• Nate Adams

'Morbius' review: Latest Marvel film sucks the fun out of everything


Courtesy of Sony

 

You can hear the elevator pitch now: Jared Leto playing a disease riddled anti-hero named Michael Morbius, who gets injected with a serum that’ll turn him into a blood sucking (and rather ugly) looking vampire beast which will then become part of Sony’s beguiled cinematic universe, the one that includes Tom Hardy’s Venom and the forthcoming “Kraven: The Hunter.” Even on paper, the ridiculous “Blade” knock-off doesn’t sound remotely interesting, but box office dollars have a way of changing studio executives' minds and, hey, both “Venom” movies were successful, so why not give it a whirl? Although fans who show-up might be distressed to learn “Morbius” doesn’t exactly take shape in the uber-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe despite Sony loaning out their web crawler to fight alongside Doctor Strange and others.


No, “Morbius” takes place within its own ecosystem, one that can’t happen without the promise of future installments and loose connections to past iterations. Remember when “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” tried to set-up The Sinister Six? This is worse than that. Helmed by Daniel Espinosa, who’s criminally underrated space chiller “Life” didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved, “Morbius'' opens in the jungles of Costa Rica with Dr. Morbius (Leto) hobbling into a secluded bat cave on two crutches (Critic Note: There wasn’t a Batman in sight). Born with a rare blood disease, the doc has spent his entire life trying to find a cure and his biggest “light bulb” moment is meshing bat and human DNA naturally.


With the help of his beautiful co-pilot Martine (Adria Arjona), Morbius sets-up a cargo ship in, as the movie describes, “International Waters,” with a group of mercenaries to run a human trial of the medical discovery. Why are mercenaries aboard the ship? Because our vampire infused protagonist will need a quick snack as soon as his hankering for blood kicks in: (At one point in the movie, and this is not a joke, Leto straight face delivers the line: “You need to let me eat. You won’t like me when I’m hungry”). Side effects of the serum also include super-sonic “Bat Sonar,” chiseled abs, and skeleton-like cheekbones plus a necessity for several gulps of human blood daily. Sadly, the doc’s Nobel Prize winning creation of artificial blood won’t last forever, sooner or later he’ll need the real thing. Sucks being a vampire.


It equally sucks being an audience member forced to endure a clumsily edited and laughably painful CGI slugfest. We’ve seen poor special effects before, but the transitions Leto goes through between human and vampire reaches new levels of absurdity. It’s like watching a carefully crafted train wreck: The effort and determination behind the scenes are evident (Espinosa and the writers try to create something fresh outside of the usual Marvel mold). Even a game Matt Smith, playing Morbius’ chummy pal who suffers from the same blood disease and becomes the films antagonist, can’t shake the distress of being caught in a film with minimal ambitions (two mid-credit scenes were obviously tacked on as a last-minute piggyback on the success of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”). For anyone trying to keep a mental checklist of cinematic universes, they’ll probably walk out of the theater dizzy.


Leto is no stranger to dabbling in the weird side of superhero and adult fare and, as you probably remember, has tried to throw his own spin on the Joker in “Suicide Squad” (I didn’t hate the choices despite the movie cratering) and many have dunked on him for wild turns in “The Little Things” and “House of Gucci,” – again, I didn’t mind either of those films. But it’s hard to find a silver lining in something so mismanaged as “Morbius,” a $75 million budgeted film that doesn’t give him enough leeway to dig underneath the character in a way those previous movies allowed. Hell, you can’t even see him half the time!


There’s nothing fans must see in “Morbius” to be ready for whatever cross pollination Sony is currently planning. I’m just spitballing but I assume, at some point, the vampire will show up alongside Venom and probably fight a variation of Spider-Man and it’ll be in that moment you remember a solo movie about the character (whether you’ve seen it or not) even existed.


Grade: C-


MORBIUS is now playing in theaters.