It’s definitely NOT Morbin’ time.
This flick never once leapt out at me as being something I NEEDED to see. I’d heard about it going back to the initial ‘greenlight’ announcement, but not being familiar with the source material (it’s an older Marvel publication), I felt not much more than (very) mild curiosity and a whole lot of disinterest. That continued when the first news of production started hitting the Interwebz. Still, nothing I was seeing or hearing was really blowing my skirt up. Then it released…and got bled dry at the box office. Barely made its production budget back. It also didn’t help that critics and fans alike shat all over it and the scuttlebutt was that the final release version of the much-delayed Jared Leto vehicle was a boring mess. Then I moved on with my life.
Not too long ago, a good buddy of mine popped out of the woodwork and declared that he actually enjoyed Morbius when he finally caught up to it. I legitimately thought I was being trolled, given what the collective masses had to say about this box office bomb but I’m also acutely away that everyone likes what they like and some perspectives don’t always gel…and that’s fine. Our tastes in pop culture also frequently align so in the back of my mind, I placed a small Maybe asterisk next to Morbius, for whenever it became available without me having to pay to see it.
And here we are on a free day off (Thanksgiving Monday) and in true customary fashion, I was an early waker. Leaving my Better Half and the two fur-babies crashed out, I brewed up a small cauldron of coffee and weighed my options on what to check out in the darkness of a crisp early Fall morning.
At first, my instinct was to continue the excellent adventures of the Irish gypsy gangsters that populate Peaky Blinders (a new favorite series), but after sneaking a peak at the New Arrivals on Amazon, I noticed both Morbius and Uncharted had turned up, both of which being blockbuster wannabes that didn’t quite cut the mustard this last summer, both of which I was MILDLY curious about checking out. Mentally, between sips of hot coffee, I made like ‘Harvey Two-Face Dent’ and flipped a coin. For some reason…Morbius won. Don’t worry…I’ll be having a word with myself about that one later.
Morbius follows a sickly fella named ‘Michael Morbius’ (Jared Leto) who has been stricken all his life by a life-threatening genetic disease. We are treated to a flashback showing ‘Morbius’ as a kid, residing at an advanced medical facility where he meets an equally sick rich kid named ‘Milo’. After ‘Milo’ and ‘Morbius’ become best friends, ‘Morbius’ saves ‘Milo’s life after an equipment malfunction, leading him to swear that he will find a cure for them. Fast forward, and ‘Morbius’, with ‘Milo’s (played as an adult by Matt Smith) financial backing, sets up a dangerous experiment using bats. Naturally, things don’t go according to plan, and ‘Morbius’ emerges a full blown vampire who must wrestle with his blood-thirsty urges while trying to perfect the cure. Things go awry when ‘Milo’ gets hold of the initial serum and fully embraces the murderous nature of what he becomes, setting him on a cliché’d path with ‘Morbius’, who tries to stop his ‘brother’ and protect those around him. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.
So after figuring “Why the fuck not?”, I kicked back with my coffee and pen and paper…and hit PLAY.
Here lie them scribbles…
–Choppy pace right off the bat. Pun intended. From the opening scene, I could feel that ‘connective tissue’ was missing from the narrative.
–Something ‘off’ in the set-up of Morbius’ relationship with his assistant / partner. There’s no preamble to whatever relationship ‘Morbius’ has with his…whatever she was…, ‘Dr. Martine Bancroft’ (Adria Arjona) and therefore, I couldn’t compute any real stakes for her character, in relation to ‘Morbius’ and what happens to him. Again, narrative connections feel weak and ill-defined.
–How did she NOT know about the bats?! In keeping with the choppy narrative, it seemed really odd that ‘Morbius’ lab partner and apparent confidante wouldn’t know about the arrival of a massive test-tube of vampire bats now living in the middle of their workspace. How long have they been out of touch? *shrugs* The movie doesn’t let us know
–Wow! Lots of this dialogue is awful and unimaginative. This is consistent, through-out the 1 hour and 44 minute run-time.
–Why would they walk?! Pair of gimps. FOR SOME REASON, ‘Morbius’ and ‘Milo’, two men for whom walking is a torturous ordeal, decide to go for a hobbling stroll through the crowds of the inner city. I thought they were supposed to be smart?! The deep *snicker* conversation that ensues could’ve happened anywhere! Why make the two leads look stupid through lame writing like this?
–Nothing in the performances feels convincing. The on-the-nose dialogue doesn’t help. Seriously, for a flick with an approximately $80 million budget, it often feels high-school drama class level, at times astoundingly so. Also, would it have killed you guys to take another pass on the script BEFORE cameras rolled?
–The hired help goes into Attack mode immediately. This did not make sense to me. So, the big plan for ‘Morbius’ legally challenged human trials of his miracle cure is to take a boat supplied by rich buddy ‘Milo’ out into International waters, under the watchful eye of hired goons and perform the experiment. It seems that the goons EITHER had an ulterior motive, or no one told them fuck-all about why they’d been hired. As soon as shit even approaches the fan, they go all aggro and attack the changing ‘Morbius’ and his lady friend. Which results in a bloodless blood-bath.
–Bloodless bullshit. As I was just saying. Even when there is ‘blood’ onscreen, it’s usually as the ‘spray on the camera lens’, Saving Private Ryan-style variety, only it’s black and clearly CG, looking like cartoonish garbage. Why even bother? A vampire movie with no blood is not a fucking vampire movie! Full stop.
–Nothing but exposition. Show, don’t tell! There is virtually no character- building dialogue here nor is there action demonstrated by characters that reveal facets of their personalities organically. Nope…clunky wooden dialogue meant to just propel us into the next CG-laden action scene, again…and again.
–Motion lights. Gee…what ever is going to happen? This is a trope we’re starting to see more of recently, and it’s already getting stale. It’s the old ‘flickering lights in long, sinister corridor revealing threat approaching between strobes leading to an attack’ cliché’.
–They let him have a pen in prison? Who knows. Having never been to the pokie, I don’t know if they would just let a murder suspect sit there writing in his journal with his own pen immediately after his arrest. Just doesn’t seem likely, somehow…ya know?
–Is that…a Hulk joke? Hungry. “I’m getting hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.” This MUST be someone’s idea of a clever shout-out, only…it’s not too clever, simply replacing “Angry” with “Hungry”, for some reason. This will not be the only time a strange and clumsy Marvel throw-back enters the fray.
–Less than 5 minutes Lawyer Time? So, under the guise of ‘Morbius’ lawyer, ‘Milo’ gains access in order to give his ‘client’ counsel while he’s locked away, which he uses to encourage ‘Morbius’ to escape. They literally get just enough time to have clandestine hushed words before the none-the-wiser guard announces that Visiting Time is over. WTF?! ‘Milo’ had literally just arrived, not 5 minutes earlier and they were yanking him off stage already? I suspect there’s deleted dialogue that may account for some of that seemingly missing time.
–The lack of gore neuters this flick. Renders it…toothless. No edge. Don’t you just love puns?
If you want to see the template Morbius SHOULD have gone with, look no further than what is arguably Marvel’s first ‘real’ superhero movie, 1998’s Blade, a vampire flick with an awesome gritty style and a gleeful embrace of the solid ‘R’ rating.
–Why the ‘Snyder’ slow-mo freeze frames? At least, for the most part, when Zack Snyder (Watchmen) engages in his masturbatory use of slow motion, he knows when to frame and freeze certain shots for maximum ‘cool’. Here, director Daniel Espinosa (Life) just seems to choose moments at random during the big, twisty turny action scenes to slow right down and draw our attention to, because…? Honestly, I couldn’t figure out why THESE shots? Nothing plot-jarring was happening in the 5 (at least) examples of this that transpired. Maybe trying a little to hard to be nothing more than cool?
–Matt Smith’s having a good time. ‘Doctor Who’ seemed to get what Morbius was all about and just went for it in the Villain role, hamming it up and chewing the scenery at every turn.
–Bro vs Bro cliché’ bullshit. How many times have we seen THIS highly overused motif? Ugh.
–Oh, fuck off! Bus escape. Oh, yeah! So, at one point, ‘Dr. Bancroft’ has to ditch the cop pursuers who’ve been shadowing her and she manages to do so by stealthing her way onto a passing city bus. Lo and behold, who’s conveniently sitting in the seat immediately behind her?! Drumroll please…’Michael Morbius’ himself, a man desperately sought by the cops who seemingly just happens to be on the very bus she uses for a hasty, improvised escape. Bullshit.
–Why’s he out in the open?! Fugitive. By now, ‘Morbius’ is a well-known fugitive whose Jared Leto mug is adorning the likes of newspaper front pages and such all over the place. But is he concerned? Apparently not, as he hangs out in a Chinese restaurant in full view of other patrons.
–Convenience at every turn. How convenient. There’s a lot of the script that gives away how lazy the writing process was, given how often convenience just steps in to solve issues or further the plot, without the benefit of any sort of cohesive narrative design or ‘cleverness’.
-“I am Venom!” – ? What in the actual fuck?! Another lame attempt to somehow tie into the other titles that share this particular cinematic universe, centred primarily around ‘Spider-Man’. At one point, someone demands to know who ‘Morbius’ is and he growls the line above. Why?! Simple name recognition? Cheap and pointless.
– C’mon! Now a romance? Unearned! ‘Morbius’ plants a smooch on ‘Dr. Bancroft’…and it didn’t feel right.
–More black blood?! Grow some balls, movie! Hard ‘R’. Say it with me…Hard…’R’. If the gore and effects are cool, I can forgive a lot when it comes to shitty writing. Pity.
–Lots of undecipherable action. Tiresome. The end becomes this Transformers-like mess of unfocused flurries of action overlaid with too many sub-par CG effects and it didn’t take much to lose the geography of the action. The 3rd Act actually managed to become boring really quickly.
–That’s the end?! While this flick had definitely outstayed its welcome by this point, narratively it felt like SOMETHING was missing by the time the credits rolled on Jared Leto hilariously flying among the skyscrapers with his CG cloud of bats, trying to be all ‘Neo’-like.
–Nonsensical Michael Keaton cameo in Stinger #1. Don’t get me wrong…I love me some Keaton! But not like this, in some desperate set-up for more shared universe shenanigans that will most likely not happen, given how lackluster this one’s pull at the Box Office was.
–Nonsensical Michael Keaton cameo in Stinger #2. The first mid-credits scene has ‘Vulture’ (Keaton’s villain character from the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies) mysteriously appear in some prison facility, talking about how he hopes this place is better than the last one…some more credits roll by…then we cut to a scene where ‘Morbius’ rolls up into the middle of nowhere, where he then meets up with a fully escaped and costumed ‘Vulture’ to discuss some future team-up (Sinister Six?). It felt like an entire movie should’ve transpired to lead to this meeting, given how the ‘Vulture’ character is used in these two teeny scenes.
And that was Morbius.
Truth be told, this movie pretty much landed like I thought it would…with a limp thud. It’s objectively not a good movie…or at least this version isn’t. I have no idea what went on behind the scenes, but this flick feels like the product of studio tampering, though I’m not sure what would need to be different (aside from the entire movie!) in order to make me say – “Yeah, OK, this WAS a misunderstood gem that got fucked over in Post.” It’s a shame too, as I quite enjoyed director Daniel Espinosa’s science fiction / horror hybrid Life (2017), which I thought was a better Alien clone than it had any right to be, as well as 2012’s Safe House, a decent if largely forgettable action / thriller starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Based on those two titles and my largely positive reactions to them, I was vaguely curious. In the end, it was a fool’s errand.
Morbius was doomed at the script phase and no amount of competent direction was going to cut through awful dialogue and lazy plot mechanics that sully what could’ve been. If I have to play nice, I can say that some shots and scenes look really slick in their compositions and lighting, but aside from that, there’s not much else. Nothing of any real substance.
The acting is wooden and silly, the pacing is clunky, lazy plot convenience is used to a stupid degree, the film score is very forgettable and the lack of gore is borderline inexcusable for a vampire movie.
Morbius is a sad misfire of a ‘Marvel’ joint and the film-makers have no one to blame but themselves, having gone ahead without a properly or cleverly realized script and / or utilizing a chop-happy butcher in Editing. It certainly feels like important plot ‘flesh’ is missing and I wonder if a longer, more patient version would potentially yield a diamond in the rough.
But at this point, I really don’t care. I can’t see myself consciously making the effort to ever watch this one again and, obviously, I can’t rightfully bring myself to recommend it. If there’s NOTHING else on, and I mean NOTHING, on some lazy afternoon, it’ll kill off part of your day, but will also do the same to part of your mind.
Avoid if you can.