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Morbius Movie Review

Morbius (2022) movie poster
Morbius

Theatrical Release: April 1, 2022 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Daniel Espinosa / Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless (story & screenplay); Art Marcum, Matt Holloway (screenplay)

Cast: Jared Leto (Dr. Michael Morbius), Matt Smith (Milo, Adria Arjona (Martine Bancroft), Jared Harris (Dr. Emil Nicholas), Al Madrigal (Al Rodriguez), Tyres Gibson (Simon Stroud), Michael Keaton (Adrian Toomes/Vulture)

 

The respect and admiration commanded by Jared Leto has risen and fallen like a volatile stock over the past thirty years. His breakout role came on the short-lived, highly acclaimed ABC-aired, MTV-rerun mid-'90s drama "My So-Called Life." Within a few years, Leto was landing juicy film roles including turns in three of the most iconic films from the turn of the millennium: Fight Club, American Psycho,
and Requiem for a Dream. All three of those dark, edgy, and subversive tales are regarded today as classics, which should cement Leto with cultural cache and to an extent they do. But the generation that first took to those films (mine) has more or less been pushed out of Hollywood's crosshairs by aging out of that lucrative 18-to-34 demographic.

Despite turning fifty at the end of last year, Leto has managed not to relinquish his pull. In fact, his star status has never been more apparent than today, when he claims solo above-the-title billing on Morbius, Sony's $75 million, tentpole adapted from Marvel Comics. Leto arrives here nearly a decade after his Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and twenty years after the debut of his rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars. Leto's ability to defy aging may not have a precedent, but though that feat has kept him in demand as a leading man (and sometimes Gucci model), it has not prevented the rise of vocal detractors, something every celebrity encounters at some point.

While negativity on the Internet is both rampant and usually easy to ignore, it has reached fever pitch this week with the release of Morbius. The high-profile addition to Sony's Spider-Man Universe is an obvious lightning rod for online criticism with its widespread marketing and not particularly beloved or well-known source material. In another era, a comic book film could arise and simply flop, but that era is long gone and somewhere along the way, most likely his method acting as Mr. J on 2016's lucrative yet widely derided Suicide Squad, Leto has made impassioned enemies with fingers and keyboards ripe for trolling. This time must have been foreseen as his biggest peak of fame to date, with the recent launch of the AppleTV+ miniseries "WeCrashed" and the recently-concluded award season that should have brought more recognition for his turn in House of Gucci, a transformative performance many decried as Mario Brothers-esque Italian caricature. Instead, his most prominent film role to date has been hit with the cacophony of extreme disapproval and ridicule.

Jared Leto plays Nobel Prize-rejecting / vampire bat man Dr. Michael Morbius in Sony and Marvel's "Morbius."

As with most things pertaining to comic book adaptation, from the exaltation of Zack Snyder as a genius whose vision must not be suppressed to celebrating Matt Reeves' lifeless, broody three-hour The Batman as a masterwork rather than a pale copy of a David Fincher thriller to the branding of Leto's Suicide Squad and 2015's Fantastic Four as crimes against cinema, the reaction to Morbius is largely unwarranted. Here is a film with the audacity not to follow the winning Marvel Cinematic Universe playbook to a T. Morbius is offbeat, relatively short, and refreshingly standalone. It doesn't reach the heights of genre triumphs like the adjacent Spider-Man: No Way Home, but unlike Reeves on his overhyped, overlong DC reboot, director Daniel Espinosa (Life, Safe House) is never aiming for such heights with his own bat-man story, which is told capably and with some striking visual flair.

From youth, Michael Morbius is afflicted with a rare blood disorder that requires near-constant medical attention and invites bullying. In adulthood, Morbius (now Leto), famous for developing a synthetic blood substitute, has dedicated himself to finding a cure, but as his pale, cane-dependent presence indicates, it has been a struggle. Morbius' big breakthrough comes when splicing the DNA of vampire bats into his DNA. As you can imagine, that act transfers the bloodthirst of the furry winged creatures to Morbius. But as long as his large appetite for blood (preferably the real human variety) is satiated, Morbius experiences the best health of his life as well as, of course, some super strengths.

It's tempting and easy to lampoon that premise, but it's really no dopier than Peter Parker's radioactive spider bite or the cosmic rays that turned the Fantastic Four fantastic. Morbius emerges as a complicated and reasonably compelling figure who straddles the line between hero and villain. That terrain that was similarly explored in the two Venom movies whose parent universe this movie theoretically joins. Espinosa's movie is better than at least the first of those, which have both done well with moviegoers despite striking out with critics. Leto's approach to acting has always kept him at a distance from mainstream leading man duties despite his unassailable looks. And whereas Tom Hardy has seemingly had no qualms about playing down to Venom's material for really big paydays, Leto is incapable of doing that here, which raises questions about the compatbility of the star and this particular movie.

Genetic splicing turns Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) into something of a bat, man.

And yet Leto is unquestionably the star attraction of Morbius, elevating the material in ways that his castmates do not, regardless of their pedigree. Second billing is claimed by the eleventh Doctor Who, Matt Smith,
who as Morbius' similarly afflicted lifelong friend turned foe does not make a particularly convincing case for his newfound big screen resurgence. As Morbius' mentor/father figure, Jared Harris hits some of the right notes. As the closest this has to a leading lady, Adria Arjona makes little impression, failing to earn the film a Bechdel test check along with its now obligatory cast diversity one. To that end, Transformers and Fast & Furious alumnus Tyrese Gibson plays an FBI agent who was white in the comic books. His perfunctory exposition is upstaged by Al Madrigal, a comedian who as Gibson's FBI partner, adds some light and welcome diversion.

Like the aforementioned maligned Miles Teller Fantastic Four, Morbius suffers from an anticlimactic final act. We've been conditioned to expect a minimum of twenty minutes of loud noises and big effects in our comic book movie finales and Morbius falls short of that without strongly disappointing or leaving anything unresolved. Its more questionable decisions come afterwards as it reintroduces Michael Keaton's Spider-Man: Homecoming villain Adrian Toomes in a bit of over-promoted eleventh hour universe-building that unnececessarily injects the "cinematic universe" vibe that is otherwise absent and not missed here. While the box office and sales numbers speak to the commercial effectiveness of Marvel Studios' approach, there is something to be said for the close-ended nature of self-contained cinema. I have no doubt that the standalone nature of Todd Phillips' Joker is a factor in both how widely seen it was and in the passionate if varied responses it provoked.

It's already a given that Morbius will not match Joker or any Spider-Man movie in either of those regards. In fact, despite the multi-picture deals signed, there's a great chance that this online negativity is too big to overcome and the line stops here. Or maybe Morbius' signature line stops and the character is simply integrated, inevitably, along with Venom into the only foreseeable event-level picture Sony has left to concoct for Spider-Man. Whatever the future may hold, I encourage you to ignore the Internet chorus that holds up Batman as treasure and Morbius as trash. The now-competing films represent two mildly different approaches to similar material and the difference in entertainment value is marginal at best. Would the talents of Leto, Matt Reeves, and countless others be better served on movies that aren't pulled from comic books? Almost certainly. But amusement park cinema isn't going anywhere anytime soon and attempting different things within the confines of that banner should be encouraged, not trolled.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Batman Master The Outfit Uncharted
Jared Leto: House of Gucci Suicide Squad Dallas Buyers Club Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Daniel Espinosa: Life

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Reviewed April 1, 2022.



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