Venom: Let There Be Carnage has already established itself as the breakout hit of 2021. In reaching a $90 million opening weekend, the sequel has not only surpassed the opening numbers of the first film, but it is currently now the largest pandemic-era domestic debut. Setting this new record has taken mostly everyone by total surprise, except for the fans who flocked to cinemas to see their long-awaited dream showdown: Venom vs. Carnage. Sony Pictures CEO Tom Rothman released an official statement saying, “We are so grateful to Tom, Andy, Kelly and all of the many gifted contributors who made such a fun and unique film.” We were lucky to sit down with one of those pivotal names, writer Kelly Marcel.
Best known for working on Saving Mr. Banks and Fifty Shades of Grey, Kelly Marcel first entered the comic-book world on 2018’s Venom. She was brought on to streamline the script, her second time in doing so specifically with Tom Hardy. The two have a special bond that traces all the way back to 2008 when Hardy asked Marcel to do uncredited rewrites on Bronson as a personal favor, the film that arguably first blew up the actor’s name to what it is today. After the success of Venom, Sony gave Marcel and Hardy the chance to build the sequel all on their own. The two share final story credit, with Marcel solely owning the actual ‘screenplay by’ title. Given that Let There Be Carnage has nowhere to go but up from here, Marcel’s role in the creative process couldn’t be more deserving of praise.
In discussing the sequel, Marcel made it clear that she’s as just as much of a comic-book fan as anyone else. We get a look into her collaborative process with Tom Hardy and how they found the film’s absurd, zany tone with director Andy Serkis. We couldn’t let the exclusive interview end without, of course, diving into Carnage himself and asking what the future might have in store for Venom!
So with the first Venom, there were quite a few more writers compared to Let There Be Carnage where it was just you. Did this make writing the sequel any different?
Kelly Marcel: There wasn’t a huge difference, other than when I came on to the first one, there was already a really solid, good script and structure in place. So I just came on to sort of address notes that the studio and Tom Hardy had on the first one. Tom and I had worked together prior to that, so we had a shorthand when doing the rewrites. But it was actually a luxury that Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner had done all the hard work because building these stories from the ground up is tricky.
While we were doing the first Venom, I was on set for most of that shoot. Tom and I began to talk about what Venom 2 might look like if we were lucky enough to get a sequel, which we did. Once we knew the sequel was happening, then Tom and I got to build that second movie from the ground up together and that was a really nice period of time, being able to work together and really shape it from the get-go.
Going further, actors don’t always get to be involved in that initial writing process. What was is it like collaborating with Tom Hardy when it came to the script?
Kelly Marcel: It’s true, they don’t! But Tom is a very involved actor; he gets involved in all aspects of the job. He’s not the guy that’s just going to show up on set and say lines that you’ve handed to him. He wants to have discussions about who his character is and he has continual ideas about what could happen to his character. Obviously, he knows that character better than anyone else, because he inhabits them. He has been like that on everything I’ve ever worked with him on.
Tom is also a producer, and he genuinely produces. If there are issues, he will step off set, take off his actor hat, put his producer hat on, and deal with any situation that might arise. He’s really an all-rounder in that way. For me, working with him as a co-creator was the same way we have always worked. So it wasn’t new, it was just nice that he was actually going to get rectified this time. He’s always done this amount of work and I think that needed to be recognized – someone needed to give him a credit. And it was a really lovely thing when Sony credited him.
Working with the actor is brilliant in many ways because I can go off to write scenes and dialogue, but I have the actor there at my fingertips to run those lines back to me, if I need him to. I can immediately see what works, what doesn’t work, what lands, what’s funny, what’s not funny, and that’s a luxury that I don’t think many writers get and it is so brilliant and so crucial. Also, it’s really lonely, like you’re sitting at home in your pajamas, probably, in front of a computer screen with nobody around you, so I’m really happy to get to collaborate.
When it comes to adapting these beloved characters from the comics, who also have previous film iterations, how do you make sure that you create an original version while still maintaining their identifiable traits?
Kelly Marcel: That has a lot to do with all the departments. I try very much to nod to famous lines from the comics that Carnage might have said or Venom might have said. In this movie, I very closely stuck to Cletus’ backstory as it is laid out exactly in the comics. We also sort of do a mixed media nod to the comics as we layout with his backstory.
In terms of what they look like and how they move, because obviously they need to look like comic-book characters, we had an amazing VFX team run by Sheena Duggal, who’s such an incredible woman. She would come in and speak with Andy Serkis and everyone else about how these characters move. In the comics they’re flat, but in the movie they are becoming three-dimensional. And so that’s where everybody gets to stretch their creative imagination and have a bit of freedom with the characters and what they look like. You’ll see in the movie that Venom and Carnage are very different creatures. They move in very different ways and have different special things they can do.
While you were developing the script for Let There Be Carnage, Sony were looking for a new director following Ruben Fleischer’s departure. How did you feel when Andy Serkis was brought on?
Kelly Marcel: Firstly, I just completely embarrassed myself by fangirling because I was just such a huge fan. It was Tom’s idea, he came to me and was like, “What do you think about Andy Serkis?” I probably screamed for a few minutes. Then he was asked to come on to the movie by Tom and I had lunch with Andy in Los Angeles, and it was just embarrassing. Basically, I asked him to do a Gollum impression, I was just really like, “Oh my god, it is really Andy Serkis.” I was losing my shit. So yes, I was very excited when Andy came on board, then I calmed down, somewhat.
He was the perfect addition to the team and he really got the tone of what we were trying to do, which is a sort of weird balance between rom-com mixed with horror. Andy was just so down for that. But also, he’s brilliant with CGI and knows how to make a creature feel real. He’s also the loveliest man on the planet, by the way.
A big part of the first film was the buddy cop type of dynamic between Eddie and Venom. You touched briefly on the idea that this sequel kind of plays out like a love story. So how did you approach writing Venom and Eddie’s dynamic this time round?
Kelly Marcel: The movie definitely has that kind of rom-com feel to it. We just kept asking ourselves: what would it feel like to have a roommate who basically rents a room inside your body that you can’t get rid of? It’s not like you can take your roommate outside, it’s a massive alien. So how does that feel, especially, when you’re opposites? So this movie is sort of like The Odd Couple mixed with The Seven Year Itch where they have really had enough of each other, to the point where they are feeling extremely trapped and needing to be free. Eddie just wants to write his book and not live with this massively destructive and chaotic creature in his house. In a way, this film is kind of a breakup movie and then that’s when the shit hits the fan.
Ultimately, it is really about a friendship and how opposites attract. In a way, they can’t live with each other and they can’t live without each other. But the journey of the movie shows them that, actually, they probably are meant to continue as one being, because they get to see what that looks like when it’s going very badly through Cletus and Carnage’s story.
With characters as terrifying as Cletus and Carnage, how do you ensure that their joint sinister nature comes through cohesively?
Kelly Marcel: Well, Woody is brilliant at doing terrifyingly sinister. He’s obviously a genius actor, so you don’t need to do a lot of work there. He fully relishes the badness of Cletus and Carnage in the same way because they both want destruction, and they are homicidal pathological maniacs. So you feel like they belong together and that they’re perfect for each other, but that is what actually results in their own destruction because you need somebody to push against you in life and they don’t have that, so it becomes a disaster. They are truly terrifying and Woody is brilliant at terrifying people.
There have been some discussions over the runtime being roughly an hour and a half, as nowadays you get a lot of movies that reach two and a half hours and even longer. From your perspective as a screenwriter, was this decision made in order to tell a more concise story and do you feel that you kind of fit the roller coaster into that shorter runtime?
Kelly Marcel: Yes, exactly what you just said. Tom and I, right from the get, knew we just wanted this to be an epic ride from beginning to end. We wanted to leave you breathless at the end of it as if you had literally just been on a roller coaster and came thinking that was the most insane batshit ride you’ve ever been on. This movie goes like a freight train and I don’t know that you could sustain much more of that ride if you went longer.
Also, you have to bear in mind that not only do we have to tell the story of what Eddie and Venom are now and what the dynamic is between them, but we also need to bring Carnage into this movie fairly early on, because that’s who you come to see. We didn’t want to push his arrival too late into the movie in order to have a longer runtime, and so we just told the story that we wanted to tell, in the amount of pages that we wanted to tell it in. I think when you see it, you’ll think actually this is the perfect amount of time for something that is this energetic.
As we see Sony start to build more of a universe with Spider-Man villains, with Morbius and Kraven already on the way, does it excite you to think of what the future might hold for Venom? Are there any characters you would like to see him interact with next?
Kelly Marcel: For me, they have such a great canon. I just could talk about these characters all day long. They’re so fun! We don’t know if there will be another Venom movie after this one, but should they move forward with another one, obviously, I would love to see him interacting with all kinds of villains within the Marvel Universe. I know Tom would like to do some crossover too. So who knows! There hasn’t really been any talk about that and it’s really a studio decision and not one that we make. But I think it would be really fun if the studio here decided to start mixing up a bit.