Morbius (2022) Review
A MESSY AND UTTERLY BLAND
SUPERHERO ORIGIN TALE
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has flourished into the expansive shared universe of most of Marvel Comics “best and brightest” arsenal of heroes and villains, one mustn’t forget that Sony / Columbia Pictures Spider-Man’s Universe, which consists of all things Spider-Man. Of course, the studio has seeing various franchise appear in the form of everyone’s favorite webslinger superhero, with actor Toby Maguire first playing the character in the Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007) and then actor Andrew Garfield had his chance to play the character in The Amazing Spider-Man duology (2012-2014), with actor Tom Holland playing Spider-Man for third iteration of the character in the current Spider-Man superhero installments. Holland’s Spider-Man opened the doors for the superhero to swing into the MCU; joining the ranks of Iron Man, Captain America, and Doctor Strange. In addition to Holland’s Spider-Man getting his own movies (i.e., Spider-Man “Home” trilogy) and involvement in superhero team-up blockbusters, Sony has started to create their own “Spider-Man-verse”; expanding upon the Spider-Man lore and background in ways of creating new theatrical feature film endeavors. This, of course, lead to the greenlighting of 2018’s Venom and 2021’s Vemon: Let There Be Carnage; spin-off projects that teased the titular symbiote character as worthy adversary within the realm of Holland’s Spider-Man character. Now, Sony / Columbia Pictures and director Daniel Espinosa prepare to release the third entry in this Sony’s Spider-Man Universe with the movie Morbius. Does this origin story sink its teeth into this vampiric superhero or is it all flash and no bite?
Born with a rare blood disease that requires constant medical supervision, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has struggled to find normalcy in his life, with his crippled body hindering his physical movement. Aiding him in his youth is Dr. Emil Nicholas (Jared Harris), a physician who has guided Michael during his younger years and nurturing him as a father figure as well as finding a friend in Milo (Matt Smith), a boy who suffers from the same disease. As an adult, Michael has become a gifted doctor, utilizing his keen intellect to help patience as well as working feverously to find a cure for himself, experimenting with the DNA sampling of vampire bats, ultimately creating a potent serum that could possibly remedy his bodily limitations. Teaming up with his colleague, Dr. Martine Banacroft (Adria Arjona), Michael performs the experimental serum on himself, transforming him into a powerful creature that has vampiric capabilities, including echolocation, flight, and a troublesome thirst for constant human blood. Wrestling with this newfound persona and body changing metamorphosis, Michael fights to contain his inner evil, working with a synthetic blood he developed that only acts as a temporary solution. Unwilling to listen to Michael’s plea, Milo also injects the serum, reveling in his vampiric power, happy to create chaos in New York City, inspiring Morbius to find a way to defeat his friend or die trying.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated many times before, I’m more of a fan of Marvel Comics than I’m of DC, which is probably why I intend to gravitate towards more Marvel superhero film adaptation endeavors (Disney’s MCU, Fox’s X-Men, and Sony’s Spider-Man, etc.) than say something of the DCEU…. even though I love several of those entries. In the case of Sony’s Spider-Man, I do find the character to be quite interesting, especially since there has been three Spider-Man movies; each one bringing something different to the iconic superhero character of Peter Parker. There has been a lot of debates amongst the fanbase on which ones (Maguire, Andrew, or Holland) is the best Spider-Man, but I think that each of them bring something new to the table. This even further drives the point home with the success (both critically and financially) acclaim that 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home had received amongst moviegoers that showcased the special interest in the various Spider-Man iterations. That being said, I personally feel that Sony’s “Spider-Man Extended universe” is having difficulty finding its identity amongst in the shared universe franchises. To be sure, it’s a young shared cinematic universe (one that I think has a lot of merit to it), but it lacks the pizzazz. Of course, it has been two titles (so far), with 2018’s Venom and 2021’s Vemon: Let There Be Carnage respectfully. Personally, I didn’t particularly care as much for the two Venom endeavors, for, while I liked actor Tom Hardy (I think he’s quite the gifted actor) the movies themselves are relatively bland, wonky, and uninterestingly balanced. Nevertheless, while this particular Spider-Man Universe by Sony is struggling to find its footing (and place) it is definitely an ambitious project to take the various Spider-Verse aspect of Spider-Man’s various heroes and villains into a new cinematic light.
This brings me back to talking about Morbius, a 2022 superhero movie from Sony Pictures. As mentioned, the success of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies in the MCU prompted Sony to revisit the superhero world with the two Venom features; expanding upon their own personal Spider-Man-esque arena of comic book characters. Again, while the Venom films have faced mixed reviews, the movies themselves have offered up a sizeable result at the box office, which is why something like Morbius was greenlit. Of course, I knew a little bit about the character from watching the Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998), one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons of the 90s, with the character of Morbius being introduced in the series and with the famous line “I hunger for plasma”. Besides that, I haven’t seeing much of the character appear in any other iteration of Spider-Man endeavors, which is why I was a bit curious to see a live-action film being announced on such a vampiric creature like Michael Morbius character. I don’t exactly remember hearing a lot of details about the film when it was first announced, but I remember seeing the film’s movie trailers repeatedly and the cast looked pretty solid, including Jared Leto, Jared Harris, and Matt Smith. Still, with the Venom movies not being exactly “superhero gold”, I had my doubts about Morbius. So, for better or worse, I was still somewhat interested in seeing what Morbius had to offer and was planning on seeing it when it would be released on July 10th, 2020. Unfortunately, the project would be affected by the on-going of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Sony pushing Morbius’s theatrical release date several times throughout the years of 2020, 2021, and 2022…before it finally landed on the theatrical release date of April 1st, 2022. With Sony pushing the film’s release date back so many times (for maximum box office results), the overall hype and anticipation for Morbius was definitely building and I was curious to see how it would be received amongst the masses. So, I decided to check out the movie during its opening weekend and see if Morbius was all that it was cracked up to be. And what did I think of it? Well, I can honestly say that it was disappointing. Despite a decent performance from both Leto and Smith, Morbius is just a lackluster, generic, and overall mundane superhero origin story that is dated and tiresome from onset to conclusion. What could’ve been something really interesting and innovative ends up being just bore.
Morbius is directed by Daniel Espinosa, whose previous directorial works includes such films as Safe House, Child 44, and Life. Given his background in filmmaking, Espinosa has handle himself well and has dealt with a wide range of film genres as well as working with a variety of well-known acting talents on his directorial projects. Thus, Espinosa makes Morbius his first attempt at a prominent mainstream superhero film and, while faltering and stumbling at times, does manage to make the most of what the movie has to offer. It’s a decent effort, with Espinosa approaching the source material with the classic nuances that are customary for a superhero origin tale. Naturally, this is to be expected and the movie offers up a new character; finding the “origin point” for Michael Morbius, a character that is bright yet crippled, becoming something more vampiric and less of a man. Perhaps the best (and most palpable) moment that Espinosa’s directorial works shines in the movie is the first big “action” scene of the feature, with the director showcasing some great elements of horror and action to display Michael’s first transformation into the vampiric being. The scene beautifully captures the tone that Espinosa wanted for the project and definitely is the highlight memorable scene of the entire movie. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie can’t quite capture the same type of excitement and ferocity. While the movie does have its fair share of criticisms, events happen rather quickly, with the film having a brisk runtime of 104 minutes (one hour and forty-four minutes), which makes Morbius feel rather lean and never excessively bloated superfluous details and side-stories.
In terms of presentation, Morbius fits the bill for what many would expect from a current superhero movie variety. This particular aspect is sort of a “double edge” sword as the film lacks the incredible power of visual “feast of the eyes” that are customary for a superhero blockbuster, yet it still has its own unique representation within a few areas. The layout and background settings for the feature are okay, yet still evoke a sense of dark foreboding, with the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Stefania Cella (production designs), Madeline Frezza and Tina Jones (set decorations), and Cindy Evans (costume designs) meeting the industry standards for what this particular type of film. Additionally, the movie’s cinematography efforts made by Oliver Wood has some nifty / slick camera angles and usage for dramatic / cinematic purposes in a few sequences. There are usage of CGI visuals, which are utilized to create some more fantastic and, while mostly good, the usage gets a bit muddy in a few areas, with the “dark and dark” mood atmospheric setting against the darker visuals. I kind of figured that this was coming to be the case, so it didn’t bother me as much, but I can see why it might become a bit distracting for some out there. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Jon Ekstrand, is probably one of the best attributes in the film’s presentation, with a compositional score that definitely works and provides the right amount of melodic moments and dramatic dialogue moments work for the narrative being told.
Unfortunately, Morbius lacks a lot of nuances and proper execution throughout its undertaking, with the feature becoming quite problematic as the movie begins and how it ultimately plays out. How so? Well, it goes without saying that this movie has been hyped for quite some time, with expectations for this particular superhero project at unsurmountable for this extended universe of Spider-Man characters and foes. That being said, what’s presented in the film doesn’t exactly display the right amount of “cinematic superhero” nuances in the film, which makes the whole production / execution of Morbius rather dull, bland, and boring right from the get-go. What’s given is something quite rudimentary for a superhero origin tale that, while hitting all the right marks and checking everything off correctly, feels lackluster and quite formulaic. Of course, the superhero film genre (as a whole) has been quite carbon copy as of late, with the same type of humble beginnings from a “zero to hero” archetypes, with a few that have broken that particular mold and become memorable in their own right. Unfortunately, Morbius isn’t one of those movies and plays out exactly as one would expect a superhero movie, but without any type of original flair and creativity to speak of.
Part of the problem rest with Espinosa’s direction of the feature, with the director struggling to find a proper footing. With Morbius being his first superhero film endeavor, it’s quite clear that Espinosa lacks the finesse or maybe the fully understanding of making a movie like this for the masses. Again, the movie hits all the right notes, but nothing about the feature stands out from what’s been done before in other (better) superhero origin cinematics. Characters are presented rather straightforward and stock-like, with Espinosa never giving a chance to make them feel like the characters are their own; producing some rather generic heroes and villains that are flat and lack depth. It is because of this because Espinosa makes the movie feel rather rushed, especially during the first act of the movie, with events and sequences presented in a hastily manner with only surface level material given. This sets the tone for rest of the feature, with Espinosa quickly shape the film to be something hodgepodge. Even the action scenes that Espinosa stages struggles to find a proper balance in being manageable and entertaining. Of course, the first big action definitely works, but everything else…. totally forgettable. Even the climactic battle in the third act lacks that pizzazz. It just seems that Espinosa is way out of his depth in shaping / executing the movie, which makes Morbius lifeless superhero movie.
The rest of the problem lies within the shaping of the feature, especially in the form of the script handling / making. Penned by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, Morbius’s script is cold and lifeless, with so many areas that are touched upon that are never really fleshed out. Much as I said in the paragraph above, the story of Morbius is pretty straightforward, but told within a very messy and limited scope that makes the narrative of the feature rather uninteresting and vanilla. From the generic opening to missing fragments of the narrative, the story being told in the movie just very haphazardly put to together that it becomes a bit confusing and uninteresting, especially with character developments (more on that below).
Again, everything is so rushed and just hastily cobbled together that it becomes quite distracting and almost laughable to a point as to what’s going on and how events unfold. The written dialogue for the movie doesn’t fair even better, with a lot of the dialogue presented to be rather bland and uninspiring, sounding very generic and bland, especially in the superhero influences. Even worse, the comedy that is interjected is rather weak as well as being nonexistent at the same time. What’s presented is very little indeed and comes across as rather forced and unhumorous, which tries to add levity in a few situations and sequences, yet gets drowned out by the dour moody and overall seriousness of the movie. This, of course, makes the attempted comedy bits in Morbius rather a moot point. Lastly, the film’s ending just feels lackluster, with the movie losing steam during its climatic point and ends in such an unmemorable way. In the end, what definitely could’ve work and help elevate this Spider-Man universe ends up being quite a disastrous project; finding Morbius a shallow and underwhelming superhero endeavor that never rises the challenge or occasion and becomes a failed endeavor.
The cast in Morbius is so better, which is strange because the cast members selected for these character roles are mostly recognizable from the past endeavors on the silver screen. Why is this so bad? Well, it is because both the script and the film’s overall direction in how these characters are presented in a way that lacks depth and any type of creative energy into the mix; resulting in bland / formulaic stock-like characters that are inserted into the feature’s story. This then places a heavy emphasis on the acting talents to carry the character forward and (in most cases) that’s not a really good thing to do. This can be said about the film’s main character of Michael Morbius, who is played by actor Jared Leto. Known for his roles in Dallas Buyers Club, The Little Things, and House of Gucci, Leto has always been attracted to be such character roles that are little bit off-beat and eccentric, with some having darker shades of ambiguity. This is probably why he auditioned and ultimately won the role of Michael Morbius in the film. For his part, I think that Leto does a good job and manages to play the character to an effective degree of being somewhat memorable, but that’s mostly because of himself (being Jared Leto) rather than embodying the character of Michael Morbius. In truth, the written character of Michael Morbius (in the film) skates on surface level material; presenting the crippled individual as an egocentric and abrasive personality, but there is something about the film’s script that makes the character of Michael Morbius bland. The movie never gives much material for the character to be interesting and / or creatively done, which (in turn) makes Michael quite uninteresting. As mentioned, everything is rushed and haphazardly put to together; lacking the necessary charm or bite (a fun pun of a vampire superhero). Leto does what he can with the material, but really can’t make his mark to turn the character of Michael into something unique. In addition, Leto has always been a supporting character actor rather than a lead man, which makes his involvement in Morbius quite off-putting. In the end, Leto gets somethings right, but ultimately struggles to make his interpretation of the character of Michael Morbius decent at best, yet mostly forgettable.
In contrast, actor Matt Smith is probably the most memorable character in the entire film…. even though the character he plays is a bit underdeveloped and conventional. Smith, known for his roles in Doctor Who, The Crown, and Last Night in Soho, has always been a gifted actor; showcasing his inherit likeable charm and theatrical prowess in various projects across the big and small screen. Thus, his involvement in Morbius is indeed a welcome one and definitely brings the necessary energy and acting charisma to the proceedings as his character of Milo, a close friend to Michael Morbius and one that becomes the antagonist in the feature. The overall character of Milo is pretty straightforward, yet (sometimes) feels like we (the viewers) are missing something from his character’s backstory. This results in the character being a bit “off-kilter” in how his presented in the film and background narrative beats and motivations seems to be missing…. as if left on the “cutting room” floor. So, the character of Milo is a bit awkward and almost surface level as a character, for it is only thanks to Smith’s screen presence that the character Milo stands out in Morbius.
Who actually fares the worst in the movie is actress Adria Arjona (Pacific Rim: Uprising and True Detective), who plays the character of Martine Banacroft, a scientist and Michael’s love interest in the film. Why is she the worst in the film? Well, it’s because the movie never allows Arjona to make the character her own, with the narrative simply presenting her as a generic / stock-like love interest from beginning to end. Nothing about Banacroft is relatively interesting or memorable, which makes the character sort of fade into the background most of the time. Plus, the love interest between her and Michael is pretty weak and it’s hard to buy into the relationship when both the script doesn’t allow the characters to be expanded upon (in that way) and in the sometimes-awkward on-screen chemistry between Leto and Arjona. In the end, Arjona (try as she might) can’t help elevating such a weak and unmemorable character of Martine Banacroft.
Stuck in the middle Smith’s Milo and Arjona’s Banacroft is actor Jared Harris (The Crown and Foundation), who plays the character of Dr. Emil Nicholas, a doctor / father-esque figure to both Michael and Milo. Of the entire film’s cast, Harris is probably considered to be the “seasoned” acting veteran of the feature, with Harris easily delivering his lines with great efficiency. He is a supporting character in the film, yet he still makes a good impact on Morbius to make his character of Dr. Emil Nicholas somewhat memorable in the film. It’s just a shame that Harris didn’t get a big part in the movie.
The other (or rather the remaining) supporting characters in the film are rather generic and feel like throwaway creations. Of course, I’m talking about the supporting characters that are FBI detectives Simon Stroud and Alberto “Al” Rodriguez, who are played by actors Tyrese Gibson (F9: The Fast Saga and Transformers) and Al Madrigal (Night School and The Way Back). While both Gibson and Madrigal are capable acting talents, their involvement in Morbius is unmemorable to say the least; finding their respective characters acting more like the tiresome “flat-foot / beat cop” detectives that are always one step behind the case….and stating what we (the viewers) already know. Even some of the comedy dialogue lines that are given to them feel hollow and feel clunky, which makes the various quips hollow. Thus, both FBI agents Stroud and Rodriguez don’t really measure exactly the right way and end up being forgettable side characters in the film.
Lastly, the film’s ending does contain a secret Easter Egg scene at the mid-credit point. While the scene or rather scenes (there are two) are interesting and lay the seeds for the connection expansion upon Sony’s Spider-Man universe and the MCU, just feels a bit “meh”, especially because the scene in question has already been somewhat revealed in the film’s movie trailer a few. So, those expecting to be mind blown by scene are going to be slightly disappointed. Plus, if one reads into the scene a bit longer, questions do being to arise and how certain things play out. Again, I know it’s supposed to be a “tease” for what is to come, but doesn’t have the same impact or “wow” moment that the secret Easter Egg end credits scene had in Venom: Let There Be Carnage or even Spider-Man: No Way Home.
The line between hero and villain is blurred and broken as Dr. Michael Morbius’s research to find a cure for his degenerate disease turns him into something far worse than what he could ever imagine in the film Morbius. Director Daniel Espinosa’s latest film takes the vampiric comic book character from Marvel and translates it into a superhero origin tale. Unfortunately, while a few certain elements work in the feature as well as few flashy visual presentations nuances, most of the feature falls prey to being flat and formulaic, especially Espinosa’s direction, a rushed narrative, a weak script, bland and uninteresting characters, and a few weak performances. Personally, I didn’t particular care for this film. It had a few sequences that I liked and some of the cast members involved did some decent jobs, but a great majority of the movie felt underwhelming, with the story feeling generic and haphazardly put together, which is strange because the movie has been hyped up for some long due to its delayed releases. I can honestly say that the movie did not leave up to the hype. In fact, it was actually worse. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a definite “skip it” as there is very little reason to see the film beyond a few snippets that were revealed during the film’s marketing campaign / movie trailers. Much like the two Venom movies, the film ends with the potential to further continue to tale of Michael Morbius through more installments, but I fear that these future sequels will be to a lesser degree than this movie….and that’s not a good thing. If one does materialize, I have very little hope / expectations for it and would have to have a new direction or almost a complete overhaul to try and salvage something of this superhero mess. In the end, Morbius, tries as the feature might, never quite delivers on the film’s inherit hype and anticipation; producing a lackluster and middling superhero endeavor that lacks any type of bite and drained of its life for a sour and rigid origin tale.
2.2 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: April 1st, 2022
Reviewed On: April 30th, 2022
Morbius is 104 minutes long and rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, some frightening images, and brief strong language.