Jared Leto jumps back into silver screen comic book adaptations with Morbius, where he plays the titular “living vampire” in the character’s live action debut. Early reviews of the film are abysmal, but it has more going for it than many might think. The only required prerequisite is an acceptance that the film cuts literally no new ground, whatsoever.
Morbius follows the same basic origin story of the original character’s comic book origins, with a few key differences. Michael Morbius is still a gifted doctor cursed with a rare blood disease that has essentially crippled and left him in perpetual pain since he was a child. As such, he has devoted his life’s work to curing the disease affecting him, and many others.
To achieve his goal, he begins messing around with splicing vampire bat and human DNA in the hopes that the former will fill in a few genetic blanks, and cure his condition. It’s a campaign of desperation, with Morbius operating out of a ship-based lab which is trolling international waters in order to avoid any legal repercussions.
His work is financed by his childhood friend Lucien, whom Morbius affectionately nicknamed “Milo” as a child, in reference to all the previous “Milos” who had died before he got to know them. Milo is essentially a substitute for the comic book character Emil Nikos, who was Morbius’ childhood friend and fellow scientist.
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In the comics, Nikos was Morbius’ first victim when he was turned into the living vampire. In the film, Morbius takes out a crew of shady mercenaries in an act of savage bloodlust. It’s a massive character deviation that immediately robs Morbius of the guilt that permeated his comic book counterpart.
On the flip side, Milo is played brilliantly by former Doctor Who actor Matt Smith, who trades in the fez and the bowtie (yet seems to keep the trench coat and sneakers) for a set of fangs, and one menacing performance. In many ways, he overshadows Jared Leto’s presence whenever the two share a scene, which is a hard act to pull off.
Stuck in the middle is Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), a fellow scientist who secretly helps Morbius conduct his ethically unsound experiments, and Emil Nicholas (Jared Harris), a father figure who essentially raised both he and Milo into adulthood, and loved them like sons.
Morbius eventually becomes his living vampire namesake, and must come to grips with an entirely new curse. Meanwhile, Milo has also undergone the same treatment, yet has decided to embrace his new powers, while traveling down a much darker and bloodier path.
For a movie with such a basic formula, Morbius does manage to tap into some fairly deep themes. The premise of a man hobbled by a horrible lifelong disease who suddenly gains superhuman abilities and exhilarating strength is a classic tale of temptation. Michael Morbius is clearly obsessed with curing his affliction, which has driven him to do immoral things.
By the same token, Milo’s decision to embrace his powers comes from the same basic viewpoint. Imagine if two men who were left weak and crippled all of their lives were suddenly granted the powers of a demigod. Could they go back to the way things were, or would the allure of their abilities prove too seductive?
Morbius and Milo are two sides of the same coin, stuck in the same predicament, yet both choose different paths that throw them into conflict. At the end of the day, it’s hard to fault either one completely, given what they’ve had to go through all their lives. At the very least, they are understandable characters.
The casting decisions in Morbius are fairly spot on, and believable, despite the wild subject matter. Characters feel grounded in reality, with real human emotions battling it out for the souls of the film’s two main leads. Every character takes the situation seriously, and it’s mimicked in the performances.
Jared Leto is, of course, a highly versatile actor who can bounce from over-the-top, to understated at the drop of a hat. His performance as Morbius is highly nuanced, portraying a man tortured by the unfairness of his genetics. His humanity battles his animalistic bloodlust, and although he remains as true to himself as possible, he’s constantly walking the tightrope.
As mentioned before, Matt Smith is great to watch in a villainous role. He’s tried his hand as the bad guy before, but it never managed to take off. Here, Smith is free to take the gloves off and let out his inner wickedness, and he’s surprisingly adept at it. He knows the subject matter is silly, but he also knows that integrity in the performance is what sells the whole thing.
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Jared Harris is an interesting actor who always seems to do a lot with his characters, as evidenced by his role as the tormented Valery Legasov from HBO’s chilling docudrama series Chernobyl. He only shows up on screen a handful of times, but it’s enough for his character to provide an anchor for his two “sons” to orbit.
And finally, there’s Adria Arjona as Martine Bancroft. She’s neither good, nor bad, but she does bring a sense of authenticity to her performance. In an act of spectacular irony, the actress said that she based her performance on notorious Democrat politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, citing her as being “the smart person in the room.”
“I remember seeing an interview with AOC and thinking, everything about her is Martine. She’s youthful, she’s fun, she cares about the way she looks, but she cares even more about what goes into her brain. She’s passionate; when she speaks, you can tell she’s done her research; she’s going to be listened to, no matter who is in front of her,” the actress said in a recent interview.
Ocasio-Cortez is widely regarded as one of the dumbest politicians ever to have stumbled her way into Congress, after winning an easy primary in a deeply blue D+12 district. She has been continuously lampooned for her uneducated and ridiculous takes on a matter of issues, which makes Arjona’s revelation so much more bizarre.
Thankfully, viewers won’t find anything resembling the bumbling and inept AOC on screen. In fact, Morbius is blissfully devoid of any semblance of Wokeness, whatsoever. This is about as straightforward a comic book movie as they come, harkening back to the good old days when superhero films weren’t being permeated by identity politics.
However, that’s also one of the problems.
In many ways, Morbius is a template movie, taking most of its inspiration from 2008’s so-so The Incredible Hulk. Both films revolve around a good guy trying to rid himself of a disease, only for the cure to grant them incredible powers, and an entirely new set of problems.
Next is Milo, a character not unlike Emil Blonsky, who sees these abilities as a path to ultimate power. Milo’s vampiric alter ego is essentially The Abomination on a smaller, yet no less lethal scale. He doesn’t care what kind of a freak he’s turned into; he’s too drunk on his powers to care.
Since we’re on the topic of blessings and curses, it only makes sense to talk about the humor in the film. In short, there’s barely any. For a while, this works heavily in the movie’s favor, eschewing much of the tongue-in-cheek silliness of the Venom films, in favor of a much more horror-driven story arc.
It works well, until things go super-dark, at which point it’s hard not to start wishing for a joke or two. In fact, Morbius is such a bleak and dreary movie that by the time the end credits roll, it’s impossible to remember a single uplifting moment. This is perhaps the darkest Marvel movie to date, even more so than the Blade trilogy.
And of course, there’s always the plot holes and bad science associated with films of this nature. The cure that gives Morbius his powers is the stuff comic books are made of, and requires the mandatory suspension of all belief. That’s a given.
However, using Propofol to induce a coma in the same manner depicted in the first half of the film is outright, sheer nonsense.
Similarly, Morbius receives his “cure” through a spinal injection, yet there’s no explanation as to how Milo managed to achieve the same thing. Surely he didn’t know the correct injection method, and it’s doubtful anyone assisted him. That’s one of several large plot holes that can’t be wished away, but whatever.
And finally, it appears as if a heaping ton of content was cut from the final film, as evidenced by the pre-release trailers. Even the Lost Boys joke during the interrogation scene has been stripped out, along with major scenes such as the one showing Tyrese Gibson’s Simon Stroud character sporting some sort of mechanical device on his injured arm.
These types of standard-issue movies rarely get an extended director’s cut, so it’s very possible most of that material will be left on the cutting room floor, or at least in the extras section of a Blu-Ray release.
The strength of the Morbius film lies in its tone, pacing, and performances. It’s shot in an interesting way, though it relies way too much on super-slowdown sequences during fights, which at this point have become a gimmick.
This is a popcorn flick that simply wants to present the character in the best light (or dark) possible, without trying to be Ben Hur in the process. It probably won’t be remembered a few years down the road, but it serves an immediate purpose as a great “in the moment” alternative to the garbage Hollywood is cranking out.
Again, no Wokeness.
It also ties in nicely to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, and its relation to universe-bending events depicted in Venom: Let There Be Carnage; only this time, the impact is much greater. For those who were wondering what role Michael Keaton was playing in the film, that badly kept secret is now out.
Yes, it’s Adrian Toomes, but the setup spells big things for the future of MCU and SSU crossovers by positing the question of who else might have slipped through the cracks between parallel universes. Watching the dual end credits sequences, the first words out of my mouth were “Sinister Six.” We’ll see if that theory comes true or not.
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It’s also worth mentioning that Toomes’ scenes in the initial trailers are nowhere to be found in the actual film. This is bizarre, given how much attention was put on the character leading up to its release. Toomes is not an integral part of the story, and he only shows up in the end credits sequences, which is a massive letdown.
Either way, the SSU seems to be following the template established by the earliest MCU movies, and it’s about the best we’re going to get at this point. Thankfully, Morbius bears none of the nonsense that has ruined the MCU and Disney-related properties over the last few years.
Morbius isn’t nearly as bad as the critics say. At the time of this writing, only 16% of RottenTomatoes reviewers liked it, but the audience score holds at around 67%. That sounds about right, and it’s the recommended opinion to follow if you’re interested in heading out to the theater to see it.
This comic book character was never an A-lister, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher as to why the higher ups thought to give him his own movie. That being said, it could have been a train wreck, but quite frankly, it isn’t. Morbius possesses a lot of the same elements that made Venom a respectable box office success.
On the flip side, the tone of the movie is greyer than an old cigarette butt, and the bleakness of third-act events robs it of any joy, but at least it sticks to the darkness of the comic books – particularly Vampire Tales.
Morbius would have benefitted from an R-rating in order to take full advantage of the source material, and the same could be said of the two Venom films. Trying to wedge ultra-violent anti-heroes into the confines of a PG-13 rating feels inappropriate, and suggests a lack of confidence on the part of the studio.
For all it does wrong, there’s something about the film that manages to keep it in the green, but just barely. It’s hard to imagine the studio pulling off a similar stunt, were it not for the film’s two dynamite character leads.
Like the titular vampire, Morbius is a film that viewers can enjoy sucking dry for 104 minutes, but it won’t be long until they’re looking for something else to sate their thirst.
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- Great performances by Jared Leto & Matt Smith
- Well shot, takes itself seriously, and milks its dark tone
- No Wokeness, whatsoever
- Derivative anti-hero story in the same vein as The Incredible Hulk
- Very bleak tone, particularly in the third act
- Sore-thumb plot holes, bad science and a ton of scenes cut from the final film