• by Wes Singleton

Venom: Let There Be Carnage - B-

Rated PG-13, 91 minutes

We know by now that not all superheroes are inherently good, a point well-taken in the new Marvel superhero sequel "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," a sequel to 2018's "Venom," both set in the same universe as Spider-Man. While it lacks the depth and heft of the genre, its stellar cast and energy make for an entertaining time and an improvement over the forgettable first film.

Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Oscar-nominee Tom Hardy) struggles to adjust to life as the host of the alien symbioteVenom, which grants him super-human abilities in order to be a lethal vigilante. Brock attempts to reignite his career by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who becomes the host of the symbiote Carnage and escapes prison after a failed execution.

"Venom: Let There Be Carnage" is directed by Andy Serkis, Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings" fame, and is written by "Fifty Shades of Grey's" Kelly Marcel, with added story help from Hardy himself, who plays both Brock as well as the voice of Venom. It’s a deeply flawed film with a story that is all over the place, particularly in its sluggish first act. However, its swift pacing, decent visuals and "Odd Couple"-style humor make for a better time than the misguided first entry.

In addition to making a swifter, funnier sequel, Serkis has a talented cast to work with too, with Harrelson chewing scenery as the baddie Carnage, and Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris ("Moonlight") his equally bad love interest Frances Barrison, aka Shriek. Emmy-winner Michelle Williams isn't given much to do until late in the film; also Reid Scott ("Late Night") as her fiance and Stephen Graham ("The Irishman"), as a cop who holds key information on the villains have a few good scenes.

While "Let There Be Carnage" is clearly set up for at least one more film (and Hardy has already signed on to a third film), I also propose a spinoff film featuring Peggy Lu as the funny, sarcastic shopowner Ms. Chen, who nearly steals the film and upstages both Hardy and Williams in a couple of key moments. An added plus: the film's cinematography, from acclaimed, Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson ("The Aviator") makes good use of the visuals, particularly in the climactic battle scene between Carnage and Venom.

"Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is surface level, never fully exploring its characters or dark themes and lacking some powerful moments, but the action and special effects make up for it, pleasing Marvel fans who may have been disappointed from the first film. Also, if you're wondering if there's a stinger scene in the credits, there is and you'll want to stay for it, as there is a key cameo from another Marvel superhero.