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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