Dir. Daniel Espinosa
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
MORBIUS is probably the most heavily advertised film of the superhero genre. Mocked, beaten and crucified to the afterlife, there is a mere hatred towards a film that in all honesty, isn’t that bad at all. Leto may take himself too seriously and in a world of symbiotes, spider-men and multiverses, a role that probably should have more fun, but here gives a flightful introduction to a solid infusion of horror and Marvel comic-book adaptation.
As soon as the film opens up, the neon lit lines embracing the MORBIUS font and synth chords bleed giallo horror then just as swiftly we are introduced to a crippled doctor and the ravaged corpse of a dear. Director, Daniel Espinosa (not the gut from LUCIFER) doesn’t hide the horror influences but doesn’t care much neither for building tension as the film throws its audience in at the deep end and drags through an origin story set 25 years in the past.
Leto’s lead is best split into two characters, Michael and Morbius. Michael being the humane sense of empathy and righteousness, Morbius the monster. Michael is against type for Leto who actually shares a believably great bond with co-star and screen-brother Matt Smith, it’s actually a refreshing to see the star who takes himself seriously, actually share such empathy and smile. This version of the character carries the film’s heart and in his quest to find a cure for his deliberating disease, not only for himself, but for others, is sentimentally a crime not to enamour.
The monster, far less emotional, is a force to reckon with and displays a kinetic magnetisim as it bounces between hyper-speed and slow motion. With some impressive cinematography it’s easily one of the coolest franchise films to date. Evidentially, the film becomes more about Michael controlling the monster than letting it free
And then there’s everything else…
Power montage, cop procedural, wasted potential and an overdose of exposition. By retaining itself in the superhero genre it never takes off the shackles to be the full-blown horror film it deserves to be. A sum of its parts, but not all give MORBIUS justice as it delves between worlds like day and night. At it’s best, MORBIUS is a welcome vampire film that gives us big budget horror however as with most large scale horror films, replicates horror with on screen visuals and omits the tension that gets there. At it’s worst, it is a superhero film from a sub-genre that has seen it all with a story of friends becoming enemies and a throwaway love story that becomes the catalyst for an underwhelmingly short throwdown.
As the film goes into it’s final third, all character development is forced to comply with hero and villain and any ambiguity lost. Like VENOM before it, Sony’s decision to make a franchise of villains that will ultimately face against their antagonist, Spider-Man, is an ill fated one. How do you make a villain likable then pit him back as the enemy? Morbius’ quest for a cure is lost against a match up against his brother as they face two sides of the coin. Smith is loving the camp villain role, but this could not become more contrasting to the rightly suited, seriousness of Morbius’ plight.
For mainstream cinemagoers, it’s more akin to a Marvel film made in the mid 00s compared to the now God-like films of the MCU and somehow Sony are content with making it’s own mould for the genre. Horror fans will find something more enjoyable and despite mainstream hatred for it’s title casting, it’s really not that bad a film and compared to last years VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, does a far superior job of blending the horror and superhero genres. Here the tone is stripped to something more serious and unlike the only other horror centric Marvel film to date, THE NEW MUTANTS, does not rely on a teen audience to measure it’s likability.
MORBIUS is as far from a superhero film as it is a horror film. The formula is tried and tested but here there’s blood and violence not seen in the realm of comic book movies since BLADE. It’s an interesting addition to the genre and fortunately is the first horror franchise movie that hits the right notes, hopefully the film does get a follow up and is not left on the scrapheap of what could have been. Against the brooding massacre that is the DCEU and the now comedy focussed worlds of the MCU, there is a place for the gritty franchise that Sony are setting up, it just needs to be more better mapped out than the shambolic connections it’s forcibly throwing into each series. Fortunately, MORBIUS is as much a standalone film as it can be giving little to no unrequired connections to other films outside pointless end credits that have and will be (potentially) wrapped up in a supergroup of these villainess Spider-Man characters. Leto gives a nuances anti-hero but one not quite lost to his evil nature which gives plenty of opportunity for growth in this Dracula-like character who has as much a right to stand tall as Michael Morbius himself, it just needs to commit now it’s surpassed its introduction and be the vampiric horror its title deserves.