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Morbius (2022) Review

I’ve been on the fence about taking on Morbius, Marvel´s latest release under their MCU Phase Four film series moniker. Superhero film fatigue is real, at least it is for me. Avengers: Endgame, while flawed in itself, adequately capped a story well told in Phase Three, and films that saw the light of day since were, charitably put a mixed bag.

More precisely, varying from a steaming mess (Eternals), to tragically redundant (Black Widow), to ‘okay, shrugs’ (Shang Chi), to whatever Dr. Strange 2 is so I’ll call it confusing for now, to surprisingly and unexpectedly good (Spiderman: No Way Home). But Morbius had an interesting take that reminded me of Blade, with an interesting lead star (Jared Leto, Blade Runner 2049, Suicide Squad) and solid support cast, all of which incentivized me to check it out and share my thoughts.

Directed by Daniel Espinoza (Life, Safe House), Morbius is written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. That’s the same writing duo that penned films such as Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter, and Gods Of Egypt, which gave me pause and put my incentive in serious jeopardy. But after some back and forth with my inner self, I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and pressed ‘play’ anyway.

My expectations were pretty basic: an adequate Leto, lots of noise and dizzying effects, and a one-dimensional villain. Here was hoping that these illustrious writers managed to somehow churn out a halfway decent script, or at least to not fuck it up so badly as they’ve proven to be all too capable of before, and I’d still be in OK territory with it. Not too high a bar to clear for Morbius, a production with a budget north of USD 75 mln, I should think.

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Young Michael Morbius (Charlie Shotwell, The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre, The Nest) is a near-paraplegic, suffering from a debilitating genetic blood disorder. He is nursed in a hospice headed by Dr. Emil Nicholas (Jared Harris, The Quiet Ones, From Within) where he befriends fellow-patient Milo (Jospeh Esson) who’s struck with the same affliction. Michael is a prodigy, though, and Nicholas sends him off to med school.

25 years later Michael, now a medical scientist, runs a blood lab assisted by Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona, The Belko Experiment, 6 Underground) where he synthesizes blood while covertly researching a cure for himself by fusing vampire bat DNA with his own. Down more than 200 dead lab rats, and with time running out and his death imminent, he decides to guinea-pig himself in international waters to stay out of the law’s reach.

Morbius’s self-surgery cures his ailments and, moreover, gives him superhuman strength, speed, reflexes and a sense of echolocation. It all comes with one single caveat, though: he needs blood to sustain himself, and the synthesized blood he developed only provides a 6-hour health window – a window that is rapidly getting shorter. Refusing to resort to human blood, he makes do with it for now while trying to find a way out of his new blood-craving predicament. But when his friend Milo (Matt Smith, Patient Zero, Last Night In Soho) pays him a visit, he demands the cure to be administered to him, but Michael, wary of the side effects, declines.

Milo doesn’t take no for an answer and snitches the vampiric serum from Michael’s lab anyway. Once genetically modified, Milo is not dissuaded by his moral compass, leaving a trail of dead and blood-drained victims in his wake and sending FBO agent Stroud (Tyrese Gibson, Fast & Furious franchise, Dangerous) after Michael, who suspects him to have committed the killings. And in the midst of all this, Michael develops a love interest for Martine, whose safety is all but guaranteed by two superpowered, transgenetic vampiric humans, one of whom has a tenuous handle on himself and the other one none whatsoever.

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Morbius has a whole shopping list with stakes and urgencies like it was drawn straight off a scriptwriter’s guidebook. A ticking clock, a level playing field with a villain, a love interest and a flurry of assorted obstacles for our hero to overcome. It’s simple and, if done right or at least not too badly wrong, effective. And it also kind of works in this case, save for some annoying mark-missers of which I will mention a few to illustrate my point while simultaneously attempting to avoid giving too much of the film away.

The extent of the superpowers is not clearly established, only broad-brushed, but be that as it may, as the film progresses they just come and go as the plot requires. For instance, Michael can fly (how I don’t know) through a subway tunnel, but 15 minutes after that he plummets from a skyscraper during a fight with Milo, somehow forgoing (or having lost?) his aeronautical capabilities.

Later, also during a bout with Milo, Morbius suddenly realizes he has the ability to call in the aid of a flock of vampire bats. But how Milo, whose DNA has been altered exactly the same way as Michael’s, remains devoid of this predisposition makes no sense, other than to provide an easy resolution for that particular plot point.

And what’s the deal with bad Milo anyway? He was established as cheerful against his unfavourable odds, more so than the frail and brooding Michael, and nothing hinted at a lurking evil in him. If anyone was to turn bad, I’d be wagering on Michael. Besides, if I were so crippled and my friend withheld a cure from me that evidently not only cured himself, but turned him into a superpowered someone, or something, with all manner of awesome, I’m not so sure if I’d just hobble away on my crutches saying ‘oh, okay, thanks anyway man’ either

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I could go on, but you can probably see where I’m going with this. At first, everything seems in order, if uninspired, with conflict, stakes and urgency all properly put in place. Then the first ‘wait, what?’ moment rolls around. That’s ok, moving on. But then another one, and one more, and so on, and the realization eventually sinks in that the film just pulls all of it out of its ass to somehow resolve what it had set up earlier without giving a shit about making any sense.

Unfortunately, my trepidation about the script proved to be justified, something I’d much rather have been wrong about. I honestly don’t even know who to blame here, the writers, or the producers putting the squeeze on them. But at the end of the day, all of them lit this dumpster fire.

As for the rest of my expectations, well, they were mostly met. Leto’s Michael Morbius is okay and surprisingly subdued. He’s reported to have purposefully stayed away from his hallmark method acting, and even though Micheal’s morally questionable (something the film completely leaves unexplored – a missed opportunity) decision to deny Milo his cure, he remains sufficiently relatable as the central protagonist. Smith chews the scenery as Milo once he (inexplicably) loses his mind, and seems to be having a lot of fun with his performance. Jared Harris is a great actor, but his character is sadly, and criminally, underused. Gibson’s FBI agent is pretty much FF’s Roman sans his humour, for what that’s worth.

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The money shots in Morbius are what they are. It’s all CGI of course, and it’s good enough if you like what you see. It’s Marvel, so you probably already know what to expect, and the film delivers. Michael’s echolocation is visualized with weird, blurring shards of coloured light. I’m not sure if a bat ‘sees’ echo that way, but if you can roll with the entire premise of the movie, I suppose this shouldn’t be much of a problem either. Morbius is not a horror movie.

It’s not even a superhero movie with horror tinges a la The New Mutants. Morbius doesn’t really try to be one either, so I can’t knock it for that, even though I’ve seen it billed as one for its vampire premise and poster artwork. But Leto morphing into Nosferatu with CG and motion capture doesn’t constitute a horror movie. And its PG-13-targeted visual design prohibits bloodletting, which is kind of problematic by definition with a vampire movie.

So there you have it, dear reader. Is Morbius a bad movie? I can’t in good conscience say it’s a good one, but it does have a few things going for it. But it’s definitely a badly written one, which baffles me considering the amount of money and marketing effort that goes into a movie like this. Marvel has proven that they can write a solid movie, even when it’s a humongous production with a million moving parts, in Phase Three. But they quite literally lost the plot here, much like the writers they hired and, in all likelihood, the producers that forced their hands.

Morbius will be available on VOD and Digital platforms on March 17th. Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K availability is scheduled for June 14th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details. If you would rather sink your teeth into something else, FilmTagger has a few ideas.

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