At the beginning of the pandemic, many people took solace in the thought that maybe they could finally widdle down their long watchlist with all the newly acquired spare time. An appreciation grew for the ‘tight 90,’ a movie with the runtime of a convenient hour and a half.
With the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which clocks in at 97 minutes, it appears that studios have listened to movie watchers preference for short and sweet runtimes. A move in this direction can equally benefit both audiences and studios, as the medium is in need of some rejuvenation since the closure and subsequent reopening of movie theaters.
While the sequel to 2018’s Venom is certainly not getting a stellar reception from critics, Let There Be Carnage is performing quite well with a $90 million opening weekend, which is the largest box office haul of the pandemic. Although this success cannot be solely credited to its shortened runtime, the correlation should not be ignored. Director Andy Serkis said during an Instagram Q&A with IGN, “We always wanted this film to be a real thrill ride. And a fast, muscular…not hanging around too much with exposition… what’s at the heart of this movie is a fantastic relationship between Eddie and Venom. And so we didn’t want to kinda rush through that.” Once you consider what is left on the cutting room floor, the pieces of the movie that are essential reveal themselves.
This quote highlights the intention behind tightening up the runtime. Many blockbusters, especially of the superhero variety, tend to be overlong and wrought with exposition. Working to avoid this, filmmakers can discover what about their movie is necessary and unnecessary. One of the most praised elements of Venom was the chemistry Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock and his weird, goopy, CG, parasitic, alien, monster buddy Venom. The sequel ramps up this dynamic heavily and ditches the exposition heavy, bland, and cliched plot of the first film, thus scoring a 59% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, a 29% improvement over Venom‘s 30%. Equalizing the ratio between the strengths and weaknesses of the franchise by way of its runtime makes for a more memorable and engaging experience.
One sequence that stuck out to me as a clear product of tightening up was a scene in which Eddie reorganizes his apartment after an explosive and violent breakup with his pal Venom. The scene is a quick and entertaining montage that ends with Eddie finally being able to relax and watch his new TV. The very moment he sits down, a breaking news report comes on the screen that may as well have said, “Cletus Cassidy is coming to kill you, Eddie Brock.” The speed with which this took place and the very bluntness of the plot development had me and the whole theater cackling. On its face, this scene may sound rushed and incomplete, but its placement in a movie with moments equally as fast-paced and to-the-point makes it stand out positively instead of negatively.
Cutting exposition and unnecessary fluff can make a movie more engaging, entertaining, and memorable, especially as moviegoers readjust to sitting in a theater after a year of streaming at home. Without everything having an explanation, a viewer can fill in the gaps with what will likely be more interesting and stimulating than what would be shown anyway. Funny moments can be made funnier, action scenes can become more exciting, and characters can be made more identifiable, reaffirming the phrase “less is more.”
An hour and a half does have its detractors. Characters played by masterful actors are either pushed to the side or underutilized. Anne, played by Michelle Williams, appears once in the first act, but does not have anything else to do until the third when she suddenly reappears. The supervillain, Shriek, played by Naomie Harris, gets her live-action debut, but is mostly relegated to the third act as Carnage’s hostage instead of a villain in her own right. It is unknown if her role would have been expanded in a previous rendition of the edit or script, but the tightened cut of Let There Be Carnage did leave a few characters behind.
A 90 minute runtime can also benefit distributors and theaters! Short screenings mean a movie can be played more times in a day than a longer one, without the cinema having to stay open late into the night to facilitate demand. Not every blockbuster has to be Avengers: Endgame, and most do not have the right to be.
Some concepts are just meant for brevity and Eddie Brock having roommate/couple’s quarrels with Venom is certainly one with the potential to overstay its welcome. Thankfully, the creative team behind Venom: Let There Be Carnage seem aware of what exactly is appealing about the franchise.