Jared Leto in “Morbius” / Columbia Pictures
Once upon a time vampires were verboten from comic books by a governing entity called the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which sprang to life in the 1950s at the height of McCarthyism to protect the nation’s youth from the nefarious and foul material being churned out by comic-book companies of the the day.
The CCA, which nearly strangled the comic-book industry to death before Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, et al reinvigorated the industry with its brand of Marvel super heroes in the 1960s, forbade most super-natural hokum in comics, including vampires.
In 1971 Lee, Marvel editor and scripter of “Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Fantastic Four,” decided to test the CCA, pushing its bounds just a bit by introducing the character Morbius, the Living Vampire, in the pages of “Amazing Spider-Man” No. 101.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man approaches Michael Morbius, a revered geneticist, to get help in relieving himself of four extra arms he surprisingly grew that made him more spider-like but an outcast. Morbius does help Spidey; however, the two end up tussling when Spidey learns that Morbius is a blood-sucker.
Aside from short periods of time in the 1970s, 1990s, and 2000s when the character had its own title, Morbius has been a C-list villain or antihero in the Marvel Universe, mostly pulled out of mothballs around Halloween, but today, the character reaches the big time when the oft-delayed Sony release “Morbius” opens in theaters.
With the latest Spidey film being a pandemic-record setter, making more than $800 million domestically, “Morbius” is highly anticipated with its supposed ancillary ties to Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unfortunately for those expecting such a crossover, the movie proper either never had that intention or was scrubbed clean. There are two mid-credit scenes featuring Micheal Keaton, who played the Vulture in the MCU, with multiverse implications; however, some were hoping for or even expecting more.
Morbius delivers nothing like “more,” other than an over-the-top but fun performance by Matt Smith as a long-time friend of Jared Leto’s Morbius, named Milo, who suffers from the same blood disease as his buddy.
Leto plays Moribus, with a restrained passion that works for him, particularly in the first two-thirds of the film. Morbius cures his blood disease by splicing his genes with that of bats. Along with giving him super strength and speed and the ability to fly or at least glide, the cure leaves Morbius hankering for blood and with a demonic-like countenance, once that thirst rises to a certain uncontrollable level.
Morbius slakes his thirst with synthetic blood of his own creation, but since it’s not the real thing, the fake stuff leaves him desiring sustenance at an ever quickening rate, similar to a heroin addict jonesing for the next hit.
Milo, who also undergoes Morbius’ “cure,” has no aversion to feeding off human blood, setting the former friends at odds.
No doubt, it’s a pulpy plot, but it could have worked better with more innovation from director Daniel Espinosa and a bit more fire from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’ script.
From his performance as the Joker in 2017’s “Suicide Squad” and last year’s work in “House of Gucci,” we know Leto can deliver more, but here he undersells the character a bit, underscoring the movie overall tepid nature. It’s a bit too tame to truly thrill or horrify.
As mentioned earlier, Smith has more fun with his villain turn. The fetching Adria Arjona plays Martine Bancroft, Morbius’ research partner and girlfriend in a role the promises more if there is a sequel.
Al Madrigal and Tyrese Gibson play New York City police detectives on the case. Madrigal brings some character and humor to his role, but Gibson is stiff, trying to play the tough guy. Ultimately their roles are inconsequential in a film that seemed truncated with a running time 1 hour and 44 minutes. At least, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Cinematographer Oliver Wood shines brighter perhaps than anyone associated with the movie. It’s fabulously composed, but suffers a bit from muddy CGI special effects when the vampires move rapidly, fly, or fight.
I did enjoy that the script paid homage to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” with Morbius making mincemeat of a ship full of hired mercenaries just as the Count did to the crew of the cargo ship Demeter in the book as the ship traversed from Wallachia to Great Britain with Dracula and his coffins in the hull.
A subway fight between Morbius and Milo also provoked thoughts of the subway chase and subsequent mauling of a businessman in 1981’s “American Werewolf in London.” I’m not sure if that was intentional or not? Either way it was a detriment to the film. The last thing a mediocre movie should do is make the viewer’s mind wander toward a classic of the genre.
The crux of the movie’s problem may be the public’s familiarity with vampire films and literature. It creates an unavoidable hurdle for the movie. We’ve been entertained and inundated by so much vampire material particularly on television over the last two decades with shows like “True Blood,” ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and even “The Vampire Chronicles,” to be scared or surprised by the blood-sucking creature.
Unfortunately “Morbius” seems like a retread in the character’s first film appearance.
(PG-13) 1 hr. 44 min.
“Dog,” “The Lost City” offer double dose of Tatum
Channing Tatum is having a bit of a moment with two films in theaters simultaneously with “The Lost City,” which opened last week, and “Dog,” which is likely nearing the end of its theatrical run.
The likable and handsome lug, who specializes in playing characters who aren’t always the brightest bulb in the box, may not ever win an Oscar, but he does have a certain charm to go with his good looks. Even more importantly, he tends to have winning chemistry with whomever he plays opposite, whether it’s a star like Sandra Bullock in “The Lost City” or just a pooch like Lulu in “Dog.”
Both pictures are enjoyable. “The Lost City” seems crafted specifically for a date night. However, I liked “Dog” a bit more. My expectations may have been set a bit too high for “The Lost City,” which had the air of a latter day “Romancing the Stone”, but whose tone is a bit loonier than I expected.
Channing Tatum in “Dog” / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
“Dog,” which Tatum co-directed with Reid Carolin, tells the story of two wounded warriors. Tatum plays Jackson Briggs, a U.A. Army Ranger, who is suffering from PTSD, who only wants to serve again. Lulu is the service dog of Briggs’ squad mate Riley, who died in service.
Briggs is given the duty of escorting Lulu, who is exhibiting emotional and behavioral problems, to Riley’s funeral in Arizona with the promise if he completes the mission, he will be recommended for recommission.
What seemed to be a simple mission becomes a nightmare for Briggs, who can’t get Lulu to behave on the journey of mishaps and adventures that ends up being therapeutic for Briggs and Lulu. The two help each other to heal. However, the completion of the mission creates a difficult choice for Briggs that leaves Lulu’s life on the line.
The film’s antics are hit and miss, but overall “Dog” stroked me my sweet spot for the type of pooch-and-pal movie that I doted on as a kid.
It was also fun to see a much thinner and ripped Ethan Suplee (“Remember the Titans”) on screen once again as an old buddy of Briggs, who struggled with similar issues.
(PG-13) 1 hr. 41 min.
The Lost City
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in “The Lost City” / Paramount Pictures
In “The Lost City,” Tatum plays the Fabio-like cover model Alan Caprison to Bullock’s bored and reclusive romantic-adventure novel writer Loretta Sage, who feels she has run out of ideas for her series of best-selling Dash McMahon stories.
On a book tour for her latest and perhaps last novel “The Lost City of D,” which in part was based on the archaeological work of her deceased husband, Loretta is kidnapped by eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who believes she has clues or can at least interpret clues that will lead him to the Crown of Fire.
Alan, who secretly is infatuated by Loretta, witnesses the kidnapping and then hires man-of-action Jack Trainor (Brad Pitt) — a real-life mercenary — to help him save the author. Trainor is everything that Alan appears to be on the covers of Loretta’s novel, but isn’t in real life.
Even still the rescue attempt goes awry, leaving Alan and Loretta to fend for themselves on the island.
Pitt’s extended cameo is hilarious and reminiscent of something out of “Tropic Thunder,” but its tone really doesn’t fit the rest of the movie.
Bullock and Tatum have excellent chemistry together, making the movie fun and goofy, but maybe a little bit too much so?
Radcliffe is hilarious and maybe the best part of the movie as the villain— aside from Pitt — but while his over-the-top take on a Bond or Indiana Jones-type adversary is fun, it is also quite silly.
The film, directed by Adam and Aaron Nee, has one foot in traditional adventure and one foot in parody, leaving the viewer with a mixed message.
The film would have been stronger if they had made the decision whether to make a comedic adventure or a parody of adventure films. The tonal shift back and forth did the movie no favors.
That said I left the theater smiling. Pitt and Radcliffe were hilarious, and with the chemistry shown between Bullock and Tatum, I wouldn’t mind seeing them star together again not in a sequel to this movie but rather in another film with less scatter-shot direction.
Unfortunately, “The Lost City” is another film in which the parts were greater than the whole.
(PG-13) 1 hr. 52 min.