** out of ****
(for intense sequences of violence, some frightening images, and brief strong language)
Released: April 1, 2022
Runtime: 104 minutes
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Al Madrigal, Michael Keaton
Any movie that opens on April 1st is daring critics (or anyone, really) to take easy potshots. While Moribus may not be the practical joke that the genre’s worst offenders are, it’s hardly a welcome new entry.
Neither breakthrough nor bust, Morbius is simply a shrug of a popcorn flick – particularly for one unleashed under the Marvel moniker that exits within the Spider-Man / Venom universe (though produced by Sony, not Marvel, studios).
Generic in almost every respect, Morbius only distinguishes itself in the most unfortunate way: body count.
It’s one of the more gruesome comic book movies you’ll see (especially at PG-13 level) as the titular anti-hero and his nemesis – who are both Jekyll-and-Hyde vampires, thanks to a rogue antigen developed to cure a rare blood disease – gorge on their fair share of human victims.
There’s a questionable relativism to the carnage as well, ranging from regrettably necessary (i.e. any killing by Morbius) to cheap forms of “jerks who karmically had it coming” targets (slain by Morbius’s bloodthirsty foe).
Few deaths are actually chalked up as tragic murders, despite the fact that each one genuinely is. But as is so common with anti-hero heroes (particularly those marketed with long-term franchise ambitions), the moral ambiguity is all-too-convenient and malleable.
Morbius is a strictly by-the-numbers comic book origin story. A brilliant scientist concocts a serum that produces unexpected super powers, transforming Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – who’s crippled and dying – into an actual batman, sans wings.
What was meant for good turns out to be a vampiric vaccine, and Morbius – who barely gets by on the synthetic blood he invented – will eventually need real human blood to survive. He’s able to control his newly found powers until he gets low on blood and needs a refill.
The rules for how all this works are vaguely defined as Morbius discovers new aspects when needed (like flying), and each are instantly mastered. Thankfully, Leto fits comfortably into the role, eschewing the Method camp he regrettably indulged as the Joker.
When the serum falls into the hands of an unethical colleague, the challenge for Morbius doubles. Not only must he seek a cure before time quickly runs out, but now he must also battle and defeat a super-vampire equal to himself, one who doesn’t want to be cured at all.
Boilerplate comic book melodrama ensues, all within a self-contained narrative (which is to say that the fate of the world or universe is not at stake).
And, honestly, that’s all there really is to say about that. Morbius is as routine as you’d expect, right down to a lazy ending that fails to answer a key question about Moribus’s ability to survive and, naturally, two (rather clunky) end-credit bonus scenes.
The film’s only merit is a completely tangential one: as seen here, it’s clear that co-star Jared Harris has aged to the point where he should be given the opportunity to play Albus Dumbledore, taking over for his late father Richard Harris who originated the role in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
I dunno. Maybe have HBO Max produce a pre-Potter Hogwarts series that would take place during Dumbledore’s peak tenure as the wizarding school’s headmaster. Something like that.
Or perhaps another (better) movie series than the forgettable Fantastic Beasts saga. Whatever. Just figure it out, Warner Bros. Suffice it to say the potential is all there, which is more than I can say for Morbius.