Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Rated PG-13, 1 hour and 44 minutes
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
A Bat Man of a different kind rises in MORBIUS: a man who splices his DNA with a vampire bat’s in order to cure his terminal blood-born disease. His conflicted character also unfortunately serves as an energy vampire, sucking you dry of your lifeblood and brainpower. Director Daniel Espinosa’s adaptation of the Marvel comic is heavily weighed down by exposition, logistical nonsense and generic conflicts that barely allow anything original to rise to the surface. Missing much of its connective tissue to make sense of its shenanigans and acting as a delivery device strictly to tease what emptily caloric delight might be next, this titular anti-hero is given a vehicle that takes its foot off the gas not far enough into the ride.
Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is world-renowned, bad boy scientist hell-bent on finding a cure for blood-born diseases like the one he and his best friend Milo (Matt Smith) have been struggling with all their lives. Armed with disposable wealth thanks to Milo’s funding, he’s searched far and wide and believes he’s found a solution, hidden deep in the jungle recesses of Costa Rica where vampire bats dwell. After one encouraging medical trial, he elects himself the guinea pig to begin the highly unethical human experimentation. And with fellow researcher Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) at his side to help, nothing could go wrong. Except it does. Things go pear-shape for the pair when, after Michael takes the alleged life-saving serum, he turns into a vampiric monster.
This newfound gift quickly turns into a curse, however. Michael’s bestowed with superhuman strength and bat-like abilities, but only if he guzzles human blood every few hours. This causes him to do things he’s not proud of like feasting on his hired henchmen. Yet as soon as his company founder Milo catches wind of his pal’s physical improvements, he too wants the upgrade – one Michael refuses, leaving them on the outs. Meanwhile, FBI Agents Stroud (Tyrese Gibson) and Rodriguez (Al Madrigal) notice exsanguinated bodies beginning to pile up, including one of Dr. Morbius’ own staff, making him the prime suspect. Only there’s another tormenting creature causing the ruckus, forcing Michael to embrace his new capabilities and save the city.
Espinosa and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless task the audience with too much hoop jumping when it comes to its multitude of weak spots and confusing logistical applications. This causes a litany of distractions during each sequence, everything from why hallway lights in a business powered by disposable income would have energy-efficient settings, to how the antagonist even got their hands on the dangerous vampire serum, plus injected it themselves. Their attempts to pull inspiration from DRACULA and THE USUAL SUSPECTS are noteworthy, solely because these references inspire many to cringe and audibly groan at their use. Humor is attempted a few times, but mostly collapses in on itself. A joke about Pilates being Michael’s reason for renewed vigor is beyond a decade stale, but so awkward its effect, it’s funny again.
Murky motives overpower the scenes and character arcs causing more questions than answers. Jared Harris, who plays Michael and Milo’s doctor/ father figure, is barely fleshed out as one-dimensional, yet used as a catalyst to begin the 3rd act. Same goes for Martine, who’s little more than a hollow attempt at a Strong Female Archetype and more like a stereotypical damsel in distress. Longtime friends turning into foes is clichéd, well-traversed territory already on-screen and this doesn’t add anything new to the equation, though it does provide some emotional resonance and weight to the story. Still, any pathos or gravitas conjured by the actors or screenwriters is undone by ridiculous, predictable and unearned revelations.
Espinosa and his visual effects team do an admirable job visually contextualizing their protagonist’s skillset, from his use of echo-location (representing soundwaves as a pulsating, iridescent rippled shimmer) to his rapid striking power (moving with a smokey, slo-mo effect). While, in the big action set pieces like on the cargo ship, tension increases the more the monster is obscured, when Michael does let his inner vampire appear, the makeup department handedly crafts a spooky, disturbing design. Nevertheless, with little to no body horror, nor having any foreboding sense of dread threaded throughout, the picture painted is a sloppy mess that won’t leave anyone asking for more.
MORBIUS opens on April 1.