Marvel Monday - Morbius
I know I’m a little behind on this, but it’s finally Morbin’ time!
After much ballyhoo on the internet and a failed re-release showing how Sony is still unable to differentiate sarcasm from genuine enthusiasm, the home video release of Morbius is finally here. So, is it as bad as they’re saying? No, it’s really not. There’s a lot worse comic book movies out there. Morbius is perfectly watchable. However, there are some legitimately significant flaws to the film that, honestly, there’s just no excuse for. But before we get into that, here's the synopsis:
Michael Morbius is born with a debilitating blood-borne disease. Gifted with a singular intellect, he spends his life trying to tackle his ailment and finally find a cure…but his time is running out. In spite of his achievements, including creating an artificial blood, he finds himself at an impasse until researching vampire bats brings a risky solution. Testing this potential cure on himself, his reasons for concern are validated as he is turned into a Living Vampire. Faced with the moral implications of the side-effects of this cure, he’s forced to keep it hidden, but when his friend Milo, who has been funding Morbius’ research, learns of it, the moral argument becomes very real: should they embrace their new natures as apex predators, or should they cling to what little humanity they have left?
The main problem of Morbius needs to be appropriately addressed within close proximity of the synopsis because in many ways, the entire movie plays out like a synopsis or a ‘Plot’ blurb from the Wikipedia entry. Introduce main character: check. Next box, establish main character is really smart. Check, next box. Introduce childhood friend who will become main villain, check. So on and so forth. There are no surprises. There’s no nuance. There’s no genuine character development, nor anything that’s going to keep audiences rooted in the story and, as such, no payoff for the action sequences or plot resolution. It truly is Comic Book Movie by the numbers. I mean, a lot of online reviewers have been poo-pooing the MCU lately for being formulaic, myself included at times, but even Disney manages some valid character beats and traces of nuance to at least keep most of the audience invested in what’s happening in front of them. There’s none of that here.
The shame of that is you do have a really good cast here that is not only capable of providing you that nuance, many of them would excel at it, given the chance! Starting from the top down, we have Jared Leto in the title role, and from appearances he’s perfect casting. Yet, like his Joker in Suicide Squad (at least the released theatrical cut), he feels wasted in the role simply because he’s not really given anything to explore. Thematic elements such as the potential loss of humanity, balancing the man and the monster, we’re given some needed beats but not nearly the depth that we know Leto is capable of. The same can be said of Matt Smith in the role of Milo/Lucien. I’ve been a fan of him since his turn as the eleventh Doctor, and he certainly looks like he’s having fun, but it’s ultimately a performance that starts and stops at “Wheee! I’m the bad guy! And I love it!!!” Adria Arjona should be an equal to Morbius, and felt like she had the acting chops to be able to handle that kind of role, but ultimately comes off feeling more like an assistant in the first half of the film and the standard love interest du jour in the second half. Jared Harris as Michael and Milo’s caregiver/mentor Dr. Emil Nicholas is completely wasted in this film as he’s simply there to convey two points: Michael is really smart and Milo has become really evil. There’s the standard father-figure beats for him to hit, sure, but again, there’s nothing special here to warrant an actor of his caliber. Hell, lastly, while certainly no heavyweight, even Tyrese Gibson as Agent Stroud is completely wasted, relegated to a “Hey, that guy in the background looks familiar,” role.
Deserving of his own paragraph, the internet has, very rightly so, wondered what the hell was Michael Keaton’s Vulture doing in this film? Yes, it’s just as tacked on as you’ve heard. In some ways, I get that it’s to potentially signify the continued separation of the Spider-Man characters making their exit from the MCU and falling solely under the purview of Sony, but why not just leave that as its own separate stinger? Instead the film forces a meeting between Vulture and Morbius that just simply makes no sense. One could make the argument that it’s Sony circling back around to a Sinister Six idea, but this does nothing more than the same thing Sony has done in its past efforts to set that up: it feels forced to the point of contrivance.
Every criticism I’ve levied thus far points to the writers as the culprits as to why this film didn’t work. Ordinarily, I’d be hesitant to point that finger, but then I looked up the writing team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless and…oh boy. To be fair, it’s not all bad. I enjoyed Dracula Untold and I feel strangely loyal to Gods of Egypt mainly for Alex Proyas’ sake…but I have to admit that neither of these are the strongest of films and certainly qualify for the term ‘critically panned’. The remaining film in their credits, The Last Witch Hunter was, like Bloodshot, simply a Vin Diesel vanity project where he simply just announced to the world that “I’m a D&D player and I’m a badass.” Meh. Whatever. Similarly ‘critically panned’. To try and bring at least some positive to this, they did contribute story elements to the 2017 Power Rangers film and I liked that, but, let’s face it, if one were to ask ‘Why do these guys still have jobs?’, well, they would not be wrong in doing so, as this pair really hasn’t written anything perceived as…um…good.
If I’m being honest though, I don’t blame the writers. I imagine just like anyone else in Hollywood, they’re brought on to a project by the producer. And if there’s a common thread to all of Sony’s Marvel films, it is one Avi Arad. This just feels like his work. While his most notable interference was forcing Venom into Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, our latest hint that he continues to be delusional was the completely unnecessary credit he gave himself in Spider-Man: No Way Home, reading as follows: “The Filmmakers would like to gratefully acknowledge the original True Believer, Avi Arad, whose vision led the way to bringing these iconic characters to the screen.” For those of you that have ever wondered if a man could suck his own dick? Right there’s the evidence you need to see at least one man can. The films he has produced in the wake of the MCU appear to have completely overlooked the lessons of said MCU, most notably the two recent Venom films. Morbius feels like a 90s or an early 2000s comic book movie and the lesser ones at that, more akin to Ghost Rider, The Punisher and the theatrical cut of Daredevil relying more on style and spectacle than story and character. Where the Venom films succeed and where Morbius fails is at least Venom manages to hang on to some character moments, thanks to the brilliant Tom Hardy, even if the story/plot remains weak. And sadly, but kind of expected, Arad took the success of the Venom films as justification to continue this mode of filmmaking with Morbius…which was the absolute wrong lesson to take away.
To try and wrap up on a positive, Daniel Espinosa’s direction is fine, perfectly serviceable. The film looks good. While I’m not sure it achieves the hybrid of Eastern action and Western action that he was aiming for, the action sequences are fine with nothing that’s going to take viewers out of the movie (well, any more so than what has already been listed). The score is equally fine, nothing great, nothing that’s gonna want to make you grab the nearest sharp object and head directly for your ear canals. Onscreen effects and what little gore is permitted work, although it would’ve been nicer to see some more practical make-ups as opposed to relying mostly on digital effects. That said, the digital stuff is generally fine, nothing really glaring, but practical stuff might have helped the vibe a little more. Of course, the same practical effects might have gotten the film a dreaded R rating…so maybe it’s best they went this route.
Sigh. I continue to look over the cast and crew and just shake my head. I mean, the credit for the editor on this film is Pietro Scalia…a frequent collaborator of Ridley Scott! Morbius had a real pedigree for potential but in the hands of an egotistical producer and a studio that knows what they have but doesn’t KNOW what they have, it just goes to show that you can have all the finest ingredients and still end up with a shitty meal if the chef doesn’t know what he’s doing. Or, in this case, a better analogy might be that we have the finest ingredients, a capable chef, but the restaurant owner’s idiot father is lording over the kitchen dictating how dishes get made. Does Morbius deserve all the snark? Ordinarily, I’d say no, but given the aforementioned Spider-Man: Far From Home credit Arad bestowed on himself, yeah, it kinda does. It’s certainly not the worst comic book movie out there, not by far. But the evolution of the comic book movie throughout the opening decades of the 2000s demands that we judge these films differently than what we did when this era of cinema started, and Morbius simply doesn’t measure up. If Morbius were released somewhere between 1998 and 2005, it would have been awesome. But now in the 2020s? It’s a pretty weak entry. All in all, there’s nothing here to make me feel extremely on one side or the other, and that warrants a Plain Cat. Morbius, the cinematic expression of “Meh”.