“This does have a lot of darkness in it. Cletus Kasady is not a nice person.”
When Sony first announced a solo film for Venom, many pined for a brutal, R-rated take on the monstrous villain from Marvel Comics. But instead of the brooding and moody picture some may have had in mind, the anti-hero’s debut adventure featured a wildly varying tone. At times the film dipped into surreal horror with genuinely terrifying imagery, but then it would waltz into physical comedy the next scene over.
The sum effect of this can be jarring. However, it could also be seen as the result of very intentional creative choices. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel, part of the team who penned the first film’s screenplay, opts for the latter.
“Venom had a really mixed tone. We’re doing comedy with kind of like horror,” said Marcel. “It was an unexpected way to do one of these superhero movies. And I think that kind of surprised a lot of people.”
And something about that surprise paid off. While the film’s critical reception wasn’t too warm, the project was a massive box office hit, earning over $854 million worldwide and getting things rolling for Sony’s nascent universe of Marvel characters.
Now, with the film’s sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage poised to hit theaters in just a few days, Marcel, this time the sole screenwriter on the project, seeks to strike that same balance between dark and light under a PG-13 rating. But that becomes difficult when the film’s antagonist is Cletus Kasady.
Kasady has a long history of violence as a serial killer in the comics, thus any adaptation needs to remain true to that backstory. So, the film needs to let audiences feel the weight of this threat while also making good on the promise to be a follow up to Venom and its winning tonal balance. Luckily, the creative team behind the film understood the task, with newcomer Andy Serkis being no exception in the director’s chair.
“He [Andy Serkis] understood immediately what it was that Tom [Hardy] and I were trying to go for. And how difficult it is to walk that line. You know, because you still have to hold tension. And you still have to tell the darker side of the story,” said Marcel.
I recently spoke further with Marcel on the struggles behind balancing the Marvel sequel’s demands, collaborating with the prolific mind of Tom Hardy, and dealing with her critics. Below is a summary of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Anhar Karim: In other interviews you’ve mentioned how you and Tom Hardy would go through hundreds of ideas over FaceTime to get this story down. Was it difficult to get all that on paper afterwards?
Kelly Marcel: You know, we spoke a lot on the set of [the first] Venom. Like, if the movie was successful and we were lucky enough to get to do a second movie, there were all these fantasy ideas about what that would look like. And what does it look like if you’ve lived with an alien, for a period of time, that is kind of renting a room in your body? And if you’re such opposing characters, how does that feel?
So, when we knew we were going to get to do Venom 2 we really started hitting the FaceTime sort of every day. It would be like his evening in London, and my daytime in Los Angeles. And we did that for months. We were really diligent about kicking the doors down on all of the ideas, really talking them all the way through to the end and making sure that they held firm and that all the arcs for the characters could work.
So, we did months of that. But then [for] actually getting the ideas we loved down on paper, we did do a week in London where we just holed up in a hotel. We had our producer Hutch Parker with us as well, and we really kind of like stress-tested each of the storylines and figured out which were the best.
AK: Could you point towards any scenes or moments that were particularly difficult to finalize?
KM: There’s actually a couple. So in the trailer you have that breakfast scene, but it isn’t only Venom creating chaos in that world. There’s also a lot of information that has to come out of that scene because as it progresses it turns into a kind of backstory for Cletus Kasady.
We knew we were dealing with a PG-13 rating. But we also knew we were dealing with this incredibly violent psychopath, a serial killer. So, we needed to be faithful to his backstory and somehow had to get the information across in a way that was palatable for the audience. So, you’ll see there’s a media change in the movie. Where we’re not necessarily in live action anymore, and we’re paying homage to the fact that these come from comic books.
So that one for sure. And then I would say the other one— and these are in terms of script not necessarily story breaking. But scripting out the third act was insane. Because it’s sort of 25 pages of non-stop action, but that is also carrying story. So it has— I think it has all the characters in the film in it. Everybody’s talking to each other. Everyone has their own like little side beef with somebody else. There’s backstory coming out of Cletus, and then there’s Venom finally seeing Carnage. And it all happens in this final kind of 25 pages. Pulling that together was bonkers, like rewrite after rewrite after rewrite just all the way through.
AK: How was it working with Andy Serkis, with him bringing his fresh take onto the team?
KM: Well firstly I was just a bit starstruck. Because I love Andy Serkis! So I was just a bit like, ‘Oh my god! It’s Andy Serkis! It’s Gollum!’ And just totally embarrassed myself and made him do Gollum impressions [laughs].
AK: You got to make him do it!
KM: You got to! Once I’d calmed down a bit, he was an amazing partner. He read the script. He loved it. He didn’t want to change any of it. He had loved all the tonal madness of Venom, and he understood immediately what it was that Tom and I were trying to go for. And how difficult it is to walk that line. You know, because you still have to hold tension. And you still have to tell the darker side of the story.
Also, Andy’s worked so much with CGI creatures. Like this is his world. And he brought to it a lot of like— what he did with Gollum. What do you call it…the dots?
AK: Motion capture?
KM: Motion capture. He brought all of that into it which we hadn’t used on Venom 1, which was amazing to be able to do. Someone that really understood movement was so incredibly important in these films, because ultimately we’ve got these big creatures that aren’t really with us on the set. And obviously Andy can do every voice in the world. So like— [when] we didn’t have Carnage there, Andy would jump in!
It was honestly like Andy, Hutch, Tom and me having a party every day. It was just so fun. And hopefully that comes across in the movie too.
AK: So, while the first Venom was a massive financial success, some of the critical reception was colder. Now that you’re the sole screenwriter, was trying to address the critiques part of your process?
KM: Not really. Look, Venom had a really mixed tone. We’re doing comedy with kind of like horror. And Eddie Brock is not your typical Marvel hero. In our version he’s scared because an alien took over his body. It was an unexpected way to do one of these superhero movies. And I think that surprised a lot of people.
I know the critics didn’t love it. But I think the fans really did. And they came to it and they showed it a lot of love. And we learned from them what was important and the things they loved about the first movie. So it was really much more about making sure they got what they wanted and that it’s just an enjoyable, fun movie for the Venom fans. But we definitely hit harder in certain areas, certain tonal areas.
AK: Is there anything else that you’d want us to know here?
KM: You know, it’s been a hard year in the pandemic, and we’ve really come to feel like this is going to be a joyous celebration of being able to go back to the cinema. It’s such a unique feeling. And when we got to see the final cut of it at Sony, it was so emotional. Even though there’s like six of us in the room watching, just to be back in a movie theater felt really emotional. I hope it cheers everybody up.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage hits theaters on October 1st. The film is directed by Andy Serkis and stars Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, and Michelle Williams.