By Elias Savada.
A nonsensical Frankenstein/Dracula/Jekyll & Hyde mashup from Marvel.”
There are not a lot of good things to say about the latest marginal Marvel character to hit the big screen, and plenty of bad ones. This sidebar effort — a nonsensical Frankenstein/Dracula/Jekyll & Hyde mashup — is from the Sony/Columbia offshoot of the Spider-Man branch of the Marvel family. He’s the titular black-sheep cousin. His weird vibe is so dark that I suspect most viewers won’t want him to return for another seat at their dinner table, even if there’s a heaping bowl of blood available for his li(c)king.
This vampire bat/human hybrid beast comes when you mix bad science with bad filmmaking. All it takes is for a Noble Prize-winning medical researcher, Dr. Michael Morbius (hobbled by a rare blood condition) to play guinea pig and turn himself into a menacing anti-hero. A quite unappealing one. Jared Leto, who transformed himself under tons of makeup into Paolo Gucci in House of Gucci, offers up a different transformation, mostly via dreary CGI, as a grumpy, quasi-vampiric creature. He’s done superhero before, as the Joker in the first Suicide Squad (2016), with a similar snideness wafting through the air.
Few jokes abound (one referencing the symbiote Venom, another that names a cargo ship Murnau — an easter egg nod toward that German director’s silent 1920s horror classic Nosferatu). Frankly, the film’s writers (Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless) make this comic character way too serious. Its origin story antics are poorly written and the blurry, kinetic action afforded it by director Daniel Espinosa makes this uneasy tale all the more unsettling.
I took a gander at the screenwriting credits of Sazama and Sharpless. Gods of Egypt (2016), The Last Witch Hunter (2015), and Dracula Untold (2014). All duds (like his latest), with abysmal ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. They won a Razzie, and may repeat that feat. The epitaph to their misbegotten writing career is now being written in bat guano.
Morbius isn’t a sympathetic character either — even when he appears remorseful. His best friend, afflicted with the same ailment, Loxias Crown a.k.a. Milo (Matt Smith as the preening adult version), decides that a little dab of the bad, bad doctor’s own medicine will provide an unlucky panacea. Yet, all we get are a series of mano-a-mano escapades that wreak havoc on the city and some of its innocent inhabitants. Along for their ride are underwritten characters, including the boys’/men’s mentor Dr. Emill Nikols (Jared Harris) and Morbius’ capable assistant Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona). Trivia question for the future: What 2021 Marvel movie dud featured two Jareds?
The helter-skelter changes in Morbius — gnarly teeth and nasty complexion one moment, some buff abs the next, and then occasionally back to his muscle-challenged version which causes near-complete paralysis. I me wonder if enlisting a dentist to direct this movie may have been a better idea. Or maybe Little Red Riding Hood.
As the film begins, the determined Dr. M is on a mission, in a remote Costa Rican jungle. It’s a scene that mines imagery from King Kong (any version), but instead of a giant primate, let’s look for primal vampire bats. The tale then backpedals 25 years, to the younger version of Leto’s character, in a Greek hospital (because?), where Dr. Nikols sends him on a lifelong mission to find the magic bullet to cure his illness (and apparently succeeding with a few other sicknesses, for which he gains global admiration). As Morbius begins to cross too many ethical lines, he becomes a pariah amongst his peers. And then desperation sets in and he decides to self-inject. The rest of the film is all showboating amongst the broody gloom and posturing between the two friends. Meanwhile, deaths, and bodies drained of blood, pile up. Like those corpses, the film is draining in the worst B-movie way.
Spoiler Alert: There were two end credit teaser scenes (maybe more, but I didn’t feel obliged to stay any longer). Michael Keaton (Holy, Batman!) is Adrian Toomes a.k.a. The Vulture. So, yeah, you can pretty much assume that no matter how bad this film is (count me among the legions warning you), that Morbius might be recruited into bigger things involving Spidey and Friends.
Wait, there are some amusing moments in the film, but I hope you won’t bother for the few minutes that Al Madrigal and Tyrese Gibson are on-screen as bemused detectives. Yet, with the antiseptic, mundane dialogue they’re forced to mutter, it’s a pity that comedian Madrigal took this gig. I hope it was for the money.
The less of Morbius, the better. Worst. Marvel. Ever.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).