Morbius Review — Dead On Arrival

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Sony’s arm of the MCU is, to put it lightly, a bit of an odd duck. Tom Hardy’s charming and unexpected Venom may have paved the way for some interest in the superhero-less superhero universe, but since a spectacularly fizzled post credits scene teased and then immediately revoked his participation in the greater MCU, things have been confusing at best. It’s not entirely clear where the Sony anti-heroes fit into the bigger plan or what that bigger plan even is.

One thing is for sure, however–Sony has no plans on stopping the franchise train with symbiotes. And, for better or worse, we now have Morbius to add to the mix.

The story of a D-list Marvel villain (and occasionally tortured anti-hero), Morbius follows the exploits of Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), a scientist who inadvertently turns himself into a vampire on his quest to cure his fatal blood disease. But rather than the traditional “bitten by an immortal creature of the night” story, Morbius goes a direction befitting his ’70s comic book origins–he splices his DNA with the DNA of vampire bats.

From there things get even sillier. Morbius’s vampire abilities involve a werewolf-like transformation when he gets hungry enough for blood, causing him to loose control and become a monstrous human-eating murderer. He has “echolocation” powers, which, instead of acting like a sort of sonar or even anything sound-based, causes Morbius to see the world as if everything is smoking like neon dry ice. He can fly, but only by hurling his body into updrafts created by swarms of bats or, occasionally, subway train cars. He’s totally fine in the sun (though no, he doesn’t sparkle either.)

While Morbius is navigating his monstrous transformation, he’s also dealing with three different relationships. There’s his childhood best friend and fellow blood disease haver, Milo (Matt Smith) who immediately becomes jealous of Morbius’s miraculous cure. His colleague, Marine (Adria Arjonas) who winds up a begrudging accomplice to Morbius’s antics. And, finally, Nicholas (Jared Harris) who is Morbius and Milo’s adoptive father figure and who, frankly, just kind of exists in the movie to provide spontaneous background exposure and otherwise be criminally squandered with a lack of screen time or anything to do.

As the story plays out, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore that each major plot beat feels like it came from a bulleted list of studio notes. The conflict is deeply generic and feels like a repeat of the first Venom movie’s broadest strokes–minus, of course, the slapstick comedy and charm of Tom Hardy playing against himself. The visual effects are already dated and reliant on an extremely early ’00s over abundance of spontaneous slow motion. Even the opening and closing credits are bizarrely incongruous–done up in a neon vaporwave aesthetic that isn’t found anywhere else in the movie. Does Morbius himself really love the color purple? Is he secretly a big fan of neon art? Who knows.

That’s not to say anything about Morbius is egregiously bad or distracting–it’s not. It has the same impact as a screensaver or a piece of motel art. You won’t be mad looking at it and it doesn’t really overstay its welcome, but the second you take your eyes off it, you’re probably going to forget you even saw it in the first place.

Performance wise, Leto is similarly fine. Morbius is as much a non-character as the movie is a non-event. He’s got enough charm to not be insufferable, but lacks any real distinct or unique characteristics beyond not wanting to be a murderer (most of the time) and not wanting to die himself (again, most of the time). Matt Smith puts in a valiant effort to do something interesting with Milo–he even has his very own goofy villain dance montage–but ultimately the script reduces him to yet another forgettable one-and-done bad guy. Together they absolutely fail to produce anything unique or fresh in either the superhero genre or the horror genre. You’ve seen variations on this same friends-turned-jealous-rivals story before and the opportunity for an interesting spin on any vampire tropes are squandered by muddled, confusing world building and a general lack of interest in building up any in-universe mythology .

Like Venom: Let There Be Carnage before it, the whole of Morbius feels like a feature-length teaser for a scene credits to scene that promises more interesting things in the future–but what those more interesting things actually are is anyone’s guess. What is clear, unfortunately, is that Sony doesn’t actually know what made the original Venom garner such an unexpected cult following to begin with and desperately wants to recreate the same fluke twice.

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