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‘Morbius’ kind of sucks

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I’m in the bag for comic book content. Anyone who knows me or has read me knows that to be true. My love for the form was instilled early and never went away, so I have little issue with the plethora – some might call it a glut – of superheroic cinema out there.

That said, I’m not an unquestioning follower. And when I see something that doesn’t make a lot of sense, I’m going to address it. For instance, a Spider-Man-centric universe without Spider-Man in it doesn’t make a lot of sense. A Venom movie – let alone two Venom movies – without Spider-Man doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And hoo boy, let me tell you – “Morbius” doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The film, directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring everybody’s favorite Method weirdo Jared Leto as the titular living vampire, would be an odd choice in any cinematic universe. In these specific circumstances? I'm genuinely not sure what anyone was thinking.

Even so, one can see that this might have potentially worked. And we’ve definitely learned that a character’s relative prominence in the culture (or lack thereof) isn’t necessarily a detriment to the quality of film that can be made featuring said character. It might have worked … but it definitely didn’t.

“Morbius” is a mess, a jumble of barely coherent story points surrounded by some shoddy and occasionally inexplicable CGI action. While we don’t generally have high expectations of comic book movies, they should still make a modicum of sense, at least within their own parameters. This movie does not. It is a wild misfire, albeit one that will almost certainly prove commercially successful enough to justify moving forward with a transparent effort at franchise construction.

Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a genius, the world’s leading expert on rare blood disorders. His choice of field was dictated by his own illness, a never-defined condition that leaves him in a weakened physical state even as his mind maintains its brilliance. His life’s work is the quest for a cure – a cure not just for him, but for his childhood best friend Milo (Matt Smith) who also happens to have the same disease and has inherited tremendous wealth – more than enough to finance Michael’s research.

But now, thanks to some sort of genetic recombination of human and vampire bat DNA, Morbius believes he may have found a cure. He attempts an unethical and illegal experiment with the reluctant assistance of his colleague Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) – one that proves capable of curing his condition, but with deeply sinister ramifications.

It turns him into a vampire. I mean, not a REAL vampire, but you know – strong, fast, can fly, drinks blood. He’s a vampire.

Morbius tries to tell Milo about the ramifications of the experiment, but Milo refuses to listen. He wants to be cured, he wants to be able to live without pain, and if that means he occasionally turns into a monster and murders people to drink their blood, well … what are you going to do?

And so, we watch as Morbius tries to do battle with the monsters that he has created, both in others and within himself, all while seeking to protect the people who mean the most to him, such as Martine and his childhood doctor and benefactor Dr. Nicholas (Jared Harris). Fighting a battle on two fronts is hard – particularly when one of those fronts is an internal one.

And there we have it.

As a comic book lover – one long familiar with the character – I had some real doubts about the wisdom of putting Morbius on the big screen. The whole “living vampire” shtick was never one that stood up to scrutiny; to center a big-budget film on him seemed ludicrous on its face. Hell, even as Sony’s strategy of spotlighting antihero/villain types became clearer and clearer, it still seemed silly that you’d throw something like “Morbius” out of the gate so early.

It doesn’t help that the movie isn’t very good.

The filmmakers – Espinosa, as well as screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless – are clearly trying to lay the foundation for the ongoing franchise here (particularly when we get the ubiquitous end credits stinger that drops a familiar face into the mix), but in the process, they miss the mark on making this film compelling. Too much focus on the future and not enough on the present.

The film is peppered with moments of unintentional hilarity that undermine the efforts at evoking the supposed darkness of the character. Leaving aside the herculean task of valorizing a dude who, you know, drinks human blood and goes on rampages if he doesn’t get enough of it, the story just isn’t that engaging. Throw in some questionable effects work – the vampires look kind of silly, the action is overly frenetic and sometimes we just get random slo-mo/bullet time shots for seemingly no reason – and you’re left with a less-than-stellar viewing experience.

Jared Leto’s gonna Jared Leto; we all know that by now. And he Letos all over this one, from the frailty of the man to the fury of the vampire, though I’ll concede that it is somehow not the most outlandish or over the top performance we’ve seen from him in recent years. Compared to some, it’s downright restrained, which is saying something when you consider that, again, he is a LIVING VAMPIRE. The rest of the cast is fine in their overqualified way. Smith in particular has some fun with his heel turn; Harris is pretty good in limited action and Arjona is even better. We even get some buddy cop stuff with Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal. But none of it matters, because of the inherent difficulty of polishing a turd.

This isn’t a good movie. It isn’t even a good comic book movie. It is a mishmash of shoddy-looking effects work and oddball creative choices, a mélange of nonsense that could have been somewhat forgiven if the movie was any fun … but it isn’t.

In short, “Morbius” kind of sucks.

[1.5 out 5]

Last modified on Monday, 04 April 2022 11:38

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