Let’s admit it, comic book movie fans have more spoilt than a supporting player from Willy Wonka in recent years. With those grandiose, richly crafted epics masquerading as superhero films, like the “Avengers” films and recent “Spider-Man” and “Batman” movies, anything even slightly less will likely be nose-thumbed.
Comic book films have come a long way since the ‘80s and ‘90s, when thinly written, costume-over-captivation ruled supreme. Sure, the odd gem seeped through the system, like Tim Burton’s terrific “Batman” (1989) and the highly underrated “The Shadow” (1994), but for every one of those there was a “Steel (1997)”, “Barb Wire (1996)”, “Judge Dredd (1995)” or “Batman & Robin (1997)”.
It wasn’t really until Marvel Studios stepped up and challenged their hires to aim higher that the sub-genre became a real force to be reckoned with. Hacks everywhere sighed the moment Tom Rothman, Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal demanded more.
Expect then to see the screwed-up noses of a legion of disappointed movie fans walking out of theaters this weekend after they catch the latest ink to celluloid adaptation, “Morbius”. But again, only because we’ve come so far since a duck named Howard tried to get it on with humanoid Lea Thompson.
Though set in the big-screen ‘Spider-Man’ movie universe – it ham-fistedly reminds us of the fact a couple of times with some shoehorned cameos and references – Daniel Espinosa’s trim, ridiculous and lightweight “Morbius” plays more like a superhero piece from the Reagan and Bush era’s (or one of those sequels to “The Crow” or “The Lost Boys” that were pushed out towards the millennium) than those gems that have come before it – many of which come from the same studio, Sony.
The lengthy, surprise-filled and wholly engrossing “Spider-Man : No Way Home” – which Sony released at the tail-end of 2021- – this is not. This is a short (running at just 1 hour 44 mins), punchy, old school good guy vs. bad guy popcorn movie that use to pack them in at the Cinedome on a Saturday afternoon in 1996. Not such a bad thing? No. And if this had been released around the same time as one of the comic book movies around that time, like the original “Blade” (1988) or “Spawn” (1997), “Mobius” might even be considered a highlight for the sub genre. But “Morbius” is releasing on the heels of some of the best films the subgenre has released.
Based on the Marvel comic book character of the same name, “Morbius” tells the story of a biochemist, Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), who has long looked for a cure to his rare blood disease. He comes across a possible fix in the form of bats, but when his experiment goes wrong, he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead. When his pal, the equally-unwell Loxias Crown (Matt Smith), gets wind of the ‘fix’, he decides to take it for himself – despite Morbius’s warnings. You can guess the rest.
Featuring fun, immersive turns from Jared Leto (much more at home here as the rocker-like vampire scientist than he was as the clown prince of crime in fellow comic book movie “Suicide Squad”) and former ‘Doctor Who’ Matt Smith, “Morbius” is a film that doesn’t seem to strive to be anything more than a stylish, special effects-clad vampire flick that’ll keep you perfectly entertained on a red eye flight. For every predictable and unsurprising turn in Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama’s script, there’s some punchy pace and slick production design to make up for it in the next syringe.
Where every element is let down though is by Sony itself.
What we have here is clearly a film that’s had too many cooks in its kitchen – what with the noticeably choppy, unfocused editing and wavering tones, not to mention an abrupt ending, all suggesting a better movie might have even existed before the film went into post.
What’s possible is that Espinosa’s original cut resembled more its own beast, than something set in the “Spider-Man” continuity of films, and at the moment, what with Marvel and DC’s obsession to link every one of their film properties (especially after the success of “No Way Home”), the bean counters weren’t going to have that. It’s also possible, judging by some moments that cut away from gore and violence rather abruptly, that there might even have been a more welcomingly gratuitous cut at play originally. The studio needed to trust the filmmaker more on this one.
Comfort food, no more, no less, “Morbius” does lack the bite of more recent, more ambitious comic book movies but it’s also not the ‘blunt Blade’ forecasters predicted either.