Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock/Venom in Columbia Pictures’ VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE.

There’s an online comic strip called “Garfield Minus Garfield” where the author removes Garfield the cat from the classic daily comic strip and leave’s Garfield’s owner Jon talking to himself and coming across pretty much as a crazy person.

I was reminded of “Garfield Minus Garfield” when I first saw “Venom,” which in retrospect should have been titled “Spider-Man Minus Spider-Man.”

In the comic books, Venom is one of Spider-Man’s greatest foils, an oozing alien symbiote that gloms onto disgraced journalist Eddie Brock and the pair became one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes.

But because of corporate wrangling, Sony has maintained the movie rights to Spider-Man’s rouge’s gallery while Marvel/Disney was able to partner with Sony to bring everyone’s favorite web-slinger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s all very convoluted, but in an attempt to cash in on what they had, Sony released “Venom” in 2018 with the fantastic Tom Hardy playing Eddie Brock (and voicing Venom). While seeing the internal dynamic of down-on-his-luck Brock trying to reign in a bloodthirsty alien was fun, the whole affair felt kind of hollow without sometimes-enemy, sometimes-ally Spider-Man to play off of.

That all brings us to “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” or “Spider-Man Minus Spider-Man 2.” Hardy is back and while the odd-couple relationship between Brock and Venom is still a hoot, our toothy symbiote still finds himself in a clunker of a movie.

At least this time they give Venom a worthy foe to face off against in the form of Carnage, another symbiote who has attached himself to serial killer Cletus Kassady (Woody Harrelson, reveling in the freedom of playing an unhinged psychopath).

So we’ve got interesting people playing interesting characters, but the movie doesn’t give them anything particularly interesting to do.  

Director Andy Serkis (best-known for his motion-capture acting performances), rushes things along to the point that the eventual showdown between Venom and Carnage winds up being an anti-climactic CGI mishmash.

And in spite of everyone’s best efforts, the Spidey-sized hole in the proceedings remains glaring.

Sony and Marvel’s various wheelings and dealings means that there’s hope that someday Hardy’s Venom might square off against Spider-Man, but in the meantime, as long as he’s flying solo, the creative team at Sony is going to have to try a whole lot harder than they have been to keep pace with Marvel.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references.

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