Talking Movies: Morbius

Talking Movies

Released: 28 January 2022
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $75 million
Stars: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Tyrese Gibson, Al Madrigal, and Jared Harris

The Plot:
Doctor Michael Morbius (Leto) is a Nobel Prize-nominated scientist desperate to find a cure for his crippling blood disease. After experimenting with vampire bats, he becomes imbued with the strengths and abilities of a vampire, but also cursed with a thirst for blood! However, his life becomes even more complicated when his friend and colleague, Milo (Smith), seeks to learn the secrets of Morbius’ newfound abilities…by any means necessary!

The Background:
Following the massive success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2000 to 2007) and the sadly unspectacular reception of Marc Webb’s reboot films, Marvel Studios were finally able to achieve the impossible and fold the iconic web-slinger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The incredible success of Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) was enough to excite Sony into producing a number of spin-offs that would focus on some of Spidey’s supporting characters and anti-heroes; the success of Venom (Fleischer, 2018) meant that Roy Thomas and Gil Kane’sLiving Vampire” would finally get his time in the sun. Eccentric method actor Jared Leto was attached to the project from the early going, and helped bring in director Daniel Espinosa to officially begin the production in June 2018. Producers were reportedly excited about the project for its unique take on having a doctor undergo a gruesome metamorphosis, but audiences were left confused as to Morbius’s continuity after the trailers seemed to reference multiple competing timelines. After repeated delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morbius went on the gross just over $163 million at the box office and was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews. Reviews criticised the film’s poor characterisations and humourless narrative, the bloodless action scenes, and generally regarded it as a confused mess that barely qualifies as a coherent film. Although star Leto claimed that there have been talks for future films and appearances from the title character, this negative reaction puts the question of any potential crossovers in doubt, though Sony continue to push ahead with solo projects for other Spider-Man villains.

The Review:
I’ll never understand Sony; they were making big bank with the Spider-Man license after the success of the first two live-action films, but then they let Avi Arad stick his oar in and complicate Spider-Man 3 (Rami, 2007) with a multitude of villains and plot points. Then they rebooted the franchise, which is fair enough, but chose to retell the origin story in its entirety all over again and, rather than building up their audience with a measured approach, they threw all of Kevin Feige’s notes out of the window and crammed at least three movie’s worth of content into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014) in a long-running, misguided attempt to get a Sinister Six movie off the ground. Then they had the audacity to make a Venom solo film without Spider-Man in it…Spider-Man, y’know, the who caused Venom in the first place ,was omitted from the film and there was this weird, awkward question of whether Sony’s films were linked to the MCU or not. And yet, annoyingly, Sony persisted because their films continue to make money regardless of things like this and, in a desperate bid to make tangentially related Spider-Man properties without actually including Tom Holland (why they don’t just make live-action Miles Morales films is beyond me!), they’ve given Morbius, of all people, his own solo film I just…I just can’t. To me Morbius is a nobody; he doesn’t deserve his own solo film at all. Hell, I’d be hard pressed to be excited if he showed up as supporting character in Moon Knight (Various, 2022) or Blade (Tariq, 2023) but to give him, of all people his own film? And to cast Jared Leto, a guy who I really don’t get the hype for considering how bat-shit crazy he is, really had me doubted that this would be any good at all and I literally went to see it out of sheer, morbid curiosity.

Sickly Dr. Morbius is transformed into a monstrous vampire with a thirst for human blood.

Naturally, given he’s the title character, Morbius is the story of Dr. Michael Morbius, who begins the film as a frail, sickly, but brilliant scientist. Despite being crippled by an undisclosed and unspecified blood disease, has become the world’s foremost authority on blood-related illnesses. Morbius is so accomplished that his artificial blood has, somehow, “saved more lives then penicillin” (which a quick Google search will tell you is pretty much an impossible claim) but, for all his genius, Morbius is crippled not just physically but also by arrogance. He not only refuses to accept his Nobel Prize, but apparently insults his peers, the nation of Sweden, and the entire scientific community at the ceremony (though we don’t actually hear what he says and there are pretty much no repercussions from this accept some rolled eyes and, presumably, the loss of the substantial cash prize that comes with the award). Morbius has lived his whole life in agonising pain, requiring multiple blood transfusions a day just to stay alive, and also being the smartest person in the room; even as a child (Charlie Shotwell), his brilliance impressed, and he has dedicated his entire life to finding a cure not just for himself, but also for the only friend he has in the entire world, Lucien, whom he treats as a brother despite lumbering him with the nickname “Milo” since he was used to his dormitory buddies having a short life expectancy. Morbius’s search for a cure naturally leads him to studying the unique blood-eating properties of vampire bats, which allows him to develop a serum that promises to reverse his condition. Thanks to Milo’s wealth and resources (which the film makes no effort to explain the source of), Morbius and his absolutely stunning fellow doctor and co-worker, Martine Bancroft (Arjona), sail out into international waters to test the serum out on his rapidly deteriorating body and, to the surprise of them both, he undergoes a startling transformation. The serum fundamentally alters his DNA structure, transforming him into a bat-man hybrid (a “Living Vampire”, if you will) who craves human blood and is (…somehow…) bestowed a range of superhuman abilities: he’s transformed to the peak of human physical condition…and beyond, capable of manhandling armed foes, ripping through human flesh with his talon-like claws, leaping vast distances and scaling walls with ease, and apparently gaining high levels of durability. Furthermore, he acquires a form of echolocation, which leads to some of the films more visually interesting moments as his ears ripple, his eyes turn all goopy, and the world gains this distorted, smoky, rippley x-ray-like sheen whenever he focuses his hearing. Morbius also develops a kinship with vampire bats, which “welcome him like a bother” and obey his commands, learns how to travel along air currents to glide and fly (it’s not state din the film but I assume he has hollow bones as a result of his transformation…maybe..?), but all of these fantastic abilities come at the cost of his humanity.

Unlike Morbius, Milo has no qualms about indulging his bloodlust and revelling in his newfound powers.

The taste of human blood turns Morbius into a monstrous, fanged creature who attacks those around him in a rabid bloodlust; though he’s able to stave off his cravings using his artificial blood, it very quickly (and I mean within a matter of days) loses its effectiveness and, terrified of becoming a bloodsucking monster, Morbius tries to do everything he possibly can to reverse his transformation. He can’t simply go without blood either, as this causes his debilitating condition to return in full force and threatens to kill him from blood starvation, so he spends the remainder of the film trying to repress his inner monster while also searching for a solution to his problem. Morbius’s plight becomes all the more complicated when Milo discovers his condition and is slighted that his life-long friend denies him access to the life-saving condition. Wishing to spare his friend from the curse of vampirism, Morbius instead drives Milo to steal the serum and take it for himself by pushing his friend away and appearing to be a selfish prick who has no interest in sharing. Unlike Morbius, Milo has no compunction about embracing the physical benefits of the serum, and delights in indulging his bloodlust at every opportunity. This means, you guessed it, that not only does he become a dark mirror of the titular anti-hero (Morbius has his fair share of bloodshed in this film, and it’s barely touched upon how betraying his Hippocratic Oath affects him beyond inconveniencing his life) but he also dons a suit and a tie to stalk the streets as a bloodthirsty vampire. Although Milo shares many of the same powers as Morbius some are inexplicably denied him; he can’t fly like Morbius, and never demonstrates the ability to control bats, though both are able to leap and seemingly teleport vast distances accompanied by an unexplained ethereal smoke. It should also be noted that neither of these artificial vampires are vulnerable to sunlight, and other traditional tropes like Holy Water and a stake through the heart are openly mocked in the film, meaning that Morbius’s only hope of putting an end to Milo’s rampage is to synthesise a fatal anti-serum in his makeshift lab (which, of course, he’s able to do without any difficulty at all). The film wants you to see Morbius and Milo’s relationship as a tragedy of two brothers coming to blows because of a fundamental difference in ideology; Milo wants to embrace his new lease of life and is only too happy to suck the blood from anyone he can to stay healthy and strong, while Morbius sees himself as a monster who has brought an unspeakable atrocity into the world, and his efforts to create a cure and confront Milo are only compounded when Milo’s actions lead to him (as in Morbius) being arrested for murder.

Sadly, the supporting cast really doesn’t get much to do or time to shine and are pretty one-note.

Indeed, Morbius’s actions don’t go unnoticed, or unpunished, throughout the film. He slaughters the ship full of trigger-happy mercenaries in a pretty creepy scene and the bodies catch the attention of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents Simon Stroud (Gibson) and Alberto “Al” Rodriguez (Madrigal), who quickly piece together that the ship was being used by Morbius for some bizarre experiment. These two, while a highlight, are severely underused and underdeveloped in the film; they have a bit of back and forth banter, which is amusing, and are readily accepting of the possibility that Morbius is an actual vampire, but they really don’t actually get to do all that much accept discover the crime scenes, interrogate Morbius, and arrive too late to really help with anything, and we learn next to nothing about them beyond the fact that they’re dedicated FBI agents who’ve worked together for a while. Sadly, the same can be said about all of the film’s supporting characters, particularly Martine and Morbius and Milo’s lifelong doctor and father figure, Doctor Emil Nicholas (Harris).Martine isn’t just some assistant to Morbius or the object of his affections; she’s a smart and capable doctor and, while he’s clearly attracted to her (how could he not be, after all?), his focus has always been on the research since he believes he has nothing to offer because of his crippling condition. After witnessing his starling transformation, Martine works to protect and help cure him, covering for him even when seeing the monster Milo has become, and the two (as in her and Morbius) develop a romantic attraction that has all the chemistry of a wet paper bag simply to emphasise that Morbius has more of a heart and a conscience than his bloodthirsty counterpart. Still, she has a bit more to do than Emil, who’s mainly there to support Morbius’s brilliance and take care of Milo, and to give one a kindly target to rip open and the other a mentor to avenge.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Morbius primarily focuses on many of the same cliché tropes as any other “man-made-monster” film you’ve seen before, or any movie that deals with the potential horrors of reckless scientific experimentation. Morbius is an arrogant and brilliant scientist, but one driven to desperation by his rapidly deteriorating condition and the promise he made to Milo to cure them both. When he turns, he’s horrified by his actions and struggles to keep his monstrous side at bay, while also relishing the power and freedom offered by his abilities. though he goes out of his way to target disreputable types, he can’t help but deliver some smarmy backtalk to Stroud and Rodriguez when they start asking questions, and even tells a horrified money forger “I am Venom!” when intimidating him and his friends into vacating their makeshift lab. As I expected upon seeing the many different trailers to this film, many of the more explicit references to Spider-Man and the MCU have been excised from Morbius; this “Venom” line and a throwaway comment by Rodriguez seem to suggest that it takes place in the same universe as the Venom films, but the “Murderer!” graffiti over a Spider-Man poster is missing and, while Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) does make a cameo, it’s in completely different scenes and contexts first suggested and only serve to muddy the waters when it comes to these standalone Sony films. Indeed, this cameo along makes absolutely no sense as Toomes somehow transports over to this world thanks to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home (Watts, 2021), somehow cobbles together a new flight suit, and then suggests the two team up…which Morbius randomly agrees to for no reason. Why they couldn’t have just had Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) make a cameo, or even Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, is beyond me; instead, Sony continue to just desperately try to get in with the MCU in the most ham-fisted way possible and I dread to think what sort of ridiculous Sinister Six they’ll eventually put together will look like.

Despite some cool visuals and horror elements, Morbius is a confusing mess of a film.

I went into Morbius with low expectations; I make no apologies over not being a fan of the character, the lead actor, to the concept of wasting millions of dollars on a standalone film for the character, but there were times when Morbius impressed me…just a little. While the film plays it as safe as the Venom movies when it comes to violence and gore, and it doesn’t even contain the one f-bomb its rating would allow, some of the scenes of Morbius’s feral attacks are framed quite well, with a good use of shadows, tension, and quick, brutal cuts to imply some ferocious action without necessarily dwelling on the gore. Morbius rips open people’s throats, mauls them, and drains their blood all, mostly, offscreen, making for a decidedly toothless vampire film but I was actually okay with this as at least something interesting was actually happening. Morbius looks pretty decent when he’s all vamped up as well; while his monstrous visage comes and goes and is realised pretty much entirely through CGI, it’s present a lot more than I expected (I was almost certain he wouldn’t go full on vampire until the very end) and a pretty decent adaptation of the source material. While it makes no sense that he’s able to teleport in a puff of smoke or slide like he does, Morbius generally looks pretty cool when he’s bouncing all over the place, swinging from poles, and going all feral, so it’s a shame that his scuffles with Milo descend into a confusing and blurry CGI slugfest full of gratuitous slow motion and frantic, poorly lit shots. I can understand when the Venom films generally become a CHI mess since those characters are brought to life exclusively through CGI, but Morbius offered the opportunity to craft a ore traditional, cheaper horror/action film that relied more on practical effects than bonkers CGI someone at Sony, however, clearly didn’t get that memo and what we’re left with is a confusing mess of a finale that pits the two Living Vampires against each other in a wild brawl of questionable CGI and nonsense editing.  

The Summary:
As I said, I had low expectations for Morbius; I don’t even like the character so I couldn’t even begin to hope that it’d be this sleeper hit or a surprisingly enjoyable action/horror romp as I would forever be questioning just why the hell anyone would ever invest millions of dollars in a standalone film about Michael friggin’ Morbius of all people! If you’re gonna do Morbius, you stick him in a Blade film or in an episode of one of Marvel’s many TV shows, you don’t give him his own movie, let alone one that doesn’t even have Spider-Man in it. Yet, Sony continues to be absolutely clueless regarding their license rights, and it boggles my mind how they were ever able to be successful with the Spider-Man property in the first place with decisions like this! Setting aside my bias, Morbius wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be; there are some decent moments, Jared Leto actually does a decent job in the title role, and I quite liked seeing Morbius go full-on vampire and bamf! all over the place, slashing at people and baring his fangs. Sadly, though, those moments are fleeting and tarnished by an abundance of cartoony, dodgy CGI; both Morbius and Milo’s vampiric forms look like something out of a videogame, and the film itself is a massive step back fort he superhero genre, almost back to the mid-2000s era of throwing messy CGI fights at the screen amidst a few quips, attractive actors, and middling action scenes and hoping it’ll stick. I can just about understand banking on Venom, even without Spider-Man, since Venom have always been popular but…Morbius is a nobody. Even if Spider-Man had been in this, or if it had been part of the MCU, this film would have been dead on arrival for me and the only way it could’ve even been remotely salvaged is if it had been part of the Venom franchise but Sony couldn’t even do that right! In the end, it was a poorly paced, messy piece of nonsense with a few decent visuals and action scenes but which squanders whatever potential it could’ve had with a middling narrative and crippling case of identity crisis.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Morbius? If so…what’s the matter with you? What did you think to Jared Leto’s performance and Morbius’s relationship with Milo? Did you enjoy how the film portrayed Morbius and his powers? Which villain or context do you think would’ve worked better for the Living Vampire? Were you confused by the film’s identity and the odd post-credits scenes? Are you a fan of the character in general (and, if so, again…why?) and would you like to see Morbius return in some capacity? What Spider-Man villain would you like to see get a standalone movie? I’d love to know your opinion of Morbius, so sign up to leave them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check in for more Spider-Man and Marvel content in the near future.

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