MORBIUS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Stars: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Jared Harris, Adria Arjona, Charlie Shotwell, Tyrese Gibson, Al Madrigal, Joseph Esson.

See the source image

The latest in the lineup of superhero stories brings us yet another dark and brooding origin story of a lesser known hero from the Marvel stable. Like Venom, Morbius is part of Sony’s offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and continues the studio’s trend of developing origin stories for second tier villains from the Spiderman stories. Dr Michael Morbius is another antihero drawn from the Spiderman universe; the character was created in 1971 by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane as a foe for Spiderman.  

But whereas Spiderman: No Way Home was a superior example of the superhero/comic book genre, Morbius is an inert and dull experience, thanks in part to the generic and uninvolving and largely incoherent script from Matt Sazama  and Burk Sharpless (Gods Of Egypt, etc) which seems to borrow heavily from the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However the writers play down the more overt body horror elements of the story. 

Dr Michael Morbius (played by Jared Leto) is a brilliant scientist who suffers from a rare debilitating disorder. As a child he was placed under the care of physician Emil Nicholas (Jared Harris), who became something of a mentor. Nicholas arranged for Morbius to gain admittance to an elite school in New York where he could live up to the potential he saw in the boy. But that meant leaving behind his friend Milo who similarly suffered from the same disorder.  

Cut to twenty five years later and Morbius is conducting illegal and unethical experiments in his search for a cure. A leading authority on blood disorders he has created synthetic blood, which has proved of lifesaving benefit for soldiers injured in war zones and for which he was nominated for a Nobel Prize. However he refused the Nobel Prize in order to continue his research. 

He has spliced vampire bat DNA with human blood, which gives him super strength – he can soar across the city, leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper like Spiderman, and he has supersensitive hearing like a bat. He uses vampire bat saliva, which contains some unique properties, to create a coagulating agent. But its effects are temporary, and wears off within hours. And its potency is weakening. His search for a more permanent cure leads him to take dangerous risks and he constantly needs synthetic blood to remain alive. He is conflicted by his thirst for human blood and spends much of his time wrestling with his conscience and his own sense of humanity.  

His research is funded largely by Milo (Matt Smith, a former Doctor Who) who has become a billionaire (although how is never really explained). Milo learns of the nature of Morbius’s experiments and takes advantage of it. He has no such compunctions though and revels in his vampire persona, drinking human blood and cutting a bloody swathe through New York. Morbius is pursued by a pair of FBI agents – Stroud (Tyrese Gibson, from the Fast And Furious franchise) and Rodriguez (Al Madrigal), who believe he is responsible for the rising body count. This all leads to the usual climactic smackdown between the two former friends turned rivals.  

Swedish director Daniel Esposito (Safe House, etc) gives the film a dark and gloomy aesthetic, aided by the deliberately dark lighting and moody cinematography of Oliver Wood (Safe House, etc). The climactic finale is saturated in special effects and CGI and over edited, all of which renders much of the action unwatchable.  

The characters are not given a lot of depth here. To his credit Leto does a good job of playing Morbius and captures his inner conflict as he tries to control his darker urges. It’s a bit like Venom albeit without the humour. He undergoes a remarkable transformation from crippled weakling into a strong and capable action figure, and the makeup and prosthetics that capture his skeletal frame and drawn features are quite good. The visual effects that transform him and Milo into vampire-like figures are quite good. His performance here is a lot more restrained than his shameless mugging and hammy performance in the recent House Of Gucci.  

Smith seems to relish his role here as the villainous Milo and infuses the character with a sense of malice and unbridled resentment. He also chews the scenery at every opportunity. Harris is wasted in a thankless role as Nicholas. Adria Arjona (Pacific Rim: Uprising, etc) is given little to do as Martine, Morbius’s loyal colleague and fiancee. 

Morbius was actually completed three years ago but it shows signs of heavy studio tinkering during the pandemic that shut down cinemas and delayed the release of many films and gives the material something of a disjointed feel. And, unlike many of the superhero movies of late with their bloated running time, thankfully Morbius has a rather brief running time of less than two hours. And as with many films in the Marvel universe there are a couple of stingers during the end credit scrawl that hint at the potential direction for a future sequel and a crossover with other characters from the Spiderman franchise. 

★★

Speak Your Mind