‘Morbius’ Review: Toothless

Some films could benefit from being just a bit sillier or a lot better. There’s a very dispiriting moment early in the film. After Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has tested his serum intended to cure his terrible blood disease he is transformed into a vampire, and attacks the cartoonish bad guys he has surrounded himself with. We are treated to the first action sequence of the film…and he turns into CGI Goo Mist.

All of the action of the film involves the characters transforming into ugly CGI Goo Mist. Sony seem very fond of their CGI Goo Mist, and indeed seem to be creating a Marvel CGI Goo Mist Universe where Morbius and Venom can have utterly uninvolving fights. Even in the trashy vampire movies of the 00s like Underworld there was always time reserved for superhuman feats and entertaining vampire business. Here there is only the goo.

Consequently there’s no real empowerment in the film. The story nominally involved A sequence is dedicated to Jared Leto exploring his new abilities. He has grown up incredibly sickly and although we aren’t shown any sequences demonstrating the impact of his impairment on his life (in fact he seems to have done very well for himself) this is the time to relish his revitalisation and new abilities. To experience the euphoria of his newly found powers. It’s a familiar sequence that is the bread and butter of a superhero/villain origin story, and it feels completely empty.

In addition to the impossible to relate to special effects, we also have a real scarcity of character. Leto plays Morbius with a convincing weakness at first but as he becomes stronger and struggles to control his actions, it’s remarkable how little he is able to communicate. He’s written to be a largely responsive character, with little to no time spent on his actual wants beyond his immediate needs. It can be challenging to overcome a script problem like this, but is at least possible when the lead actor is able to give the semblance of agency through strong character. Leto is unable to inject any life into the role.

In the main supporting role (and ignoring a criminally wasted Jared Harris) we have Matt Smith as another man with the same blood disease, with whom Morbius grew up. “Milo” as Morbius rather cynically names him at the beginning of the story, is bitter and resentful of the hand he has been dealt and when the opportunity comes to hit back at the world he does so with rather absurdly performed relish. Here then is meant to be the heart of the film. Both men are essentially dealing with addiction as a method of treating their very real health problems. One lives hedonistically, indifferently inflicting pain on those around him, the other is self-hating and desperate to kick the habit.

But the film is unwilling to make Morbius in any way morally ambiguous. His small number of prey are all deserving of his ire and he never takes any action that may later haunt him or give him reason to regret what he has become. The film has no stillness or time for reflection. Morbius is yanked from one scene to the next and so remains an uninteresting stranger who can bark but is never allowed to bite. The central theme of the film of a cure coming at a terrible cost is ultimately left unexplored, as is the addiction analogy.

I have to confess that I never understood the popularity of Venom. It seemed to me an ugly and unimpressive film fueled by awkward comedy and a vague mission statement to be “darker” than the MCU, only really managing to do so literally in it’s colour palette. Morbius is therefore more of the same and with the post-credit sequence threatening further ties to the MCU and therefore potentially more of these goo-movies, one can only hope that poor box office might drive a stake through this movies heart.

One Star

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