining is in order. An alien symbiote is a creature from outer space who when on Earth requires a human host to survive. So that’s “symbiote” as in “symbiotic.” It stays invisible inside its human until such time as it deploys its superpowers. Then it springs out, looking like an oversize, multi-tentacled version of the creature from “Alien” — 40 years and counting, Ridley Scott’s movie retains its influence — and the symbiote becomes even scarier in action than appearance.
Venom’s host is Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist in San Francisco. Eddie lives in a really cool loft. Affording it on a reporter’s salary is a superpower greater than any of the ones Venom has.
The split-personality element is the most promising aspect in the two “Venom” movies. Superheroes are often divided characters. Eddie and Venom are really divided. “You live in my body, you live by my rules,” Eddie tells Venom. “I live in your body because I don’t have any other options,” Venom corrects him.
That’s representative of their repartee. Besides being nasty, the new movie is quite jokey. This wouldn’t be a tonal issue if the jokes were good, but they’re not. Venom does get off the best line in the movie — “Responsibility is for the mediocre” (who knew symbiotes read Nietzsche?) — and there’s a nice “Game of Thrones” throwaway about the Red Wedding.
Andy Serkis directed. Serkis, who’s given so many memorable acting performances (Gollum! Caesar the chimpanzee!), doesn’t elicit any here. The great cinematographer Robert Richardson shot the movie, which makes its lack of visual texture all the more dispiriting.
Venom speaks in an electronically altered version of Hardy’s voice. It sounds less like Hardy than Darth Vader gargling. The creature alternates between being Eddie’s superego and his id — especially id when it comes to his ex-fiancee, Anne. Michelle Williams, as Anne, mostly just stands around and looks pained. At least Hardy seems to be having a good time. Perhaps this is because he had a hand in the script.
A wonderfully forceful actor, Hardy plays Eddie in such a low-key fashion the character seems a bit dim. Since the “Venom” movies are a Spider-Man spin-off (don’t ask), maybe the idea is to give Eddie a bit of Peter Parker’s innocence. If so, it doesn’t work.
Woody Harrelson, wearing a wig, plays the villain, Cletus Kasady. Cletus is a serial killer on death row in San Quentin. The scenes with him in his cell are very Hannibal Lecter (speaking of influential movies). Cletus becomes host to Carnage. An alien symbiote inhabiting a not-very-bright journalist? That’s asking for trouble. One that’s inhabiting a serial killer? That’s really asking for it. The trouble extends to Harrelson’s performance. His contract must have included dental insurance with a very low deductible. He would have needed it, after all the scenery-chewing he does.
Cletus has a love interest, Frances, a.k.a. Shriek (her superpower involves sound). Naomie Harris plays her. Next week the new Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” comes out. In it, Harris makes her third appearance as Miss Moneypenny. Bond wouldn’t recognize her here. That’s probably just as well.
VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE
Directed by Andy Serkis. Written by Kelly Marcel, Tom Hardy. Starring Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris. At Boston theaters, Kendall Square, suburbs. 90 minutes. PG-13 (it should be R, with the general nastiness of the violence)
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.