This may seem like a weird way to start a review of a combative comic book movie but could someone please make a screwball romantic comedy starring Michelle Williams?
The multiple Oscar nominee almost always gets cast as weeping moms and wives but her zesty supporting performance in "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" has her channeling the energy of classic comedy stars such as Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Arthur. Williams plays Anne, an attorney who's clearly still in love with Eddie (Tom Hardy), even though she has moved on to a boring new man. She has to save the day when Eddie gets in trouble — a scenario that also played out in the first "Venom."
Hardy's amusing in dual roles: Eddie, whom the actor makes so meek that it seems like he should be on a paper route in a 1950s sitcom, and Venom, the alien force that has attached itself to Eddie and turns him into a vicious, sarcastic superhero at the first sign of trouble. There's plenty of it in "Carnage," because a serial killer (Woody Harrelson, whose gnarly performance is more repellent than the movie seems to realize) has escaped from prison and an even more destructive alien force has attached to him. The men and their alien symbiotes ultimately do battle in a climax that threatens to wreck more of the movie's San Francisco setting than that earthquake in 1906.
Director Andy Serkis, whose specialty has been performing motion-capture characters in the "Lord of the Rings" and "Planet of the Apes" movies, seems to be trying to duplicate the energy of a kid tearing through a comic book (Venom is part of the Marvel franchise but only loosely connected to the rest of its cinematic universe). "Carnage" is a lot, with broad performances and so many loud, frenetic, close-up battle sequences that it's not always easy to tell what's happening on screen.
That can be exhausting. Once the 90-minute "Carnage" gets going, the only time it pauses for us to catch a breath is when Williams is trading quips with Hardy, which is why her performance stands out. If an actor can make an impression amid the relentless action of "Venom," just imagine what she could do if she had an entire movie to work her magic.
'Venom: Let There Be Carnage'
**1/2 out four stars
Rating: PG-13 for intense violence, strong language and suggestive references.
Where: Wide release (theaters only).