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I’m really mad about Carnage’s tongue

Should movie Venom have a tongue? Sure, why not. Should Carnage? Heck no.

Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

Close your eyes right now, and answer this question: Does Carnage, the Marvel Comics character, have a tongue? If your mind immediately jumps to Venom: Let There Be Carnage, your answer would be yes. He has a substantial tongue, a big, wicked fleshy mass surrounded by fangs, much like Venom in that movie and in most comics.

But movie-Carnage is a departure from the tongueless horror from the comic books, and I am absolutely furious about it.

To be clear, no one else is mad. I searched for “carnage tongue” on Twitter (for those who don’t know: Twitter is a social network, like Instagram, but for people who are mad) and turned up close to nothing, apart from people noticing that, in the trailer, Carnage kills a dude by forcing his tongue down the dude’s throat. Those people have thoughts about that. We can talk about those thoughts another time.

My concerns, however, are very urgent and layered. The first problem is aesthetic: If Carnage is just another alien creature with big ol’ jaws and a prehensile tongue, how is anyone going to understand that he isn’t just Red Venom? Also, why do any of these characters have tongues to begin with? Where does….the mass come from? How do the tongues — which are, by the way, the creation of sentient goo-like symbiotic aliens that bond to humans like living costumes — work? If something, or someone, is eaten, who tastes it? Are they ever used for kissing?

These are all deep Venom Lore questions, the sort of hurdles that may even come up well before a casual Venom viewer begins to notice that, in the movies at least, these two monsters look kind of similar. So similar, in fact, that it may not even be worth seeing them fight. Then, I will have to ask myself if I am willing to die on this particular hill of goo.

Can you imagine? “They’re completely different,” I’ll say in this scenario. “Carnage is a terrifying mass-murderer with an alien suit that lets him turn his limbs into battle axes!” The other party will likely respond with, “yes, that sounds extremely different from the other mass-murdering human-alien goo hybrid, thanks.” So then I’ll flail and stress that “You do not UNDERSTAND, Carnage is his SON, haven’t you heard of GENETICS.” No one really wins here, so please take my word for it when I say that what you’re really watching is a story about Venom’s murder-baby, and let the resulting morbid curiosity or revulsion guide your decision-making. Either works for my purposes.

(Note: I am aware that there are some depictions of Carnage with a tongue. However, none have been as enduring nor as definitive as Mark Bagley’s definitive design. He co-created Carnage, so his version, for all intents and purposes, is canon.)

Now, a narrative complaint. Since film, like comic books, is a visual medium, then every part of a character’s design is telling a story. What storytelling purpose is Carnage’s tongue serving here? Why this departure from the canon? Do two alien symbiotes with unusually expressive tongues in the same movie mean that they will kiss? Is that why Carnage is murdering a dude with his tongue (don’t be nasty) in the trailer? Does he just want to find a compatible smooch partner? Is his murderous rampage just an accident, a by-product of a lonely alien looking for love? Perhaps he will find it in Venom, yes? That would be a good resolution.

Also, the memes would be incredible.

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