REVIEW – ‘Morbius’ is a flat, dull mess of a blockbuster

After the staggering critical and commercial success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, you have to feel sympathy for the next film in line from Sony Pictures’ Marvel universe. That unfortunate mantle falls to the dreadfully disappointing Morbius; a flat, dull mess of a blockbuster that commits the cardinal cinematic sin of being unfathomably boring. Led by a genuinely lifeless performance from Jared Leto and drowning in a turgid disarray of CGI, it’s a forgettable experience that does little to justify its existence.

Dr. Michael Morbius (Leto) is a gifted biochemist who specialises in blood born disorders like the incurable disease he’s suffered since his youth. Desperate to cure the illness that plagues both his life and his cherished childhood friend, Milo (Matt Smith), Morbius turns to an experimental treatment of mixing human and vampire bat DNA. While the procedure initially cures the doctor of his condition, it comes with a terrible price.

Afflicted with a monstrous form of transgenic vampirism, Morbius inherits superhuman speed, strength, and hearing, but also the unrelenting need to consume blood to stop his affliction from returning. When Milo sees his friend cured, he believes their mutual problems are solved. But Morbius refuses to allow him to suffer the same fate, leading to Milo stealing the super serum for himself.

As Morbius fights against his bloodthirst and searches for a cure to the, ah, cure, Milo relishes in his newfound powers and becomes a ferocious killer who’s causing carnage and murder all over New York City. With the police hunting down both Morbius and Milo, it’s up to the doctor to stop his best friend and prove he’s not the villain he appears to be.

Coming off his batshit absurd Razzie Award-winning performance in House of Gucci, Leto feels like the perfect choice for the role of a dark and mysterious human with vampire tendencies. Excuse the pun, but Leto sucks the life right out of Dr. Michael Morbius, leaving us with a vapid shell of a character with absolutely zero charm or charisma. It’s like watching an anthropomorphic mop perform in front of you for 104 minutes.

That’s largely due to Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless‘ flat screenplay that bizarrely avoids exploring Morbius’ classic anti-hero sensibilities and instead reimagines the character as an insipid do-gooder. There’s just nothing here for Leto to sink his teeth into (sorry, I promise that’s the last pun). For all the criticisms of his ridiculous “eyy, fuhgeddaboudit!” performance in House Of Gucci, at least it was entertaining. Leto’s turn is devoid of anything remotely interesting, which is a huge problem when he’s on-screen for 85% of this film.

Instead, it’s left to Smith to breathe some semblance of life into Morbius. Sure, his villainous motivations don’t make a whole lot of sense, but at least Smith is having fun with his character. He chews the scenery in a menacing performance that’s far more engaging than anything Leto is laying down. Director Daniel Espinosa has no clue what to do with someone of Smith’s talents, so it all feels like a wasted opportunity. But at least Smith appears to be trying while Leto merely phones it in.

There is a supporting cast of Jared Harris, Adria Arjona, and Tyrese Gibson, but they’re all completely underused and mostly just exist so that Leto and Smith have someone else to talk to. Arjona’s Martine Bancroft is occasionally injected into scenes as Morbius’ potential love interest without any time given to actually building their burgeoning romance before it’s forced upon us. As the stereotypical token female character in a comic book adaptation, she’s written as paper-thin as possible and there’s nothing Arjona can do to change that.

The set pieces are often completely incomprehensible, though Espinosa does occasionally take a leaf out of Zack Snyder’s slow-mo guidebook to allow an audience to make sense of whatever the hell is going on. Ultimately, these slow-motion moments do nothing but expose how ridiculously cheap and shoddy the CGI work looks, especially on a big screen. The occasionally beautiful work of veteran cinematographer Oliver Wood is completely undone by every one of his shots being barbarically smeared in the strange blobs and blurs of two vampires going toe to toe.

Morbius is so visually and narratively unappealing that I genuinely just stopped caring. Boredom is not an emotion one should feel when watching a film of this genre. Yet, when we’re giving nothing but a bland offering, it’s only inevitable to feel anything but lethargy and apathy. There’s a frantic attempt to provide some mild excitement with not one but two mid-credits scenes that tap into the multiverse, but there will be few clamouring to see another adventure featuring this new Marvel character.

Distributor: Sony Pictures
Cast: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Producers: Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, Lucas Foster
Screenplay: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Cinematography: Oliver Wood
Production Design: Stefania Cella
Costume Design: Cindy Evans
Music: Jon Ekstrand
Editor: Pietro Scalia
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: 31st March 2022 (Australia)