Review of “Morbius”

Problem children can make a family’s life a living nightmare. Fortunately, my brother, sister and I were no more or less troublesome than average. A kid that lived next door to me was, however, a different story. While my sister was driving me home one early evening after a day out, we passed a very large car coming in the opposite direction. It nearly hit us, but we hugged the shoulder and the rocky hill it was cut from and avoided a collision. The other car overcorrected and drove down the embankment on the other side and rolled over. We both recognized the car as belonging to our next-door neighbor. We stopped to check if anyone was hurt and discovered the driver and occupant of the car was our neighbor’s son and his friend. They were both a year younger than I and not old enough to drive. The neighbor’s son was at the wheel as it was his parent’s car. Neither boy was injured, but I’m sure they would have preferred a stay in the hospital compared to punishment coming from their parents. The neighbor kid continued getting into scrapes with the law for drinking underage, possession of weed and other offenses. I believe he eventually straightened out, but I’m not 100-percent sure as we’ve been out of contact for decades now. The point is, no matter how hard we try to point others in the right direction, there will be people, even in our own family, that choose a different, more difficult path. Perhaps the makers of the Sony/Marvel film “Morbius” didn’t try to follow a tortuous path to getting the film made and released (and the pandemic didn’t help), but they have given us a long gestating, and utterly average, superhero origin film.

Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has a rare incurable blood disorder that requires three transfusions a day to keep him alive. He’s weak and only walks with canes. He’s working at Horizon labs, treating other patients with his condition and doing research trying to find a cure. He also developed a blood substitute used during emergencies and on the battlefield, for which Michael is awarded the Nobel Prize. His colleague, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Ajorna) discovers Michael has captured dozens of vampire bats and is trying to splice a specific section of their DNA into his own to cure his disease. He gets funding from long-time friend and fellow blood disorder sufferer Lucien (Matt Smith), whom Michael has called Milo since the two were in the same hospital as boys. Michael and Martine conduct experiments in international waters on a massive cargo ship. The experiments prove successful, but Michael has an unquenchable thirst for blood and kills the crew of mercenaries on the ship, leaving Martine alive. FBI agents Simon Stroud and Alberto Rodriguez (Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal) investigate the deaths and want to find Michael. Michael sneaks into his lab where Lucien/Milo visits. Milo steals a vial of the cure and injects himself, enjoying the feeling of power his newfound vampire-like abilities gives him, but killing a nurse closely connected to Michael. Milo wants to enjoy his powers and kills indiscriminately. Michael feels like it’s his duty to stop his former friend, now mortal enemy.

I am unsure where to begin talking about “Morbius” many shortcomings, so let’s start with the story. It is very unfocused. While we get the usual trappings of a character getting their powers, the way it’s presented is scattered to the point where a scene that’s in the trailer and has been for a couple of years that also appears in the movie doesn’t look like it fits anywhere in the narrative. I had to read the Wikipedia page of the film to figure out what part the scene in South America with the vampire bats meant to the plot.

There’s also no clear motivation for either the villain or the hero. Is Milo going to just live a hedonistic life of drinking blood and partying with supermodels? While Morbius wants to stop Milo from feeding on all of New York City, what does Morbius plan on doing with his powers afterward? There’s talk of the doctor killing himself with a potion concocted in a makeshift lab, but that gets tossed out the window never mentioned. What is the point of this character? This movie doesn’t know.

In the comics, Morbius begins life as a Spider-Man villain and then morphs into an anti-hero. Comics can reboot and retcon characters whenever they like to fit the needs of a changing market as the cost of producing a new comic book is relatively low. Movies have a much bigger problem as they only come out after years of preproduction/production/postproduction and millions of dollars in costs. The character of Morbius must be locked in and have a foreseeable path of sequels and team up films (as the two mid-credits scenes appear to tease), but we don’t know what kind of character he is by the end of the film. He fights the bad guy but only for a very specific reason. Where does he go from here?

Finally, let’s discuss the special effects. When Morbius uses his powers to travel, he is followed by color trails that match what he’s wearing. He sometimes can “poof” from one location to another. When it’s just him, it looks pretty good. However, when he’s battling an enemy, it all becomes a blurry mess. The action is slowed down to a crawl at times to give us a clearer picture of what the character or characters are doing, but otherwise, it’s just a guess. The finale felt truncated and uninspiring, in part because a colony of bats is used to hide lackluster action and CGI. For a film that was postponed so many times it is odd no one thought to use the time to clean up the digital effects.

“Morbius” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, some frightening images, and brief strong language. I’m not sure “intense” is the correct word for the violence in the film. We see Morbius and Milo attacking people numerous times. Blood is minimal, but you can hear squishing sounds implying there is a great deal of it. A character is slashed across the abdomen, but we only see blood stains on his shirt. Smaller children may find Morbius’ and Milo’s vampire face frightening. Foul language is mild and scattered.

While I liked Andrew Garfield’s two Spider-Man films (not as much as Tobey Maguire’s), there is considerable talk on the internet that Sony hasn’t made a great superhero film since 2004’s “Spider-Man 2.” While it’s all subjective, I can’t disagree. The “Venom” films have been commercial successes but critical failures (again, I enjoyed both). All three of Tom Holland’s solo Spider-Man films have basically been Disney/Marvel movies and they have all been great. Perhaps Sony and Disney can work out a similar deal as they have for Spider-Man and Marvel characters appearing in each studio’s films, but also mostly be made by Disney. Morbius could be an interesting addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (#MCU), but in Sony’s standalone Spider-Verse, he’s an anemic shadow of what could be.

“Morbius” gets two stars out of five.

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Review of “The Belko Experiment”

Located well outside the city limits of Bogota, Colombia, the office building of Belko Industries is surrounded by farmland, spike-topped fences and armed guard towers. On this day security, made up of Colombian soldiers, is heightened much to the chagrin of Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) who is in charge and wants to get inside. Also held up by security is Mike Milch (John Gallagher, Jr.) and new hire Dany Wilkins (Melonie Diaz) who is starting her first day. Things are pretty normal at the office except all the local workers were sent home at the gate. Front desk security guard Evan Smith (James Earl) tells Mike there was some kind of threat and that is the reason for the new guards and sending the locals home. The day progresses normally with Mike checking on Leandra Flores (Adria Arjona), his office girlfriend, who is getting unwanted attention from Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley). As the day moves along a strange voice comes over the building intercom informing everyone that of the 80 people in the building, two must be killed by whatever means necessary in the next 30 minutes or other actions would be taken. The announcement causes some employees to panic while others consider it a joke. After the announcement ends metal plates slide up over all the windows and doors. After 30 minutes passes and no one is killed, the voice returns saying there are consequences for not following directions and several people’s heads explode from the inside. Everyone at Belko has a tracking chip implanted under the skin at the back of their heads. Everyone was told it was to track the employee in the event of a kidnapping and was a requirement of employment. The voice returns saying 30 people must be dead by the end of two hours or 60 more will die by exploding chips. Soon, the employees are beginning to split up into factions: Those who think 30 should be sacrificed and those still looking for a way for everyone to escape.

“The Belko Experiment” pretty much gives away the story from the title: Some shadowy group is doing a life-and-death experiment with the 80 people in the building. The biggest question is why? What purpose does this experiment serve? What answers are trying to be gleaned? How does this serve mankind in general? The answers we get at the end of a brisk 89 minute film are unsatisfying and turn the movie into a showcase for special makeup effects artists but little else.

There are some pretty good performances in “The Belko Experiment” from Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley and Adria Arjona. As the various factions begin to form it becomes clear there are some severely unhinged people on staff. McGinley’s Wendell Dukes is frightening in his willingness to kill and to follow Goldwyn’s Barry Norris without question as it comes time to choose who lives and dies. Arjona deftly plays both sides of the fence as she is willing to at least entertain the idea of picking victims. Her waffling seems to be a sign of her being involved in the experiment somehow but that never comes to fruition.

The ending of the film also is lacking. Without giving anything away, one character suddenly develops ninja-like abilities out of nowhere. He struggles to survive the majority of the film but at the end is capable of pulling off a maneuver that most sleight of hand magicians have to study years to perfect. It makes the movie even more meaningless than it already was.

I guess my biggest problem with “The Belko Experiment” is it’s just about watching these people kill each other. Had someone on the inside been a plant from whoever was running it that might have given some meaning to what was going on. As it is, “The Belko Experiment” is just a version of the TV show “Survivor” where instead of getting voted off the island, you get a bullet in the brain. While it certainly is a showcase for some gory kills it doesn’t really add up to anything more than that.

“The Belko Experiment” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language, some drug use and sexual references. From a wrench to the head to an explosive chip in the back of the head, there are numerous bloody kills in the movie. Perhaps the two most graphic are an axe used to split a person’s face and a tape dispenser smashing down numerous times on a person’s skull. The drug use is limited to two brief scenes showing characters smoking marijuana. The sexual references are also fleeting and either used for comic effect or to drive home how creepy one character is. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“The Belko Experiment” has an interesting premise but the execution (pardon the expression) is lacking. If the movie was about something bigger than the kills then it might have made more of an impact on me. As it stands, “The Belko Experiment” is a failed attempt at some kind of social commentary.

“The Belko Experiment” gets two stars out of five.

This week there are three new films, two based on existing properties and one that is original. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

CHiPs—

Life—

Power Rangers—

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