Morbius is all fang with no bite on the big screen

Sony and Doctor Michael Morbius need to find a new practice fast.

This review originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.

When there’s a will, it often seems like there’s a way in Hollywood. Right now, studios are willing to desperately tie together disparate characters and films to create the next big cinematic universe. Evidently from that will, Sony has brought in “Morbius” to haunt theaters as just the latest installment in its still growing line of films revolving around “Spider-Man” villains.

At first glance, “Morbius” might fool a moviegoer to believe it’s something more though. The film opens with a variety of nearly compelling storylines that are just begging for screen time, many of which have the legitimate promise for success.

Viewers quickly meet a young, but brilliant Michael Morbius, a would-be doctor who is sick with a blood-related illness in a Greek hospital. When a young boy named Lucien begins receiving treatment for the same illness next to him, Morbius quickly develops a strong friendship with him despite his attempted apathy. Morbius gives Lucien the nickname “Milo” which he calls all the children that received treatment next to him.

The nickname sticks into their adulthood as the two men work hand-in-hand, Jared Leto’s Morbius as the brilliant doctor and Matt Smith’s Milo as the research investor, to develop a cure for their illness. Along the way, viewers meet Morbius’ love interest, fellow brilliant doctor Martine Bancroft played by Adria Arjona, while also learning about the main characters’ interesting eccentricities. Morbius publicly rejects a Nobel Prize for the development of synthetic blood while the film hints at Milo having gained his wealth through somewhat shady circumstances.

When Morbius’ breakthrough treatment for his illness results in a startling turn towards vampirism however, the movie almost immediately casts away any of the life those plot points seemed poised to give. Instead, “Morbius” briefly turns into a blood-sucking take on “Alien” complete with hired hands dropping one-by-one in shadowy corners of a soon-to-be abandoned ship.

From there, the movie lurches from half-baked horror tropes to superhero origins as the film drops any semblance of compelling story in favor of nearly immediately turning Milo into the villainous equal to Morbius and setting the two in pitched battle against one another.

Those invested in the film’s opening plotlines, or the potential deeper statements they seemed poised to make about health, the medical world or love, would be sorely disappointed as they are scarcely revisited.

Instead, the film offers a take that moviegoers have seen time-and-time again. Leto plays Morbius with little hint of the fevered performances he’s famously given in the past. Instead, he’s the dour and brooding anti-hero who views his vampirism as a curse while Smith’s Milo plays the villain who outlandishly revels in the power it gives him.

Luckily, Smith does imbue his performance with a bit of life. He quite literally almost waltzes through each scene with the kind of crazed ferocity of an actor who one might suspect realizes the film sorely needs a boost.

Unfortunately, it’s just simply not enough. The film strips the story to its bones and leaves little left to the imagination in visuals, a practical crime when it comes to a story about vampires lurking in the night. Instead, viewers get an overabundance of CGI-fueled facial expressions and fight scenes with blurred lines of movement meant to show blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed along with the occasional slow-motion interlude to show the actual action.

By the time the final act hits, it appropriately almost feels like the entire movie has flashed past your eyes in a blur. Leto, for all the talk of intense method acting which surrounds his performances, rarely gives a hint that his efforts paid off while even Smith’s entertaining antics eventually become drained of all their worth.

All that’s left is a rushed end and confusing post-credits meant to give the Sony variation of the “Spider-Man” universe an additional kick towards the future. It’s a shame because the movie clearly had the makings of something more, a horror-fueled superhero take featuring a strong emotional undertow. Ultimately, it unfortunately just became a boring world-building exercise that thoroughly sucks the life out of what could have otherwise been a great film.

 Spotlight Score: 5/10


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