Morbius is a genuinely baffling blockbuster whose awful genericism is only matched by how completely and utterly boring it is. The weird thing is that Morbius isn’t necessarily bad in one way or another; it’s just the kind of generic that isn’t even watchable. It plods along without an ounce of particular interest, transforming what could have potentially been a fun action-horror flick into an utterly dull affair that is as soulless as it is bloodless (though not from lack of trying).
Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant but somewhat arrogant doctor suffering from a deadly genetic blood-borne disease that renders him weak and on death’s door at every turn. In his plight to find a cure for his illness, which his best friend Lucian (who Michael names Milo… for some reason?) (Matt Smith) also suffers from, Michael turns to vampire bats to try and genetically alter himself. Along with Dr Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Michael heads into international waters to test his experimental treatment on himself. Naturally, this goes wrong, turning him into a superpowered vampiric beast. He must struggle with his lust for blood and his honourable plight to help people. When a murder occurs at Michael’s laboratory, he becomes FBI Agents Stroud (Tyrese Gibson) and Rodriguez’s (Al Madrigal) prime suspect as blood is spilled across New York City.
If this sounds plain and overly convoluted, that would be because it is. Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless struggle to find much to really grapple with within this film. The first act is kind of a mess, beginning with a rather pointless opening scene of Michael capturing vampire bats, leading into an unnecessarily extended flashback of Michael and Milo meeting for the first time and the spark of their friendship, then jumping back to the present to begin the actual story. While everything else from here on out is pretty straightforward, it is almost too much. Sazama and Sharpless constantly feel like they’re just ticking boxes as they go. The film technically hits all the beats of a solid superhero origin story. Still, it does so most generically and plainly possible while also just being highly dull in the process. Every scene feels like it runs two minutes too long and takes too much space up, without any real drama or stakes, despite trying to create stakes at every turn. The film emphasises how the artificial blood (that Michael has created before the main story starts) isn’t a solid substitute for actual blood, so a ticking time bomb is constantly hanging over the film, yet it never feels all that serious. Every beat that tries to act as a significant attempt at constructing stakes thinks like this; it feels hollow and empty; it never feels like there will be real consequences.
This is partially a result of how Michael is constructed as a character. Morbius is meant to be this major anti-hero, a character that treads the line between the moralistic good and evil, and while the film ploys for this Jekyll and Hyde-esque character, it never feels like Michael is pushed to that edge outside the ferocious first vampire action scene in which he kills eight mercenaries. The thing is, there is no morality placed upon this act, despite the attempt to try and create a shocking and horrific air around it. After this, we only see Michael fight with his own inhibitions, and never when it comes to other people. Without that line being tread, primarily being a “good guy”, there’s no tension to whether or not this guy could just snap because it’s always fixed within a couple of minutes.
This also is somewhat part and parcel with how everything is constructed in the direction and editing. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, the filmmaking does have its moments; generally, some of the action is stylish and fun, especially as it leans into its violent tendencies. The first Morbius rage out has some entertaining stuff, and it’s very obvious that it is meant to be a more violent sequence; it’s got some really slick, unnerving action work here, and it’s possibly the most fun and entertaining the film gets (despite not exactly being the point). The quick midpoint chase sequence has some entertaining stuff, too; full credit to Espinosa, who clearly has a good eye for stylish action shots. Yet everything dramatic feels very standard, dull and without anything compelling to keep interested.
It doesn’t help that, at times, the film feels somewhat tampered with. There’s a weird sense of edited moments that undercut the film throughout. In the edit, the most obvious evidence of this kind of meddling comes from the trailer’s awful “I am Venom” joke. In the film proper, the “I’m just kidding, Dr Michael Morbius, at your service” line is gone, leaving the “I am Venom” bit without a punchline. It makes the “joke” so awkward, hanging in the air. This one is, of course, absolutely overt because it was in the trailer. However, moments throughout the film feel cut within an inch of its life to double down on the self-seriousness or cut away from the more violent moments, yet never cuts down on the bloated sequences or the drawn-out dramatic beats.
If there was a compelling performance at the heart of this film, a la Tom Hardy in Venom, there is potential for there to be living here. Matt Smith is likely the closest analogue, he’s giving a rather entertaining performance once it comes down to it, having fun, getting weird, hamming it up, and honestly, it’s a joy to watch him get something to do in a blockbuster after his previous outings in Hollywood (Terminator: Genisys) did very little with him. But then you have Jared Leto at the core of the film. While he often has that movie star look to him, the man has zero charisma or interesting take on Michael Morbius. With him at the centre, with a script that provides little actual character depth, Leto is just dull and uninteresting to watch. And none of the other actors is really able to come to his aid, despite giving solid, albeit bland performances, doing what they can with the script they have.
Sadly, if not expectedly, Morbius is a plain and generic film that still manages to be a disaster despite its stereotypical nature. It would be all good for this movie to be a schlocky B-movie-esque blockbuster that leans into its failings, but it never is that. It’s consistently moving from scene to scene without much of a rise in the tension or stakes. The drama just constantly flat. It’s not from lack of trying. There’s clear evidence of trying to bring it to life in the film. Still, it fails at every turn, leaving the movie as a consistent, boring experience.
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