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.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

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Review of “Blade Runner 2049”

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, “retiring” replicants that stop following orders from humans. After dispatching a replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) at the protein farm where he worked and lived, Officer K finds a chest buried at the base of a long dead tree. What is discovered inside begins an investigation that could lead to war unless a secret that’s been buried over 30 years can be kept. Officer K’s investigation leads to him finding retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) holed up in an abandoned hotel in deserted Las Vegas. The owner of the company that makes replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), wants to find out where the contents of the chest leads and sends his personal assistant and assassin Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to keep an eye on Officer K and kill anyone that gets in her way.

The plot synopsis of “Blade Runner 2049” is intentionally vague since there is spoiler material practically from the first scene. If staying uninformed about the 35-years-in-the-making sequel to “Blade Runner” is important to you then you should avoid pretty much everything on the internet with the possible exception of a trio of short films that fill in some of the backstory referenced in the film. My personal favorite is “2022,” an anime that is about the blackout that was a major event in this universe. It’s weird when a movie has a bunch of prequel material that’s nearly required viewing so the audience is up to speed. To be a truly entertaining film “Blade Runner 2049” could have used a feature-length prequel film so what happens actually causes some emotion and caring. As it is, this film is pretty to look at and has interesting things happen but I can’t say I care.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a master class in production design. Much like the original film, the look of the near future is as much a character as any actor. The flying cars, the massive holographic advertisements, the crowded apartment buildings and urban sprawl that suggests privacy is something that will die a quick death all make the world of “Blade Runner 2049” feel as real as any created landscape can. The world is probably even more grim than in the original thanks to a nearly constant rain and dark skies in most outdoor settings. We also see an abandoned Las Vegas that has a constantly hazy yellow/orange sky. We don’t know why the city is abandoned but clearly something very bad happened. Holographic representations of Elvis, Sinatra and showgirls are put to good use to make the empty showroom seem even more depressing. So much has gone into the look of the future that it seems the human element has been largely ignored.

There is an emotional pall over the film. Human and replicant life doesn’t count for much in the Los Angeles of 2049. Prostitutes work their trade in store fronts with smoked glass so you can see the girls with clients if they are right up against it. Food vendors are all over and there are kiosks with people selling trinkets of all types. Pets are still artificial and only available to the very wealthy. It is a world where people try to keep their heads down and avoid trouble. Since Ryan Gosling’s Officer K’s job is to charge into trouble he’s hated by pretty much everyone he contacts including his fellow officers. Gosling plays K almost as an automaton with very little emotional range. There’s a good reason for that but I won’t spoil it for you. Since he’s the lead character and practically in every frame of the film his cold and sullen demeanor rubs off on the audience. He’s so emotionally detached it has the effect of making everything in the film feel unimportant. Despite what we’re told about how this case could lead to or stop a war, there’s very little in what happens that creates much in the way of excitement or emotion.

Part of what adds to that lack of caring is a lack of knowledge. I saw all three prequel short films so I probably entered the movie with more information about the world of “Blade Runner 2049” than most; however, it wasn’t enough. For all the proclamations about how the events we watch are world-changing, none of it struck me as being that important. That, I believe, comes from a lack of understanding just what the use of replicants means to the world in the near future. There’s some brief talk about how using them provides the workforce necessary to take care of the basic needs of humanity and grow enough food for an ever expanding population but the film doesn’t help me grasp just how these events could bring about the end of civilization or humanity or whatever. The original “Blade Runner” suffered from a similar lack of importance in my understanding of what made events so reality-altering.

This lack of an emotional hook isn’t helped by a running time of over 150 minutes. There are numerous scenes that are stretched out for what feels like an interminable amount of time. Gosling’s Officer K walks so slowly it’s a surprise when he actually gets somewhere. There are long and loving shots of cityscapes and cars flying between massive skyscrapers and none of them do anything to move the story along. I could have done with fewer and shorter shots of the Los Angeles of the future and more explanation of why I should care.

“Blade Runner 2049” is rated R for nudity, language, some sexuality and violence. There are some fights and some shootings. Some of these are bloody but the violence is scattered throughout the film. We see a few naked women at various times. There are also statues that show a woman’s breasts. We see the beginning of an unconventional three way sexual encounter but there is no nudity of sexual activity shown. The outside of a brothel is shown and we can see the sex workers engaged in activity inside through smoked windows. We see what appear to be monochrome models of replicants that show their sex organs but this is brief. Foul language is scattered.

I’ve said this with other movies but perhaps I’m just not smart enough to fully understand and appreciate the story of “Blade Runner 2049.” I wanted to love the film as it has mostly glowing reviews; but I must admit, I don’t love the original film. It has many of what I perceive as the same problems of being about something in which I’m not emotionally invested. I don’t know how the events of either film are something that can be important to the characters, much less to me. I don’t hate the film. It is visually stunning and is interesting to watch but I just can’t invest myself in the story. Maybe it’s just me but “Blade Runner 2049” is lost on me.

“Blade Runner 2049” gets three stars out of five.

This week there’s an action film, horror movie and a couple of “based on a true story” pictures to choose from. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Foreigner—

Happy Death Day—

Marshall—

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast available at WIMZ.com, Apple Podcasts, Google Play and everywhere you get podcasts. Send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Suicide Squad”

Concerned the growing population of metahumans could become a threat to national security, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) suggests creating a team of supervillains called Task Force X. They would be sent out on the most dangerous assignments and, if things went bad, be disavowed by the government. Initially reluctant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is convinced when archeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) releases the ancient witch that inhabits her called Enchantress and steals top secret documents from Iran in an instant. The team is comprised of the residents of the highest security prisons because they are the worst of the worst: The assassin known as Deadshot (Will Smith), the crazy yet deadly Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), jewel thief and all around bad guy Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic street gang killer El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), assassin and expert at climbing anything Slipknot (Adam Beach). The person put in charge of Task Force X is Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman). By his side is a Japanese assassin known as Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Wielding a sword that traps the souls of its victims, Katana will act as Flagg’s bodyguard. Also for security, each criminal member of the squad is implanted with a micro explosive in their necks. Should they turn against the team or try to escape, their head will be blown off. If dealing with all the crazies in Task Force X isn’t enough to give Flagg nightmares, Harley Quinn’s psychotic supervillain boyfriend the Joker (Jared Leto) is looking for a way to get her back by his side. When Midway City is under attack from a super powered foe, Task Force X is deployed to retrieve a powerful person from a high rise building. Will the team of bad guys be able to stick together long enough to complete their mission? Will they all be decapitated by the explosives in their necks? Will Harley Quinn ever see the pale face and green hair of her puddin’ ever again?

“Suicide Squad” has been ripped to shreds by the real critics. It has been called dull, slipshod, overblown, overstuffed and just plain bad. One reviewer even referred to DC as the Donald Trump of blockbusters. That is harsh! Here’s the thing…I apparently didn’t see the same movie as the majority of critics as I found “Suicide Squad” to be a great deal of fun with a plot that, while at times overly convoluted and under explained, moves at a pleasant pace and filled with several characters that are appealing in various ways. In short, I really liked “Suicide Squad.”

“Short” is the word for this review as I don’t want to give anything away. There are plot points that have been kept under pretty tight wraps that I don’t want to spoil for anyone that hasn’t seen the movie yet. Let me say this much: The film has some problems in the way the story is laid out. Events near the middle don’t make a great deal of sense and there are some issues of timing, as in when some orders are given and how they relate to the big bad of the story. Maybe they were trying to keep the running time down to something reasonable at just over two hours but a bit more explanation would have helped make the story more coherent.

This will be a bit of a spoiler but I also had an issue with which members of the team don’t make it to the end of the film. One of the squad became a personal favorite as the movie progressed. He starts out as a fairly well rounded character with a backstory revealed late in the film. His worth to the team is questioned and he displays what he can do, gaining the team’s admiration. He is also pivotal to the conclusion and he gets killed. Meanwhile, another member of the team is pretty much useless and his actions lead to a second member getting the explosive in his neck set off. He doesn’t do much and is largely comic relief (and precious little of that). Perhaps one of those that don’t make it was selected to provide as much emotional punch as possible while the other is just to let the audience know there are high stakes for not following the rules. Whatever the reason, I would have liked to have seen one of these two lost squad members make it to the next film, if there is one.

While the team is led by Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the Queen of “Suicide Squad.” Her performance mixes the crazy, silly and dangerous in roughly equal amounts. Harley is a sexpot that will kill you for ogling her despite her dressing in short-shorts and a skin-tight t-shirt. She is as deadly with her hands as with a gun or her trusty baseball bat. Always looking for a way to reconnect with the Joker, Harley is truly the wild card of Task Force X. Robbie seems to be having far more fun in her role than anyone else. While Harley’s trademark Brooklyn accent is at best fleeting, Robbie still manages to embody the best and worst aspects of the Joker’s former psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel.

The rest of the cast isn’t given much of an opportunity to shine the way Robbie is. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc gets a few good lines and a chance to be heroic while Will Smith plays more of a father-figure to both the team and the young daughter he hopes to see once again. Cara Delevingne plays her dual role as Dr. June Moone/Enchantress in two modes: Frightened and horror movie kitsch. Neither is terribly entertaining. The rest of the cast is fine. Jared Leto’s Joker is teased in the trailers as a major character but in fact is more of a bit part. His actions are pivotal to some parts of the plot but otherwise he’s just a flashy cameo.

A few words about the Joker: After Heath Ledger’s performance as the clown prince of crime in “The Dark Knight,” taking on the role of Joker for the next actor was going to be a thankless job that could only be compared unfavorably to what came before. While Leto certainly puts his own spin on the villain it can only pale in comparison to Ledger’s masterful, grounded yet clearly damaged Joker. Perhaps if he is the main villain in Ben Affleck’s solo Batman movie we’ll get a better chance to judge is green-haired lunatic. As it stands right now, the jury is still out as to whether Leto is a worthy successor.

“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for disturbing behavior, action throughout, language, sequences of violence and suggestive content. All of the suggestive content involves Harley and that is all pretty mild. There are various acts of violence committed against humans and non-humans. We see one member of the squad get his head blown off by the explosive implanted in the neck. It isn’t terribly graphic but you know what happens. A couple of helicopters and fighter jets get taken down by various means. Foul language is fairly common but is no worse than the word s**t.

Perhaps I’m judging “Suicide Squad” against the last entry into the DCEU, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I found that film to be plodding, dull and devoid of joy. By comparison, “Suicide Squad” is like a springtime meadow full of brightly colored flowers and playful puppies. It moves at a brisk pace and is a great deal of fun. It even has a couple of good guy cameos just to let us know the two films are connected. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to find the flaws as devastating as the real critics. See it yourself and make up your own mind but, despite the problems, I liked it.

“Suicide Squad” gets four stars out of five.

Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Florence Foster Jenkins—

Pete’s Dragon—

Sausage Party—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.