Directed by Daniel Espinosa.
Starring Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson, Michael Keaton, Charlie Shotwell, and Corey Johnson.
Biochemist Michael Morbius tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease, but he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead.
Apparently, the days of insultingly lazy superhero movies have not yet died out. Sure, there are still misfires here and there, but they at least have a sense of creative ambition or ideas worth giving a second chance in a sequel. Morbius is the worst of these comic book adaptations since 20th Century Fox failed miserably with Fantastic Four. It has some of the ugliest special effects seen in modern blockbusters with characters that look absolutely ridiculous when letting out their inner vampire. Such transformations not only lack finesse and detail, but look and are acted so silly that it’s hard to blame someone for spending these 100 minutes hoping someone gives Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto, for once lately, the least of a film’s problems) a Snickers bar because he’s just not him when he is bloodthirsty.
Good characters and storytelling can always overcome shoddy CGI, though. Unfortunately, Morbius comes across designed by a committee (it is directed by Daniel Espinosa with screenwriting credits from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless) to establish aspects of characters without actually characterizing them. Based on a character created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Morbius only seems interested in giving viewers a cliffnotes version of the hero. Without context, the film starts with the good doctor securing exotic bats from Costa Rica to bring back to New York. It’s explained that he was born with a blood disease, but that doesn’t stop the entire sequence from feeling like you walked into the middle of the story.
From there, the story goes back thirty years to a children’s hospital for those with similar conditions, where Michael befriends the bullied Milo (played by Matt Smith as an adult). This is also where Michael demonstrates prodigal intelligence, repairing a malfunctioned blood transfusion device by opening up the control panel and fixing it up with a ballpoint pen. Their doctor, Emil Nikols (a wasted Jared Harris), points this out with nearly the same delivery as the infamous bad guy impressed Tony Stark built something in a cave with a box of scraps. It’s as if the filmmakers were desperate to become another quotable sensation. Hell, at one point, when Michael has become a vampire and is running low on blood satiation, he quips, “you won’t like me when I’m hungry,” like he is a variation on The Incredible Hulk. It’s certainly not a funny joke and just feels like the writers couldn’t be bothered to write the character.
Anyway, Michael gets a full education ride and becomes the successful doctor he is introduced as, dedicating his life to curing such blood diseases. He also remains friends with Milo, seemingly unbreakable as they compare their resiliency and strength to the Spartans (they are the few against the many). Lest you think the filmmakers might go somewhere with that analogy, they don’t. It’s not long before Michael’s experiments irreversibly change him in unexpected ways, killing and drinking the blood of an entire security team. Following coming to his senses through artificial blood, he vows to make sure this never happens again while testing out various changes to his body.
At the same time, his medical assistant Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) looks on in horror and is then roped into a generic romantic subplot. Shortly after that (and contrived like nearly every aspect of this plot), Milo realizes that Michael has concocted a working serum from bats and doesn’t hesitate for a second to take it behind his back, knowing full well what unstoppable cravings the cure provides. The desire for blood is so impossible to resist with artificial blood running out, Michael might have to do the unthinkable just to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone again, but not before stopping Milo.
Cue several action sequences that feel inspired by a terrible early 2000s video game adaptation of a comic book movie (one of Michael’s abilities is echolocation, which is realized visually like a player is pressing down the right thumbstick and scanning the area, but with bland effects). There are as many slow-motion triggers as a Zack Snyder movie, but not exhilarating to watch. The final battle ends as fast as it begins, although that might be a blessing in disguise, considering the betrayal and rivalry buildup between Michael and Mil is forced.
Morbius also has a hugely problematic element with its poorly defined motivations for a disabled villain. Yes, it is sensible that Milo wants others to know what his sickness and emotional pain felt like, but it’s dialed up to 11 here with chaotic evil unconcerned with the villain’s humanity. The potential for a strong throughline with Morbius exists if it were to focus on these disabled characters with a shred of respect and care beyond “one is a superhero, one is a villain.” Matt Smith attempts to give Milo a flamboyant, indulgent persona, but it amounts to nothing since the writing is paper-thin. Meanwhile, Jared Leto is somehow missing the charisma and spark to play a human/vampire hybrid capable of superhuman feats.
One of the only kind things there is to say about Morbius is that due to its rushed pacing and insistence on hitting plot points by the minute, it’s never necessarily boring, and it does quickly move from one set piece to the next. The initial vampiric transformation and attack are also somewhat entertaining to watch. Regardless, the film itself appears to be dying of a blood disease from its opening scene. Perhaps if one takes a serum, they will crave better movies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com