Morbius Review: Everything Old Isn’t New Again

The last time Oscar-winning actor and occasional musician Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) graced the digital screens of varying sizes, he was delivering one of his most deliriously deranged, attention-grabbing performances in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. As Paolo Gucci, the repeatedly victimized, dimwitted, talent-starved heir to the luxury goods brand and long-lost Mario Brother, Leto left audiences awe-struck (among other unidentifiable feelings and emotions). If nothing else, Leto’s Paolo left an indelible mark on moviegoers and streaming viewers. The same, alas, can’t and won’t be said about Leto’s follow-up as the title character in Morbius, Sony Pictures’ latest, desperate attempt to expand the Marvel-related intellectual property (IP) currently under their control beyond the twice rebooted Spider-Man or Venom, a two-time, box-office success thanks in large part to Tom Hardy’s inspired dual turn as failed journalist Eddie Brock and his temperamental, body-sharing roommate/alien parasite.

Leto’s thinly written character, Michael Morbius, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist and inventor (artificial blood), suffers from an unnamed, ultimately fatal, blood disorder that leaves him in a perpetually weakened state. He requires periodic blood transfusions and crutches to get around. With the help of a deep-pocketed childhood friend, Milo (Matt Smith), who shares the same blood disorder and will therefore die before he can start using an AARP card, Morbius doesn’t just dream about finding a cure. He completely  wants to reverses the disorder’s effect. Somehow, Morbius’s research has led him into collecting hundreds of ravenous vampire bats from a remote, mountain-based cave in Costa Rica. Absconding with his collection back to the States, he creates a green-hued serum reliant on splicing human and vampire bat DNA.

Nothing could go wrong with that kind of well-conceived plan, except, of course, it does so spectacularly. With the help of his assistant, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius injects himself with the serum on a cargo ship in international waters, ostensibly due to legit concerns over the legality (or lack thereof) of his unsanctioned, protocol-free experiment. In short order, mercenaries aboard the cargo ship find themselves face to fang(s) with the new and improved Morbius. Gifted and/or cursed with superhuman strength, speed, and soon enough, bat-like echolocation, Morbius quickly dispatches anyone who crosses his path, feasting on their blood one moment and waking up back in blood-splattered human form the next.

Unsurprisingly upset, if not fully disappointed by the results, a slightly despondent Morbius returns home in a hoodie. He’s eager to find a solution to his newfound condition, up to, but not only including a solution that will return him to his pre-serum form. Unfortunately for Morbius, he’s not the only one interested in the serum. Once exsanguinated bodies start to show up all over the city, the FBI sends a slow-walking, wise-cracking, third-tier duo, Stroud (Tyrese Gibson) and Rodriguez (Al Madrigal), to investigate the who and why behind the alarming rise in the city’s body count. Morbius eventually realizes he’s created more problems than he’s solved with his experiment. But if anyone is going to solve a problem like Morbius, it’s Morbius himself.

Without the benefit of prosthetics or makeup (Sony created Morbius’s vampire iteration via unimpressive, under-rendered CGI), Leto gives one of the most restrained, passive performances of his career. In stark contrast to his broadly caricatured performance as Paolo Gucci, Leto’s turn as Morbius tends to hover around varying degrees of brooding in human form. He’s unconvincingly snarling when he transforms into the “living vampire” of the comics. An often bored-looking Leto isn’t helped by a formulaic, generic, cliché-ridden screenplay credited to Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Anonymous, borderline competent direction comes thanks to Swedish-born Daniel Espinosa’s (Life, Safe House), while the visual effects veer from the semi-cool (Morbius’s super-fast movements leave colorful trails in his wake) to boredom-inducing (fight scenes two or three steps below videogames). But, unfortunately, more of the latter.

 

Morbius is now playing in theatres.



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