REVIEW: ‘Morbius’ Tries to Capture Darkness

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Morbius - But Why Tho

After massive delays, Morbius is finally hitting theaters. But the long wait and coupled with the massive success of Spider-Man: No Way Home has crushed pretty much any (if there was some) enthusiasm for the film. Set in Sony’s Spider-Man villain universe that is being crafted without the web-slinger, Morbius picks up the PG-13 darkness torch that Venom carried but lacks the charming and entertaining protagonist that has turned that franchise into a cult classic.

Morbius is directed by , written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, and stars Jared Leto as the titular character with Adria Arjona, Matt Smith, Tyrese Gibson, Al Madrigal, and Jared Harris. In Morbius, Jared Leto transforms into the “enigmatic antihero” Michael Morbius. Dangerously ill with a rare blood disorder that is killing him and his best friend, Michael is determined to save others suffering the same fate. Having lived longer than what was anticipated and living with an anvil over his head, he attempts a desperate gamble to use the anticoagulants in vampire bat DNA with human DNA. While at first, it seems to be a radical success, it quickly becomes clear that there is a monster driven by blood inside of him, the living vampire.

Much like Venom before it, Morbius is adapting a darker character and meets him with a darker tone. However, it’s frozen by its PG-13 rating. The blood on display is dark, almost black, done to get away from ratings I’m sure, and even the word blood has been switched with “the red” for some reason. While the tone of the film is broody and dark, both in content and lighting, Morbius approaches a line and continually jumps away from it. Pulling its punches is understandable, and an issue other Sony ventures have had (I mean, where was the carnage with Carnage) but Morbius lacks a scene-stealing star to keep you bought in.

Instead, we get Jared Leto who is supposed to be playing an “enigmatic anti-hero.” Instead, there is no mystery around him, and other than a sadness that sure listens to the Black Parade, there are no characteristics that mark his character as the Morbius we know. Additionally, there is no antihero in this take on the living vampire.

Instead, his motivations are straightforward, cure this blood disorder at all costs to save people – but the only cost is just himself and some rats. Beyond that, he is never once pulled over to the strength he has from “the red” and instead is deadset on sacrificing himself to save people from the film’s antagonist. He’s really just a hero, no wiggle room there outside some miscommunication with law enforcement.

Working in its favor, the film seems to avoid much of the “disability is bad always” tropes that audiences were worried about and instead examines the scientific pursuit to cure a deadly disease and contextualizes the “cure” as a failure. However, the film doesn’t understand the message it’s throwing behind the scientific search. On the one hand, Michael is something different now and despite the blood lust and danger, the film’s antagonist wants Michael to accept it and embrace the power. On the other, the living vampire has regrets about playing god and seems to resign himself to end it all in an acceptance that science is sometimes better left untouched.

The fact that both these threads exist isn’t inherently bad and can be fruitful ground to discuss biomedical ethics and god complexes. But the film doesn’t do anything with these ideas, instead, it leaves everything without resolution, as if a portion of the story was removed for time – even in an almost two-hour movie. But presenting interesting ideas and then abandoning them is the name of the game for this film.

Morbius The Living Vampire

There is a good film somewhere in all of Morbius’ mess. For the first act of the film, choices are made that investigate Michael’s newfound powers from a pure scientific curiosity and that’s done extremely well. Additionally, the ethical questions of medicine and the action sequences balance each other out in a way that really works. However, once the film’s antagonist hits his stride, everything is out the window.

Science takes a back seat, Michael becomes more focused on the drama between him and his former friend than any implications for the entire world, and the action sequences deteriorate. While the use of the smokey ripples around the bodies of the fast-moving characters during their fights is done well in parts, the climactic battle becomes muddied and almost impossible to process. Flying CGI industrial parts and some smokey swirls of purple are all you really see.

For what it’s worth though, Matt Smith’s Milo really does hit his chaotic part on the head. He’s arrogant and self-centered and his joy when inflicting violence is extremely well-acted. From his physicality to his voice, Smith’s Milo swallows up Leto’s Michael Morbius in every scene they’re in together. Even if Leto didn’t understand the assignment (which at this point I don’t think anyone told him what was going to be on it), Smith does.

Suffering from the same problems of trying to be dark and violent but still all-ages that Venom did, Morbius lacks the staying power and charm of its predecessor due in large part to its lead. There are parts I really liked about the film, primarily in its first act, but it’s not something I can recommend you spend money on. A night in on a streaming service sure, but going to the theater with inflated prices in a pandemic? Most definitely not.

Morbius is playing in theaters nationwide April 1, 2022.


Morbius
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    Rating - 4.5/10
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TL;DR

Suffering from the same problems of trying to be dark and violent but still all-ages that Venom did, Morbius lacks the staying power and charm due in large part to its lead. There are parts I really liked about the film, primarily in its first act, but it’s not something I can recommend you spend money on. A night in on a streaming service sure, but going to the theater with inflated prices in a pandemic? Most definitely not.