The Film Gods, hearing everyone beg and plead for the next great vampire comic book hero to arrive onto the silver screen, finally delivered as the plucky heroes over at Sony brought to life the heroi- wait? Oh, he’s not a good guy!…In the comics at least…Oh, okay…so he’s a bad guy…and he’s getting his own movie? And Spider-Man won’t be in it, again? Okay, cool. Well, there you go. MORBIUS, after many delays, is here and like much of the other “just okay” offerings from the Marvel/Sony combinations that don’t involve Spider-Man, the world is struck once more by another origin story that decides the only interesting thing to do with Marvel properties it to make a bad guy a good guy. Be that as it may, maybe Sony could find another rough off-brand diamond ala the first VENOM and create a society where we all enjoy and look forward to Jared Leto pretending to be a crippled scientist turned bloodsucker…
That enjoyment though is a hard thing to find here. Bringing in writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (a great comic book name in itself), MORBIUS enlists the “just enough” talents of the always steady if plain Daniel Espinosa (SAFE HOUSE, LIFE) and welcomes audiences to the plight of Dr. Michael Morbius (Leto, long haired and only slightly jacked aka “Vampire jacked”), a brilliant scientist who has literally been fighting for his entire life against a blood disease that’s permanently weakened him. Prior to becoming a vampire through relatively basic means (i.e. getting hounded by a bunch of bats), Leto’s Morbius is a sullen and slightly unnerving smarty pants, which intentional or not, arms the film’s first quarter with a sort of strange comedy as Leto tries to make his dying character a sort of snarky guy. However, unlike VENOM, which itself seemingly realized as it went on how much fun could be had in acting silly with silly material, MORBIUS only becomes more lifeless the more our lovable Doc delves into his powers which involve super-strength, flying on sound waves(??), bat radar (aka he sees REALLY good), and slightly more defined abs. Truly, outside of the fact that a superhero is being played by self-mythologizing actor/musician Jared Leto, Morbius doesn’t really stand out as a terribly enjoyable good or bad guy.
Not that the film really dives into some of the moral conundrums being a bloodsucking vampire entails as Dr. Morbius quickly realizes that instead of having to worry about feeding on any innocent sap that walks his way when his tummy is growling he can just chill out and drink some blood bags! How noble! It’s a good thing too that his non-blood but still super tight adoptive brother Milo (Matt Smith, the only one having fun in this thing) decides to become the antagonist of the movie at the drop of a hat, granting the audience the joy of watching two heavily CGI-d, bat-nosed avatars hiss and fly at each other for the final 30 minutes of the movie. Believe it or not, this is not as fun as it sounds, try as Mr. Espinosa might to grant these generic action/chase scenes with a few cool details of bat related visuals such as the flowing colored scents and wisps that fill Morbius’ vision when he goes bat mode or even in its strong willed attempts to push its PG-13 ratings towards a gorier path as seen in some of the film’s early vampire feeding/slashing frenzies. Still, the character’s transformed look at least attempts to leave an impression as, at first, its admittedly garish and gnarled appearance looks goofy but somehow it slowly morphs into something of a admirable homage to movie monsters of yore where they actually looked monstrous. For better or worse, MORBIUS isn’t afraid to turn its star into a hideous beast that at times looks like a Gorillaz extra.
Sadly, outside of those points, the rest of the film is adequately produced if unmemorable origin story fare. Taking out Smith’s enjoyable turn as Morbius’ cooler and more entertaining moral foil, the other supporting characters fill in slots that every superhero movie needs such as Adria Arjona’s, Martine, who exists only to act as Morbius’ love interest, and Tyrese Gibson as a no nonsense detective who hasn’t seen a situation he can’t approach over seriously; and honestly, seeing a movie centered purely around Gibson’s dead serious yet ultimately ineffective detective sounds much more enjoyable than this. Even Leto himself sadly feels underused, playing things with a sort of understated amusement at things happening to his character. If the (usually over-the-top) performer is in on the joke, it’s hard to tell through his tentative line readings. Even so, Espinosa and Co. keep the ride moving at a lightning pace as it doesn’t even feel like five minutes ago Jared Leto was pretending to be handicapped before quickly discovering and subsequently fighting his first big bad in the film’s finale. With the audience’s time on mind, it’s a blessing Espinosa and Co. push things along as quickly as possible.
Nevertheless MORBIUS is kind of a dud of a movie. It simply exists and doesn’t even really beg to be approached. It won’t kill you or wow you or really disappoint you after a viewing; it will simply go through you. And don’t worry about the after credits scenes of this film, what they promise probably will not happen.