Skip to main content

Drank the red. Good for you.


(SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

Dr Morbius: As a result of my procedure, I have the overpowering urge to consume blood. Human blood.

In the wake of Spider-Man: No Way Home, there was talk that Sony had nixed Disney overtures to uber-progressive content in no uncertain terms, hence a viewing experience that rather stands apart from the ramped-up identity politics of the last couple of years of MCU output. Morbius confirms that to such an extent – likely the Avi Arad influence, in which case not an entirely malign presence, just mostly – you wonder if it has any attitude at all, anywhere, towards anything. Which is undoubtedly preferable to being patronised or preached at, but you don’t feel Morbius is getting its teeth into its material, dramatically or thematically.

One might, were one so to choose, take the pulse of the character’s premise and consider how it applies to the current landscape, having as it does roots in vampirism/elite predation and evolutionary theory; as for as the movie is concerned, both things are demonstrably “bad”, albeit evolution isn’t so much jettisoned as “proved” in a faintly unconvincing way.

Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in 1971, and is, at its core, your classic “perils of unchecked science/experimentation gone wrong” story (see also The Incredible Hulk – “You won’t like me when I’m hungry” – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and The Invisible Man). The personification of the vampire is decidedly feral, in contrast to the suave Christopher Lee opposite extreme. However, notwithstanding that it’s no picnic being a hideous self-loathing bloodsucker, there’s a “Look how super it makes you, if only you can keep those urges in check”.

Certainly, that’s a “necessary” element, with Morbius repositioned as it has been, as a tentpole attraction; Sony, having limited resources to draw upon, is emphasising the heroic side of as many Spidey villains/antiheroes as possible, hence Venom and Morbius and next Kraven the Hunter. It’s slightly less insidious than Disney’s edict with its classic villains, but one might argue the “sympathy for the devil” aspect is to much the same ends. And in Sony terms of practicality, it means finding the antihero someone more definably villainous to battle (Carnage, Milo).

Dr Morbius: The fusion of different species is a legacy we already carry in our bodies. Viruses insinuating their nucleic acids into our own over hundreds of thousands of years. That’s evolution.

Given director Daniel Espinosa’s approach is on the down-to-earth (even with Life), journeyman side, it makes sense that the opening of the Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Gods of Egypt) scripted movie should emphasise the “science”. Dr Morbius invokes evolution as a justification for mixing human and bat DNA (doubtless those undertaking depraved hybrid experiments in DUMBs could forward similar rationales, were they to feel any burden of ethical guidelines) but he will later renege on such waffle – the weak sauce evolution example above – when he realises “It’s a curse”. Instead, it’s childhood friend and fellow blood-illness sufferer Milo (Matt Smith, playing a character partly based on Marvel’s Loxian Crown), a self-administered recipient of the “cure”, who takes up the baton: “We’re evolved! You’re a scientist, Michael. Surely, surely you understand that?

Milo: What would you do if you could be normal, just for an hour?

Indeed, Morbius spouts the usual rhetoric of Rockefeller medicine – one must take the risk, or there will be “no science, no medicine, no breakthroughs at all” – and it certainly appears he has come up trumps before. His “development of artificial blood has saved more lives than penicillin” (“Your artificial blood saved my arm in Afghanistan” attests Tyrese Gibson’s comics-derived FBI guy Simon Stroud; in a deleted scene it’s revealed Stroud has a cybernetic arm, so I don’t know if that means it didn’t save the other one). Indirectly, though, this breakthrough emphasises that synthetic can only ever be a pale imitation; Morbius gains diminishing sustenance from the fake stuff, while Milo is unrepentant in his wanton bloodlust. Indeed, Milo’s language, even when afflicted, is couched in superior aspirations (“We’re the original Spartans, mate”); “There’s no shame in what we are” he tells Michael, and invoking elite thinking, he contests “We are few against the many”.

Milo: You know, you shouldn’t judge someone by how they look. Did your mother teach you no manners?

There’s some engaging enough interplay between the two early on. Leto doesn’t get to go full Depp in his role, which means he’s on the ineffectual side (Sony will have to look out for this with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Kraven). Smith is enjoying himself, it seems, although his ticks and cadences seem to carry unchecked from role to role. Both go from emaciated to impervious; Jared is ripped and Matt is ripped, although the latter still has the head of a shoe.

Much of the last forty minutes comprises their extended altercations, and it’s here that Morbius drops off a cliff. It’s all so much weightless – visually and dramatically – sound and fury. The CGI transformation effects are both a lazy choice and deeply unimpressive (“I really fought for CG!” so blame Jared – Leto, not Harris).

Espinosa is a competent technician, but no more than that (which didn’t stop Scott Derrickson making a good MCU movie). His approach essentially means that, if other elements – performance, plot – don’t stand out, nothing will. He attempts some oomph with vamp super motion, by way of a CGI-augmented flying slugfest, but it doesn’t quite cut it (all motion effects and bullet time). It seems Antoine Fuqua and F Gary Gray were also considered, both serviceably competent and exactly not the kind of guys you chase to elevate a B-character; Espinosa’s the best pick of the three, but the material shows up all his weaknesses. There’s nothing interesting or distinctive about Morbius in any department (cinematography, set design, costuming, score), which adds to the sense of an almost defiantly pedestrian production.

In the supporting cast, Jared Harris should have been given a larger role as mentor/carer Dr Nicholas. He can be relied upon, though, to fulfil his standard movie duties by being unceremoniously killed off. Adria Arjona makes almost no impression at all, but now has vampirism coursing through her veins for the follow up that won’t happen. Gibson, stuck as the straight man – perhaps not his best move; his Fast & Furious schtick is certainly much more engaging – is denied the one recompense of suggested superheroic stature (although, it seems he has a three-picture deal). His partner, played by Al Madrigal, fires off possibly improvised quips and quickly becomes irritating, so it’s a shame he wasn’t drained of juice.

Adrian Toomes: Guys like us. Should team up to do some good.
Dr Morbius: I’m listening.

Morbius’ connectivity to the MCU appears to have been one of stops and starts, with Sony having to cut bits, add bits and hope for the best when it became clear they weren’t up to speed with Mouse House plans. JK Simmons was excised when they learnt J Jonah Jameson comes from a different universe (so the Raimi-verse, I guess?) Spider-Man graffiti was removed, having been added without Espinosa’s involvement. Carnage was set to cameo. Of which, there is reference to “that thing in San Francisco”, so Venom is in this universe somewhere. As for Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/the Vulture appearing in two mid-credits scenes (“Hope the food’s better in this joint” and the above), it’s been rightly called out as making very little sense in any way, shape or form. One can only assume Disney consented because they don’t care about the character.

Rodriguez: It’s what these bloodsuckers do. They multiply.

Morbius may lack a brain, heart and the courage of its convictions, but it could have been worse. It inspires escalating ambivalence and then fatigue, rather than active irritation. The thing is, there’s always the potential for making an interesting vampire movie, so there’s absolutely no need for them to be as forgettable, say, as Dracula Untold. As it is, I find it difficult to see how Venom bringing Leto over would benefit the former, unless there’s a significant rethink. The bigger problem seems to be that Sony just don’t seem to comprehend the issue. You need suitable directors and lead actors to make these properties more than they are, not just someone who will do.

Popular posts from this blog

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 1 (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) (SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD , not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“ You brought me nothing but pain ” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, do

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Witness (1985) (SPOILERS) Witness saw the advent of a relatively brief period – just over half a decade –during which Harrison Ford was willing to use his star power in an attempt to branch out. The results were mixed, and abruptly concluded when his typically too late to go where Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro had gone before (with at bare minimum Oscar-nominated results) – but not “ full retard ” – ended in derision with Regarding Henry . He retreated to the world of Tom Clancy, and it’s the point where his cachet began to crumble. There had always been a stolid quality beneath even his more colourful characters, but now it came to the fore. You can see something of that as John Book in Witness – despite his sole Oscar nom, it might be one of Ford’s least interesting performances of the 80s – but it scarcely matters, or that the screenplay (which won) is by turns nostalgic, reactionary, wistful and formulaic, as director Peter Weir, in his Hollywood debu

If that small woman is small enough, she could fit behind a small tree.

Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 2 (SPOILERS) I can’t quite find it within myself to perform the rapturous somersaults that seem to be the prevailing response to this fourth run of the show. I’ve outlined some of my thematic issues in the Volume 1 review, largely borne out here, but the greater concern is one I’ve held since Season Two began – and this is the best run since Season One, at least as far my failing memory can account for – and that’s the purpose-built formula dictated by the Duffer Brothers. It’s there in each new Big Bad, obviously, even to the extent that this is the Big-Bad-who-binds-them-all (except the Upside Down was always there, right?) And it’s there with the resurgent emotional beats, partings, reunions and plaintively stirring music cues. I have to be really on board with a movie or show to embrace such flagrantly shameless manipulation, season after season, and I find myself increasingly immune.

Get away from my burro!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) (SPOILERS) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is beloved by so many of the cinematic firmament’s luminaries – Stanley Kubrick, Sam Raimi, , Paul Thomas Anderson and who knows maybe also WS, Vince Gilligan, Spike Lee, Daniel Day Lewis; Oliver Stone was going to remake it – not to mention those anteriorly influential Stone Roses, that it seems foolhardy to suggest it isn’t quite all that. There’s no faulting the performances – a career best Humphrey Bogart, with director John Huston’s dad Walter stealing the movie from under him – but the greed-is-bad theme is laid on a little thick, just in case you were a bit too dim to get it yourself the first time, and Huston’s direction may be right there were it counts for the dramatics, but it’s a little too relaxed when it comes to showing the seams between Mexican location and studio.

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… dyin’ time’s here!

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Time was kind to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome . As in, it was such a long time since I’d seen the “final chapter” of the trilogy, it had dwindled in my memory to the status of an “alright but not great” sequel. I’d half-expected to have positive things to say along the lines of it being misunderstood, or being able to see what it was trying for but perhaps failing to quite achieve. Instead, I re-discovered a massive turkey that is really a Mad Max movie in name only (appropriately, since Max was an afterthought). This is the kind of picture fans of beloved series tend to loathe; when a favourite character returns but without the qualities or tone that made them adored in the first place (see Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull , or John McClane in the last two Die Hard s). Thunderdome stinks even more than the methane fuelling Bartertown. I hadn’t been aware of the origins of Thunderdome until recently, mainly because I was