Sometimes you look at a snarling extraterrestrial symbiote — with his razor-sharp smile and lasciviously long tongue — and you just feel seen. Remarkably, I saw a bit of myself, and all of us struggling to thrive in this murky pandemic moment, when I saw Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Surprisingly, this superhero action-romp is centered on an alien vigilante who reflects the mania, madness, and carnage of being human right now.

Don’t mistake me. This bonkers sequel to 2018’s Venom was never intended to be the superhero genre’s commentary on a world driven to the brink by a global pandemic. Production on Venom: Let There Be Carnage was wrapped weeks before COVID-19 brought film productions worldwide to a standstill. So the coronavirus was not a consideration beyond pushing the movie further and further down the release calendar. Venom and his frenemy Eddie Brock (both played by Tom Hardy) live in a timeline without COVID, but with another dangerous pathogen, who mercilessly attacks the public without warning. In this eerily coincidental setup, Venom becomes a shining and troubling reflection of who we are in this time of fear, disease, and desperation to find a new normal.

Laying low after leaving a trail of decapitated bodies from Veddie’s last adventure, Venom begins this sequel in a sort of lockdown. Like many who were bored in the house and in the house bored, Venom got a pet. As if he were a New England hipster, he picked up a couple of live chickens. Eddie expected them to be food for the alien’s insatiable hunger for brains. But Venom can’t bring himself to bite the heads off of the plucky pair because “Sonny and Cher are best friends.”

So, the pet chickens are a clucking part of the cramped apartment that Venom and Eddie share. But hey, it’s not all bad. They binged Making A Murderer (possibly while the rest of us were hate-watching Tiger King). Plus, Venom got into cooking, just like so many did with the rise of work from home (and takeout prices). Together, these roomies found a wonky rhythm in the close confines of Eddie’s apartment and his body, which they share. But after untold months, Venom is going stir-crazy and yearns to break free of Eddie and all his “don’t eat people” rules.

Remember how good it felt stepping back out into the world, even briefly? Maybe you went to your local bodega to get your favorite junk food. (For Venom, that’s chocolate.) Perhaps you went to a costume party, a concert, or a carnival? Venom does it all, and for the first time, he does it without hiding behind Eddie. “I’m coming out of the Eddie closet,” the towering titan proclaims to a bewildered crowd at the rowdy Carnival of the Damned.

In an interview with Uproxx, director Andy Serkis has described this splashy scene or revelers, costumes, and dancing as “Venom’s coming-out party.” He even noted that screenwriters Tom Hardy and Kelly Marcel imagined the carnival setting of the scene as “an LGBTQIA kind of festival.”

This proved prophetic. In the isolation of the pandemic, a lot of people have had time for personal reflection. Some discovered their pride and came out about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Bedecked in glow sticks and cheered on by the crowd, Venom follows their lead, feeling the glory of telling his truth and having it accepted. It’s the dream!

Yet, this victorious scene feels a bit zany in context. The audience to Venom’s coming out cannot conceive of what they’re actually witnessing. They don’t realize there’s a man-eating monster before them; they think Venom is wearing a cool costume for the carnival. So, when he takes to the stage opposite rapper Little Simz (a mid-concert cameo), he might be considered part of the show or a cosplayer finding their true self through a mask (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde). Still, it’s thrilling and sweet to see this cheerful tough guy embraced by an ecstatic community. More than anything Venom wants to see people and be seen.

Venom was a dance break away from going full pandemic-era TikTok star!

He wants to be a hero, who thwarts crime and eats criminals! In this coming out moment, he’s really feeling himself. Little Simz is right there with a mic, seemingly poised to jam out to her hit song “Venom,” which is the theme for this movie and a recent TikTok trend. Sadly, the film fails to give us a ‘Ninja Rap’ moment (a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Part II: The Secret of the Ooze) that could have made this scene go from sweet to sublime. Venom was a dance break away from going full pandemic-era TikTok star! (But maybe there’s still time for that…)

As charismatic as Venom is, he is not simply a superhero. He’s an anti-hero, who makes messy and murderous decisions on impulse. This makes him a joltingly accurate depiction of these times. His hunger to engage in the human world is understandable, but it doesn’t change the simple fact that Venom a threat to the public’s health. A superhero who wears a facemask might now play as an allegory for protecting your community. Meanwhile, Venom doesn’t want to hide behind a mask, and he’s literally a deadly parasite. Through both Venom movies, he and his kind invade human bodies, often destroying them from the inside out. In Let There Be Carnage, Venom’s body-hopping is treated as a dark joke. But as one after another host collapses because of him, we’re reminded how selfish desire — no matter how relatable — can be lethal to others.

Like Venom, we want to go out into the world, party without a care, be seen and appreciated. But Venom barrels through San Francisco as if its residents aren’t his community but just an audience to his latest urge. This makes Venom not quite a hero, but nonetheless a fitting hero of our twisted times.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is now playing in theaters. 

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