‘Morbius’ Review: “Underachieving Origin Still Has Bite”
Since its announcement, Morbius has been the black sheep of movies based on Marvel Comics. Part of Sony’s burgeoning attempt to start its own “Spider-Man Cinematic Universe” – featuring a lower-tier Spider-Man villain – the odds were not in its favor. Throw in some late in the game reshoots and consider its fate sealed. Despite some harsh early reviews, however, The New Mutants this is not. Furthermore, the great qualities at play in Morbius display a lot of potential for the future of this character.
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Morbius follows the titular scientist Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), who finds renown in the scientific community for inventing artificial blood. For as strong as his mind is, Morbius suffers from a crippling disease that also affects his surrogate brother Milo (Matt Smith). Despite encouragement from Milo, his fellow scientist and flame Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) discourages his risky research into the splicing of human and vampire bat DNA to cure his disease. Fortune favors the bold. Morbius’s serum is a success… with some unfortunate side effects. Offsetting his body’s healing is a desire for blood that leads him to skulk in the shadows. Seeing the results of his study, Milo wants what Michael has. He takes the serum, embracing the bloodthirst, and laying the groundwork for a clash of two living vampires.
There are a few obvious flaws of Morbius. The most obvious doesn’t have to do with what’s in the film, but what isn’t. A significant chunk of what the trailers presented, namely the majority of the Spider-Man references, are absent. A stray Daily Bugle and a weirdly unfitting Venom reference remain, but that’s about it. Well, save for a couple of bizarre post-credits scenes, whose misguided nature will likely warrant an article of their own in the future. Entire story elements seem to have been shifted around for little reason or to meet the golden sub-2 hour runtime. Tyrese Gibson’s detective character Simon Stroud gets it the worst.
At one point his character was supposed to have a robotic arm and, according to Gibson, be somewhat of a superhero of his own. The final product has him awkwardly hiding said arm. Jared Harris’s character, a mentor of Michael and Milo, seems almost completely excised. Some of the characters that remain are completely flat, namely Martine who is simply defined as “strong woman” and “love interest” with no discernible character underneath. The script by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless underachieves about as much as their previous vampire film, Dracula Untold. There’s not much to the film’s story other than the requisite beats you expect from a superhero origin.
I prefer to judge a film for what it is and not what it could be. On its own merits, Morbius maintains a shockingly fun aura. Jared Leto overcommits to whatever role he’s playing, most of the time to his detriment. From House of Gucci onward, this over-the-top approach seems to be paying off tremendously. Michael Morbius is another notch in his belt of freaky creations. Morbius’s sickly, withdrawn, though hopeful, gives way to a beast with a one-track mind: feeding. Bridged by contortions in between, this is a portrayal that has the potential to be iconic. For as odd a figure as Leto is, and as little known of a character Michael Morbius is, this is a match made in blood-sucking heaven.
That’s to say nothing of Matt Smith, who devours Morbius whole. The offset to Michael’s tortured scientist, Milo swaggers about, thrilled at his vampiric abilities. All a superhero movie like this needs is a rich conflict, and director Daniel Espinosa zeroes in on this. For its shortcomings in providing a complex narrative in its script, Morbius at least establishes a defined one. It’s a good old-fashioned, meat and potatoes superhero-horror hybrid that provides a nice base-level dish. Now it’s time for the seasoning.
A great strength, no, the reason to see Morbius is in its action sequences. Bordering on CGI overload, Espinosa and crew let their imagination run rampant. Vampires speed, zip, jump, and fly all over the screen, a unique trailing effect behind them. Slow-motion impact shots accentuate obligatory “badass” moments. POV shots spice things up, and there are even some surprisingly gory moments. In the arena of action, Morbius provides everything a teenage me would want, content to give audiences all the unabashedly cool things they come to a superhero vampire movie to see.
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Frequently, as of late, I’ve used the term “FX-core” to describe the type of movie you’d see on Sunday evening cable television. Morbius fits right into that slot, but that’s not a bad thing whatsoever. It’s messy, those looking for more of a connection to a wider universe will walk away disappointed, and the writing doesn’t do it any favors. Yet, what remains is a nourishing formula with enough spice to give it the unique flavor to want to see the adventures of Michael Morbius continue. Like the Venoms before it, Sony’s Morbius is content with being a well-done, fun-to-watch action picture. And that’s hardly a bad goal to have. – James Preston Poole
Morbius is now in theaters.
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