MORBIUS – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Jared Leto (House of Gucci), Matt Smith (Last Night in Soho), Adria Arjona (6 Underground), Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Al Madrigal ([Finding] The Way Back), Tyrese Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious)

Director: Daniel Espinosa (Safe House)

Writers: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (Gods of Egypt)

Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes

Release Date: 31st March (UK), 1st April (US)

Synopsis: After taking an experimental serum derived from bat DNA in an attempt to cure his debilitating disease, Dr. Michael Morbius becomes imbued with superhuman abilities but also an ever-increasing thirst for blood.

When Sony decided to start exploiting their rights to Spider-Man by making movies about his supporting cast, it feels like they didn’t really know where else to go with it after Venom. I mean, we’re apparently getting movies about Kraven the Hunter and Madame Web next, with projects featuring Black Cat, Silver Sable, Silk, and Jackpot (no joke, I’m serious, bloody Jackpot!) in various stages of development too. Of all of Spidey’s associates though, it’s baffling yet fitting that their next choice after Venom was Morbius the Living Vampire, probably the only other character in that roster who has enough history away from the wall crawler to stand on his own. The final product unfortunately, after a long string of delays from its original July 2020 release date, is a dull, formulaic and overproduced nothingburger of a movie with some of the worst universe building since 2017’s The Mummy.

Right from its opening moments, Morbius follows in the footsteps of the first Venom by feeling like a superhero movie made roughly twenty years ago, constantly in a battle with itself over tone and genre. Its premise is a basic sci-fi horror yarn ripped straight from the Jekyll & Hyde playbook and plays out with no real surprises, treating its plot less as an opportunity to explore its characters or world and more like a shopping checklist of tropes from superhero and vampire flicks. There’s no real nuance and depth to any of its storytelling choices, and despite trying to present Morbius as a conflicted anti-hero, the morality of the film is incredibly black-and-white and negates the internal conflict that makes the character intriguing in the first place.

The structure and pacing is all over the place, exhibiting the telltale signs of a troubled production like important plot beats happening off-screen and copius scenes from the trailers missing in the final product. Despite running at a light but healthy 104 minutes, there’s little meat on the bone here that isn’t recycled from a plethora of better films, and its teneous connections to the Marvel universe are mostly fleeting…until the inevitable post-credits bonus. Without a doubt, these two scenes are the most random, underwhelming, confusing and desperate examples of expanding a cinematic universe since…ever, to be honest. The fact they spoiled this reveal in the very first trailer (which has clearly been dropped and reshot since) is evidence enough that Sony knew they had a non-starter on their hands and just gave up, but these scenes would have fallen flat even if they had remained a secret until release.

Adria Arjona as Dr. Martine Bancroft and Jared Leto as Dr. Michael Morbius in MORBIUS (2022, d. Daniel Espinosa)

It’s hard to think of an actor more unpopular and unsuited to being the lead of an aspiring blockbuster franchise than Jared Leto, especially given his last stint as a comic book character didn’t go over so well. It’s also surprising he took the role because, as a method actor known for his bold and bonkers choices, the character of Morbius on paper doesn’t give him much to play with. Seperated from his disability, he’s seemingly a smart and sweet but boring guy, and whilst his early flippancy with scientific ethics makes it seem like he’s going to be this morally complex character, that angle is abruptly dropped once he gains his powers. After just one scene of giving into his vampiric thirst, Morbius is chugging artificial plasma and basically in control of his bloodlust for the rest of the movie, robbing the film of the horror and suspense a good man-or-monster movie craves. In their attempts to make Morbius likable, they’ve way overstepped the mark and turned him into a high-and-mighty, hypocritical, melodramatic bore. I thought it wasn’t possible to make a vampire movie this dull, but accomplishing that dubious feat is the only original thing Morbius succeeds in.

The supporting cast unfortunately doesn’t fair much better. Adria Arjona does a fine enough job bringing fellow scientist and love interest Martine Bancroft to life, but she’s something of an empty vessel with no real sense of her own life outside of her relationship to Morbius. The only time she even comes close to seeming well-rounded is when she’s on good enough terms with a bodega clerk to convince him to thrown an FBI agent off her scent, but that’s really stretching. Speaking of the FBI, Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal plays said agents hunting down Morbius but they add next to nothing, especially because we know early on that Morbius is mostly innocent. At least Madrigal has some sense of character with his vampire supersitions and Alan Alda-like voice, because Gibson’s Simon Stroud is a complete empty shell role. Given that he signed a three-picture deal and said in a 2020 interview that his character was a superhero with a high-tech arm, those reshoots must have been incredibly drastic.

Similarly wasted on this film is Jared Harris as Morbius’ mentor and father figure Emil Nikols, who appears so sporadically that you forget he was even in the movie every time he shows back up. The only actor who seems to be having any fun here is Matt Smith as the friend-turned-villain Milo. Yes, the character is a pretty generic “evil mirror of the hero with the same powers” adversary (and the only other trope they’ve ripped from modern Marvel fare), but Smith’s indulgent performance is so wonderfully daft that you just wish he was the one playing Morbius instead of Leto. To put it simply, and with pun fully intended, he properly vamps it up.

Matt Smith as Milo in MORBIUS (2022, d. Daniel Espinosa)

The reported budget of Morbius may be $75 million, but most of the time it looks like it cost about half that. The visual effects are firmly stuck in the late 2000s, with horirble scene compositing and laughable vampiric face warping on Leto and Smith ripped right out of a Video Copilot tutorial. Much of the action looks like a pre-rendered cutscene from a PS3 game, especially the scenes where Morbius flies across the city in a manner eerily similar to Alex Mercer from Prototype, and that’s when you can even tell what’s going on. The lighting is so minimal and the camera whips around so much, combined with the overuse of fog and neon, that you can only tell what’s actually happening when the action slows down in faux-Zack Snyder style. Heck, the entire climax is essentially rendered unwatchable by a gigantic swarm of bats obscuring the fight! On the plus side though…um…Jon Ekstrand’s score is decently eerie, I guess, and…I liked the look of the credits. I mean, the whole vaporwave aesthetic seems like an odd choice for a vampire superhero movie, but…nice job, whoever put together the credits? I think?

A blood-hungry Morbius takes on a mercenary aboard a freighter in MORBIUS (2022, d. Daniel Espinosa)

The anti-hype was right for once, folks: Morbius is exactly the big-budget misguided flop everybody’s been predicting it would be. With the exception of Matt Smith’s performance, which mostly seems like him just having a bit of a laugh for an easy paycheck, there isn’t a single positive thing to say about this film that isn’t grasping at straws or doesn’t come with huge caveats. It doesn’t even have the so-bad-it’s-good qualities that made Venom morbidly enjoyable, quickly placing it amongst the worst recent examples of the genre alongside X-Men: Dark Phoenix and 2015’s Fantastic Four. What exactly Sony thinks they’re accomplishing with these Spidey-less spin-offs other than playing keep away with Marvel Studios is beyond me, because all they’ll end up doing is devaluing the brand. Yes, Sony just made a boatload off the back of No Way Home, but it would only take a few more duds like Morbius to bomb the Sonyverse and send Ol’ Webhead into the hands of Uncle Walt.


Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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