By: John M Jerva
I was finally able to see Sony’s latest edition into their planned shared Spider-Man universe, AKA Morbius, and now that I’ve finally seen the film after various delays due to COVID, I wish I’d saved the money on my gift card to see Ambulance this weekend instead. The film, based on the Marvel Comics property about a man who is transformed into a living vampire stars Academy award winner Jared Leto who really takes his lumps from society off camera. It’s true that Leto is known for peculiar behavior on and off the set, but you can’t deny the fact that the man can act when it’s warranted. This is Leto’s second stab at a popular comic book property after playing The Joker over at warner Bros. in the original Suicide Squad as well as the Snyder Cut of Justice League.
Leto’s portrayal of the clown prince of crime was certainly met with a lot of harsh criticism as he went for a more gangster approach of the infamous Batman villain so how would he stack up this time around playing one of Marvel’s most infamous villains/anti-heroes?
In Morbius, Leto stars as Michael Morbius who is a brilliant scientist who suffers from a rare blood disease which makes him very weak and prone to illness. As the film opens up and through flashbacks, we find that John is a orphan who has been dealing with this curse his whole life. He befriends another young boy named Luscious or Milo to which John nicknames him and the two bond quickly as they have much in common. Morbius leaves the orphanage and vows to stay in touch with his new friend even though they will be apart.
Fast forward to today and Morbius, now a doctor, is trying to invent a serum that will cure him and others like him of this dreaded disease but in his efforts, he creates a serum that transforms him into a ravenous vampire like creature who needs blood to survive. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Now stricken with an even more serious ailment, Morbius looks to try and control it before it consumes him and others that get in his way.
Now this wouldn’t be a comic book movie if the said serum didn’t fall into the wrong hands and this time around, we have veteran Doctor Who actor Matt Smith playing Morbius’ friend Milo all grown up. Milo is a very rich and successful man even though he is deathly ill and just like Michael, he is enraged that all his money can’t buy the one thing that he really wants. When Milo discovers the serum, he steals it and takes it for himself which transforms him into the same thing that Morbius is dealing with.
Unlike Michael, however, Milo falls in love with the power that the serum gives him, and he unfortunately turns into one evil son of a bitch who will do whatever it takes to stay like this forever. This puts him on a routine collision course with John as our anti-hero looks to stop Milko before he kills a whole lot of people.
Now, Morbius has been getting bashed right and left by critics and even though I never listen to someone else when it comes to movies, I was certainly intrigued to see how is truly was. The initial trailers did look somewhat promising with some fine action and some mentions of Spidey promising that shared universe Sony has been talking about.
I’m here to tell you that I have one massive love/hate relationship with this movie as I saw the potential for what it could have been mixed in with the mediocre movie that we actually got. There are positives to take away from the film of course but unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives in this case.
First let’s talk about what Morbius does get right. It’s no fault to the cast as they really try their best to give it their all with what they are given. Leto is solid in the lead role as is Smith who really gets the opportunity to ham it up when he turns bad. Say what you will about Leto, there’s no denying that he can truly bring it with a performance and here, he is spot on as the cursed biochemist who turns into a living vampire. Watching Leto do his thing, I could see a lot of resemblance to the actual comic book character this is based on and when he turns into the vampire, he looks accurate from the source material and the special effects with the transformations and how they look were a homerun. They really did a good job making him and Smith look accurate for the movie so that is a win in my book.
Also, director Daniel Espinosa stays true to the character of Mobius with keeping his origin story somewhat faithful to the comic. Now I’m not one to cry wolf when they change up beloved properties like this one, but it was refreshing to see them give some origin love for Morbius and not go for something totally different because they thought they had to. Leto and Smith give it their all here and Espinosa did the best he could I guess with what he had.
Another pleasant surprise is that the movie comes in at under two hours long. After watching the three-hour bladder test that is also known as The Batman, it’s refreshing to see a movie tell an origin story without taking all day. The pacing is solid, and I was never bored with anything, so I applaud Espinosa and company for realizing that you don’t have to make a movie based on a comic book last all day. Take some notes Warner Bros.
Now for the not so good aspects of the movie. My biggest gripe with the film is the letdown with the action set pieces. When I saw the trailers, I was immediately drawn to the way the fights were shot. They really blend something out of The Matrix and X-Men 2 when Nightcrawler did his thing. The first major action scene is quite exhilarating as Morbius morphs in and out of sight as he takes down a group of mercenaries on a boat. Even though it was ripping off other films, it still was quite cool and if the movie had kept that just a little and combined it with more visible action then it would have worked.
Tyrese Gibson (the Fast and Furious franchise) shows up here and he plays the role of FBI agent Simon Stroud. Gibson is hit or miss in his films and here he is essentially wasted as a secondary character. Stroud is hot on Morbius’ trail, but he literally doesn’t do anything during the running time except walk around and brood for the camera. They could have gotten any lesser-known actor for this thankless role, and it would have produced the same results. Watching him in this flick reminded me of his turn in the DTV actioner Dangerous with Scott Eastwood. Gibson offered nothing to the proceedings there just like he doesn’t here.
Sad to say that this is not the case as any and all sequences of mayhem are shot like this and there is the dreaded shaky cam effect combined with severe dark lighting that makes it almost incoherent to see what was really transpiring on the screen. Morbius is PG-13 so the violence is toned down which I really don’t care about but for me it was all about the frenetic ways that it was shot. If they had mixed the Matrix like effects with a more grounded fight choreography approach, then it would have sold me a lot more but for me this was an epic fail.
Now it is well known that movie studios try to sale audiences on a film through its trailers and this practice usually goes for putting scenes in the teasers that aren’t actually in the finished product. With Morbius, we were teased a lot more about Spider-Man that we actually received, and the worst offense was how Michael Keaton’s character of Adrian Toomes was utilized. Including Keaton’s Vulture really excited fans and myself for the shared universe including Spidey and Venom but alas Keaton’s involvement or how much there was of it was misleading from the get-go. Now, I’m well educated on how studios trick you, but this was exceptionally cruel seeing that Sony is trying to match the MCU here. I will say that Toomes is present in the stinger scenes and he is a welcome sight but that’s all I’ll say.
Now comes the finale. Like I said, the action was a letdown for the most part, but Morbius could have redeemed itself with a solid climax that really showcased the vampires in all their glory. What did we get? Well, fans received an ending that was over before it started. Morbius and Milo face off for the inevitable showdown but all we get is a bunch of smoke and mirrors with the same Matrix like effects and there really is no fight between the two. they basically just jump around for a minute or two and then it’s resolved before you can really blink your eyes. When it was resolved, I said to myself, “that was it?” The final confrontation was essentially all teeth and no bite whatsoever. Pardon the pun.
Overall, I didn’t hate Morbius and it really isn’t the stinker that so-called critics are calling it. If they had essentially cleaned some stuff up and threw in what they promised us from the trailers, then I would have enjoyed the movie so much better. I have a feeling that this latest comic book property was the victim of studio tampering by execs who were nervous about the finished product. Morbius isn’t bad. it’s just a lackluster comic book movie with solid performances from its capable cast. Leto and Smith really give it their all but at the end of the day, it’s a movie I won’t find myself revisiting too often. Hopefully Sony looks at this attempt and fixes the things that are wrong, and they can really dish out a shared universe that will excite fans for the future. Morbius still finds a way to entertain even with its flaws, but I was transfixed on what could have been. There’s a lot of missed opportunities to be had and if this still makes money and we get follow ups then hopefully they do it more justice next time. I would love to see Leto’s Morbius interact with Tom Hardy’s Venom and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker so if that does happen, I urge the studio execs to actually listen to the fans and give us what they we want. Not what they think we want.
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