Morbius Movie Review: Jared Leto's misfortune with the superhero genre continues
The story, its treatment, and even the VFX of Morbius are so outdated that one might think if we are still in the Tobey Maguire era of Spiderman
As a fan of superhero films, I belong to a small percentage of cinephiles who don't believe in the term 'superhero fatigue'. But after watching Morbius, not only do I feel like a climate change denier whose house got washed away in a flood, but it is a stark realisation that the fatigue is real. It isn't to say that Morbius is a fiasco. But at a time when superhero films are breaking boundaries in storytelling, usage of technology, and its sheer magnitude, Morbius feels outdated. The story, its treatment, and even the VFX are so old-fashioned that one might think if we are still in the Tobey Maguire era of Spiderman.
Cast: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Tyrese Gibson
Director: Daniel Espinosa
The film is about Dr Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), a scientist who suffers from a rare blood disease. When he takes the route of Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and injects himself with what he thinks is the cure, it afflicts him with a form of transgenic vampirism that, unsurprisingly, gives him superhuman abilities. But the catch is that he needs a regular shot of blood, because... vampires! If that's not enough, his surrogate brother Milo (Matt Smith) gains similar powers, but unlike Morbius, the former embraces the powers and turns evil. Morbius ticks almost all the right boxes of 'Making a superhero film 101'. The titular character is an underdog, the hero and villain are cut from the same cloth, the friends-turned-foe trope, and some of the best talents have been roped in. But the biggest drawback of the film is how it barely scratches the surface when it comes to character development, maintaining the tone and good visual effects. If checklists can save films, grocery lists would be conjuring delicious meals! The film tries to mimic Venom's anti-hero template. Although the first Tom Hardy film, also being an origin story, didn't particularly woo the critics, it was a fun film nonetheless with enough potential to warrant a sequel. However, very little works in favour of Morbius, and the random bouts of forced humour don't make its case either.
Leto's performance in Morbius is sure to remind us of what he did as Joker in the opposite camp's Suicide Squad. While his portrayal of the clown prince of crime didn't get the reception the makers expected, here, despite underplaying and trying to bring out the vulnerability of the character, the lack of depth makes it difficult to root for Morbius. The film's attempt to familiarise us with him is also miserable. We get unnecessary shots of his untied shoelaces, we get to know how he created artificial blood that saved more lives than penicillin, and the fact that his password is the first six numbers of pi backward. But we don't get to see the struggles he faces as he grew up or how he ended up becoming a world-renowned scientist. The film doesn't even describe his disease properly - we instead get a young Morbius and Milo discussing how they have "something missing in the DNA".
The USP of most superhero films and especially Marvel films are definitely its VFX, and it is on this front that Morbius fails miserably. The visual effects in the aerial shots where Morbius employs his echolocation skills are so underwhelming that it felt like playing a video game from the turn of the 21st century. The screenplay is so incoherent that the Marvel fan in me wished their newest Blade would make an appearance and go through a few characters with his acid-etched katana. It's quite a shocker to get such a product from Daniel Espinosa whose sci-fi horror film Life (2017) is one of the most thrilling films in that sub-genre. While MCU is focussing on introducing more women superheroes, Adria Arjona's Martine Bancroft as Morbius' girlfriend, adds nothing to this film. It's one of those films that makes you wonder why writing a female character that has its own arc and purpose is so difficult.
The silver lining has to be some of the references to other Spider-Man villains that might make their appearance in the near future. We also have a couple of callbacks to Venom. To reaffirm that the film is a part of Sony's Spider-Man Universe, we get to see The Daily Bugle newspaper and in one such shot, the headlines on it confirm the presence of characters like Rhino and Black Cat. There are even a few jokes on Dracula and one particular reference I enjoyed the most was how a ship in the film was named Murnau. This was a nod to German filmmaker FW Murnau who directed Nosferatu (1922), which featured the first big-screen appearance of Dracula. Only when it felt like the film at least got its connections to its franchise in place, do we get subjected to a mid and post-credit scene that, instead of evoking a sense of excitement, leaves us with more questions than answers. The makers' attempt to make a film for the Sinister Six, a group of supervillains and Spidey's enemies, could have been much subtler. It's no surprise that the studio is in a hurry to establish a few more characters before they can put them all together into one film and pit them against Spider-Man. While a Kraven the Hunter film is currently in production, it's unclear how things would pan out given how Venom is technically not a part of the Sinister Six.
Morbius, as a film, has almost nothing new to offer to the genre and despite having the prerequisite to take the franchise one step forward, it feels like it has taken one too many backward. Morbius, the Living Vampire deserved a better origin story and I wish we got to know why getting one from this studio is like getting blood out of a stone.