‘Morbius’ Review: Sony transparent in latest cash grab
For those who don’t have their Ph.D.s in cinematic universes, it should be said that the awful new superhero movie Morbius is the third entry in the Sony’s Spider-Man Universe that was created in 2018 for Venom.
See, Sony leased the rights for Spider-Man to Marvel Studios in 2015, but in an effort to wring all the cash out of the spider web that they could, Sony developed movies based around the character’s villains, even in the his absence. Making a pair of Venom movies without Spider-Man is sort of like making a film about macaroni without cheese, but at least baddies like Venom and Vulture are on the A-list of the webslinger’s foes. By selecting Morbius, Sony has already jumped down to the C-list of comic book antagonists, as their Spider-Man Universe plows ahead against petty obstacles like artistic integrity and good taste.
We meet Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) as he arrives at a cave in Costa Rica, and draws out vampire bats using a machine whose function is never clearly (or unclearly) stated. Joined by his childhood friend Lucien (Matt Smith), Morbius suffers from a rare blood illness, for which the doctor has spent his life trying to develop a cure. His latest attempt involves splicing his DNA with the recently captured bats, which gifts him with vampiric superpowers, but also curses him with an unquenchable thirst for blood. Morbius’ hunger is temporarily satiated by a synthetic blood he created, but his growing bloodlust has coincided with a string of attacks by someone who has been sucking victims dry. Together with fellow scientist Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius sets out to take down the city’s new “vampire killer.”
Like many films that have been released over the past year, Morbius is another victim of COVID-related delays after an initial July 2020 premiere window, and as that’s the case, its trailer has played ad nauseam since movie theaters have reopened. It teases about a dozen Easter eggs and scenes that never made the final cut, which points to manipulative advertising rather than judicious editing on Sony’s part. It’s also indicative of aimlessness when it comes to what story director Daniel Espinosa is trying to tell. The film shamelessly rips off specific moments from better superhero films like Batman Begins and 2002’s Spider-Man, but not in a way that helps justify why this interpretation of the Morbius character should exist in the first place.
From the casting of Leto as a brilliant scientist, to a plot that’s been drained of every ounce of originality, there’s not an aspect of Morbius that doesn’t feel haphazard and sloppy. An awkward early flashback depicts a meet-ugly between Morbius and Lucien, where the former insists on calling the latter by the incorrect name to mock his expendability. From that moment on, the title character operates in two modes: “selfish jerk” and “outright bore.” Leto injects the film with lifeless voiceover narration that insults the audience’s intelligence, as if we’re not supposed to know what echolocation is. At least Smith is trying to have some fun. Smith even gets a peppy dance number before a night on the town, but his antics are bogged down by the film’s brooding and moody nature.
What’s most painful about Morbius is just how hard it’s trying to be cool, and how dated it looks in all of its efforts to do so. With speed-ramping bullet effects out of an Underworld sequel and color palette that blends shades of Hot Topic and Spirit Halloween, it’s about as edgy as an Evanescence cover band on a Tuesday night.
I’m all for a comic-book movie with moral complexity or a darker tone, but there’s nothing ambiguous or artistic about the way this film tries to get across its message. Perhaps I was a bit too hard on Venom a few years ago, because that movie and its sequel at least have an admirable, out-of-left-field goofiness that’s nowhere to be found in this self-serious dreck.
Tawdry and toothless, Morbius is more BS from a media conglomerate that needs to put a stake in the heart of this bungled cinematic universe.
New movies coming to theaters this weekend
Ambulance, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, is a Michael Bay-directed action thriller about two men who steal an ambulance and hold an EMT hostage after their heist goes awry.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2, starring Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, and Jim Carrey, is the sequel to the 2020 video game adaptation that finds Sonic and his new partner Tails squaring off against the evil Dr. Robotnik and his new ally Knuckles.
Everything Everywhere All at Once, starring Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, is a science-fiction action comedy about an aging Chinese immigrant who is tasked with saving the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.