Morbius Review: A Desperate Attempt at a Disparate, Incoherent Spiderverse

Morbius is what happens when studio executives greenlight projects for shamefully commercial reasons with absurdly high budgets, knowing full well that criticism of said projects won’t hurt its bottom line in the slightest. The new Sony film about the living vampire reeks of studio desperation to use its IP rights in creating a shared cinematic universe that nobody asked for.

Starring Jared Leto as a brilliant scientist suffering from a rare blood disease, Morbius follows our (anti)hero as he battles his inner demons after a failed attempt at curing himself. As a result, Dr Michael Morbius finds himself empowered by vampiric abilities, curing his disease but coming at a cost - his newfound thirst for human blood. Yeah, it’s basically a vampire movie in the guise of a superhero movie (or vice versa), but a stupid one.

I often try to find the best in even ‘bad’ movies, because I know that even they have hundreds of people working on them tirelessly for months on end. But when studio notes and interference are so rampant, so clear that it actively detracts from what could be a relatively passable movie, it gets hard to defend them. I know that Sony’s Venom movies are not ‘good movies’ if we are to read critical reviews and analyses but going by the audience reactions those movies provide valuable entertainment. I think the first Venom was unintentionally goofy, and its sequel Venom: Let There be Carnage was great as a guilty pleasure experience. By no means do I think those are good, ‘quality’ movies but at least I had fun with them. With Morbius, I wish it was in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, but it’s so painfully mediocre, so clearly telegraphed, so uninteresting in its biggest crowd-pleasing (or so they’d hope) moments, that I can not in good conscience recommend it to anyone. Especially not while it’s in theatres.

I don’t want Sony to get the wrong message if this movie gets support as Venom did. Because the road that Sony is paving for its universe feels like the peak of the worst results that any comic-book/superhero genre fan wants or needs, fueled by their own money. The level of stupid logic loops that Sony wants us to jump through to see its ‘plan’ come to fruition is absurd and frankly insulting. The film’s own internal logic is contradicted every once in a while, and while its missing pieces left in the cutting room might have somewhat complicated matters, at least they wouldn’t have resulted in a simple, but dull narrative. We go from serious heart-to-heart discussions to random beat-em-up scenes in alleyways, from a somewhat fun CSI episodic route to tropey Vampire revenge story all within beats of the same scene.

Alright then, back to the actual movie. Right from the first scene, it becomes abundantly clear that the film has been messed with in the edit. We hop around the timeline of Morbius’ journey quite a bit, starting with a weird experiment with bat caves gone wrong, stepping back into his childhood, then emerging into the present day. Now, I don’t mind the opening quarter of the film. The breakneck pacing kept me from questioning the shoddy opening, and as far as motivations go Morbius has a decent one that makes sense. Suffering from an unnamed disease, Morbius makes it his mission in life to save other people and find a cure for both himself and his best friend, played by the ever-entertaining Matt Smith.

With a support system comprising of budding love-interest/science partner Dr Bancroft (Adria Arjona) and Dr Emile Nicholas (Jared Harris), and an FBI agent in Tyrese Gibson investigating Morbius’ violent outbursts, the film has a decent cast on paper who function more as plot-devices in the film. It all comes across as painfully generic, and Leto’s one-note role doesn’t help things either. Honestly, I don’t think the film’s faults lie with its star, as Leto is just fine enough on his own in this film. As far as anti-heroes go, Morbius is surprisingly decent with a logical arc and, while generic, a mission that makes sense.

Speaking of other actors, they’re all just…fine. Everyone here does about as well as you would expect from this script, although it could have been elevated had the direction not been so…non-existent? I don’t know how to describe it. If the film had a saving grace, it would be Matt Smith who is frankly hilarious in the worst ways possible, and if you go in with the right mind you’ll probably enjoy him and the utter goofiness of it all. In fact, I was actually interested in Smith’s portrayal as a sad mirror of Morbius, and the friendship there has some genuine moments that tell me there was some soul, before being sucked out due to studio notes. Arjona, Harris and Gibson all feel like they’re playing the most mundane version of their characters, which is a shame as the film was shaping up to be quite intriguing when its casting was announced. But hey, all’s forgiven when Doctor Who and Morbius punch each other really hard with the frame being covered in CGI trails and weird CGI makeup, right?

So the writing is bad, but does the action save it? Well, there are some cool ideas and in general, I’m fine with the decisions taken for Morbius’ powers. However, the action choreography itself is quite a confusing mess, only doing the bare minimum when it comes to delivering on a blockbuster. It is PG-13, so you don’t get to blood in any meaningful sense, which does undercut the violence in the film. Morbius will hack and slash through many people, but you never get to see the result of the said massacre, instead having to rely on exposition and inference. That’s not to say that gratuitous violence would have saved the film, but at least it would’ve made it more fun to watch.

Coming in hot at 105 minutes, it still feels like it’s dragging on when entering its third act, and that’s with it throwing everything it has on your face to keep up the pace. I don’t know how that’s possible, but they managed to do it. There are some sequences that I did enjoy, like the montage of Morbius learning about his powers, but even there the writing manages to throw in some stupid exposition that bites down hard on my intellect.

Some special mention needs to be given to the film’s post-credits scenes, which are essentially one long scene cut into two. Spoilers ahead — While we’ve all seen Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture (from Spider-Man: Homecoming) in the trailers, the actual scene in the film has been blatantly reshot. Being teleported to the Venomverse (yikes!) where Morbius takes place thanks to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home (no, it doesn’t make sense), Keaton somehow manages to not only evade prison, because official records show he doesn’t exist but also track down Morbius himself for a future team-up. “I’m not sure how I got here. Has to do with Spider-Man, I think,” says the Vulture in what has to be the most desperate sequel bait I’ve ever seen a big studio go for in a movie, and that’s including the blatant sequel baits we’ve already seen in the genre.

In one single scene, Sony manages to botch Keaton’s excellent character arc from the Marvel Studios-produced Spider-Man film and wants us to believe that the plan for its long-gestating Sinister Six is finally coming together. We saw the same happen in the post-credits scene of Venom 2, but at least the good writers over at Marvel Studios had the intelligence to send Eddie back to his universe before any harm could be done to the MCU’s reputation.

But, as proven by its decisions for so long and in recent memory, Sony’s gonna Sony without caring about quality, audience’s expectations and intelligence, or having any dignity when it comes to potentially interesting stories for a cinematic universe that should deserve much, much more.

Verdict

Morbius is exactly as disappointing as expected, proving Sony does not care about quality control so long as it sets up its own convoluted cinematic universe. It’s like the Venom movies, but not fun even when you’re in a trashy mood.

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