Morbius is neither as dire as you have heard nor is it incredibly good. It’s mid-tier Marvel, not particularly inspired but not the worst thing I’ve ever sat through. If anything, it kind of reminds me of the Underworld series. They are both films that look good, but lack substance.
Michael Morbius is a child with a rare genetic blood disease with no hope for either a cure or a long life and a brilliant mind. He meets a friend in a home for children with the disease and saves his life which puts him on the path to become a doctor. When Morbius finally creates an experimental treatment that could work, he uses himself as a test subject and to his horror becomes a living vampire. He is now powerful beyond his dreams, but afflicted with a new disease. Can he cure himself again or prevent himself from feeding on and killing humans?
The film stars Jared Leto (Suicide Squad, Blade Runner 2049), Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”, “The Crown”), Adria Arjona (“Good Omens“, 6 Underground), Jared Harris (“Chernobyl”, “Carnival Row“), Al Madrigal (“I’m Dying Up Here”, “About a Boy”), with Tyrese Gibson (Black and Blue, The Fast and Furious franchise). It’s directed by Daniel Espinosa (Snabba Cash, Life) and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless who have worked together on screenplays before for films like The Last Witch Hunter, Dracula Untold, and Gods Of Egypt. The cinematography, which is very good, is by Oliver Wood who lensed all three of the Jason Bourne films that Paul Greengrass directed, Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey, Face/Off, and for the real horror heads, Neon Maniacs. The score by Jon Ekstrand is good. It soars more often than the film does.
The cinematography is part of why I say that MORBIUS reminds me of Underworld. Underworld was a very glossy vampires versus werewolves movie where Kate Beckinsale moped around photogenically in bondage wear and did a lot of slow-mo running while firing two guns. There was a whole number about tragic love between vampires and werewolves, but there was never really any kind of emotional connection to said tragic love story. The leads, Beckinsale and Scott Speedman, had zero chemistry and you couldn’t empathize with their characters because both actors either lacked the skill to connect with the audience on an emotional level or simply didn’t bother because it was a movie about vampire-werewolf love. MORBIUS has a one-up on Underworld because there are some interesting characters and actors who do good work.
Matt Smith as Loxias/Milo is really going for the gusto. I had more empathy for him as a character and I really felt that he would have made a better and more complex Morbius. When he’s angry? He’s angry. Smith allowed himself to be vulnerable and evil and it’s all believable. That’s what Michael Morbius is as a character. He is a brilliant mind who has a desire to save people but is still kind of arrogant and is careless in that arrogance. That’s the characterization in the film’s story. It’s just that Matt Smith is better at it. I can’t say that this does harm to the film. Smith’s performance is one of the best things about it.
Jared Harris is good as always in a smaller but important role. He doesn’t have much to do, but when he’s onscreen he’s committed to it. Adria Arjona is a cut above most Marvel girlfriends, although the script makes her a Marvel girlfriend anyway eventually. She’s interesting but doesn’t overplay the fact that her character is interested in Morbius or that she’s the only one who will call him on his bullshit. Arjona gives her an internal life. Al Madrigal is quite good as Agent Rodriguez and part of the cop comic relief. He has a good touch with the comedy and also doesn’t overplay it. His character also has internal life and personal magnetism. Tyrese Gibson is Tyrese Gibson. When the camera is close up on his face, you can see his “I’m over it” thoughts. It’s a version of Danny Glover’s classic “I’m too old for this shit.” but without the catchphrase. It works well for a New York policeman and veteran who really doesn’t have time for vampire nonsense.
Jared Leto. Oh, Jared Leto. Doctor Michael Morbius’ character template is similar to that of the late Tony Stark. Genius with a thorny exterior that hides a caring heart. The problem is that while I can fully believe the casual arrogance in Leto’s performance, I don’t get that he has a caring heart. The character pulls some stunts that could get people killed by the logic of the film’s story and doesn’t blink an eye or try to warn people. He’s too enraptured with his own self and brilliance to say, “Hey, guys, maybe take cover before I unleash some killer bats.” which is an interesting idea. A Marvel antihero who really is kind of a jerk and fully unrepentant about it. The struggle between the pseudo vampire killing urge and Morbius’ emerging humanity. If that’s what the screenwriters and the director intended, none of that plays in Leto’s performance.
I realize that people are yelling about the film being terrible because of other reasons, probably related to the script. I’m here to say that I place the blame for this on Leto’s performance. It’s not enough of anything. For an actor who claims method and makes a big deal of staying in character, I don’t really see the character of Morbius onscreen or feel that commitment to the character. There’s no emotional connection or internal life so I can’t feel empathy for the central character. He seems more interested in showing off his vampire pecs, yes, there is a scene where once Morbius transforms, he just has to take his shirt off. I heard some snickers behind me in the theatre at a couple of points, but Morbius taking his shirt off so that we can see the vamp pecs would have been the moment when I laughed out loud had I not been in critical observational mode. Once again, Leto, among other actors, particularly among the House of Gucci cast, claims to be working so hard that they “become the character” in their films, there’s very little here that supports that claim of method commitment. If you are going to claim that kind of commitment, you don’t get to drop it when you’re making the Marvel Pseudo Vampire movie.
Also, I have said that it is impossible for an actor to “become the character” and that this type of behavior is grandstanding that has no relation to the Method as defined by Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski. I can’t fault the direction by Daniel Espinosa either. Other parts of the film work just fine, so that’s to his credit.
MORBIUS is a mid-tier Marvel movie that is hampered by the lackluster central performance. The supporting cast is good as are the cinematography and score. It makes me wish that Matt Smith had been cast as Morbius honestly. The script isn’t that much better or worse than a lot of Marvel films but it does suffer from a slight case of Chekov’s Bats.
MORBIUS flaps its way into theaters tomorrow, April 1st.
- [SXSW Review] JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 - March 16, 2023
- [SXSW Review] ABERRANCE - March 15, 2023
- [SXSW Review] THE WRATH OF BECKY - March 12, 2023