Morbius Review – Comic Mayhem Straddles Cartoon Line – With Podcast Review
Buried somewhere in Morbius there’s some interesting exploration of the character, and some moments struggle in the quagmire of cartoon gimmick and special effects obligation, but the film ends in such a bog of shifting effort that it’s really hard to decide if that makes it worse or better.
The film opens with Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) on an expedition to find vampire bats and the downright goofy scene of him cutting himself to get the swarm out sets the stage for everything that follows. There’s a strange pageantry to the helicopter ride, the henchmen, the stilted dialogue and the oddly ritualistic performance of trapping these bats that sends us down a road seemingly offered by someone who doesn’t like or don’t not particularly understand comics.
Growing up with a debilitating disease, but also a genius, Morbius has spent his life trying to find a way to cure his blood-related disease, and it turns out vampire bats might be the key. Linking their DNA to his own (or otherwise), Morbius finds a cure, but one that comes at the cost of a hunger that seems to drive him almost wild if he isn’t sated.
The real conflict comes when Morbius’ lifelong friend Milo (Matt Smith), who has the same disease, also takes the serum, but has a very difficult ethical response to the triviality of having to kill people to stay strong.
Leto manages to give what he can to a character and plot that doesn’t have time to really develop. It’s a movie that’s more interested in making sure there are X minutes of supernatural combat and the effects of Morbius’ echolocation powers rather than capitalizing on the themes and moral underpinnings of the situation in which is our “hero”. What becomes most curious is the jerky rhythm that finds each extended pause meaningless or cut short jarringly. If Morbius isn’t fighting because he’s staring at his abs or bouncing around a room, we have time to watch that, but if any dialogue can actually give his perspective on the true depth of the horror in which it finds itself, there is practically a scratch record because one interrupts the lines which are rushed and often a little scrambled in any case.
It gets almost distracting, especially once Matt Smith really takes the stage, that a movie that’s an adaptation of something that’s already the billionth spin on vampires seems mostly resentful of having to incorporate even the slightest tie to human metaphor which is the only reason there are vampire stories to begin with.
Still, the story is somewhere in there, and despite Smith being a bit theatrical and Leto perhaps convincing himself too much that it’s worthy of the stage, the movie pulls you in and a lot of the action is great fun. But, as I said, the excerpts from a deeper and truly meaningful investigation into Morbius make for a curious experience. His moral dilemma and the torturous circumstances he has created for himself, added to the sheer disbelief at his best friend’s decisions, when it all comes across as some sort of contrived excuse for action, become more irritants as the driving force. It gives audiences the unnerving possibility of wanting less, not more, because the movie isn’t invested in it anyway.
There’s enough delivery to make it just passable, but it should have been a win. The direction feels like a flaw, and maybe that’s not so surprising coming from Daniel Espinosa, the film’s director Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga you don’t know (safe house), the lukewarm and critical film by Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman that you don’t know (Child 44), and the oddly boring space horror vehicle starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson that everyone instantly forgot about (Life).