Morbius review

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast : Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 105 min
Opens : 31 March 2022
Rating : PG13

The Low-Down: 1998 saw the release of Blade, a movie some credit with beginning the modern era of comic book movies. In a deleted scene from that film, the villain Michael Morbius made a cameo appearance, hinting at the possibility of a significant role in the sequel. This never materialised. 24 years later, Morbius makes his actual big screen debut.

Dr Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant haematologist who suffers from a rare genetic blood disorder. He has spent his entire life in search of a cure and has invented artificial blood along the way. Milo (Matt Smith), Morbius’ surrogate brother, also suffers from the same affliction. They were raised by Nicholas (Jared Harris), who runs a facility for patients suffering from rare diseases. Morbius’ latest attempt at a cure involves splicing bat DNA into his own genes, resulting in a form of vampirism. Alongside his colleague Dr Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius must find a solution before he ends up killing even more people than he already has.

Morbius is a straightforward origin story that is easy to follow and isn’t as bloated as many other comic book movies. There are a few glimmers of style, and some sequences are moderately exciting. Jared Leto is also not nearly annoying as he could have been and has been in other roles. At least one actor seems to be having fun, and others provide dependable support. That’s about it, as far as positives go.

The movie might not be an unwatchable train wreck, but it is dull. For all the talk in the promotional materials about how Morbius is “one of the most compelling and conflicted characters in Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters,” there’s just not very much to him and the other characters in the film. It’s a bog-standard Jekyll and Hyde-style scenario, with very few links to the wider Marvel universe. The most significant piece connecting this to the other movies was already spoiled in the trailer. Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless have written ho-hum fantasy action movies Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, as well as the disastrous Gods of Egypt, so it’s not exactly a surprise that Morbius doesn’t have the strongest screenplay.

Furthermore, there’s not a lot about this that is visually distinct, and the action sequences involving slow-motion and streaks of vapour representing Morbius’ echolocation powers often look laughably artificial. None of the set pieces are especially memorable. Not unlike Venom and to a greater extent its sequel Let There Be Carnage, Morbius is also hamstrung by a PG13 rating, meaning this is a vampire movie that can only show very limited amounts of blood. The film’s ultimate villain is also patently underwhelming.

Morbius is ostensibly the third film in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. This is a universe that is not directly linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but after the Multiverse-fracturing events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, characters could cross over. Apparently, there is a Spider-Man swinging about somewhere out there in this universe, though it remains to be seen if it is a Spider-Man we’ve already met in a previous movie. Venom was an unlikely box office success despite being a movie about a Spider-Man villain that completely omitted Spider-Man himself. It is unlikely that Morbius will achieve similar success, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Kraven the Hunter and the two other films in this universe set to be released in 2023.

Summary: Morbius is a mediocre comic book movie that is formulaic and dull. Jared Leto gives a perfectly serviceable performance, but the titular character is intended to be mysterious and conflicted when what we get instead feels like a sanitised Jekyll and Hyde story. Most of the supporting characters are created for the film instead of being drawn from the Marvel comics source material, making it feel like there isn’t a substantial link between this and the other movies in the franchise. Especially after the triumph of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Morbius feels like Sony’s Spider-Man Universe has one hand tied behind its back. Stay for two mid-credits scenes that very awkwardly attempt to tie this movie in with the larger franchise.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Allied

For F*** Magazine

ALLIED

Director : Robert Zemeckis
Cast : Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode, Simon McBurney
Genre : Romance/Drama/Historical
Run Time : 2 h 4 min
Opens : 5 January 2017
Rating : M18

allied-posterBrad Pitt is playing spy games again, and this time his partner is the slightest bit more fetching than Robert Redford. It is 1942 at the height of the Second World War, and Max Vatan (Pitt), a Royal Canadian Air Force intelligence officer, is dispatched to French Morocco. He is partnered with Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), a beguiling French Resistance fighter who is the lone survivor after the members of her resistance group were compromised and killed. Their mission is to assassinate the German ambassador Hobar (August Diehl) at a party in Casablanca. Against their better judgement, Max and Marianne fall in love with each other, eventually marrying and having a daughter. Just as he is growing accustomed to their new idyllic existence, Max winds up facing the possibility that there might be more to Marianne than meets the eye.

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Director Robert Zemeckis, whose credits include such influential films as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump, has assembled a resolutely old-fashioned film with Allied. This is a throwback to the wartime romantic thrillers of days gone by, but with considerably more swearing, sex and violence (in that order) than the Hays Code would’ve allowed. In invoking classics like Casablanca by setting its first half in, well, Casablanca itself, Allied has its charms. However, despite the afore-mentioned adult content, Allied comes off feeling sanitized. Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight seem to be going for the romanticised movie ideal of World War II over an authentic portrayal of the setting. The inadvertently makes Allied reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films, even though the tone here is markedly more serious.

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Zemeckis stages several suspenseful scenes with a master’s touch, and the moments in which Max and Marianne practice their spycraft are fun to watch. In hewing so close to established tropes and styles, Allied often teeters on the edge of cheesiness. For example, Max and Marianne share a steamy moment in the front seat of their car as a sandstorm rages outside, the camera lovingly swirling around them. It’s beautiful in its own way, yet ridiculous and snicker-inducing at the same time. Much of the film is like that, though it’s most obvious during the tryst-in-a-car-in-a-sandstorm.

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It’s a safe estimate that Pitt and/or Cotillard are in around 95% of the shots in Allied, with the supporting cast dwarfed by the leading stars. There was some salacious, sensationalist gossip that emerged at the time of the Brangelina divorce announcement, that Angelina Jolie had suspected Cotillard of coming on to Pitt while making this film. As such, it’s a bit of a shame that the pair share altogether too little chemistry. The earlier scenes in which the pair shares playful banter, which Marianne coaching Max on his Parisian accent, promise an explosive, passionate romance to remember. Alas, that is not the case.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

Pitt spends most of the film looking morose, and Max Vatan emerges as a largely uninteresting character. Max is sometimes too credulous to be an elite spy, even with romance clouding his judgement factored in. Pitt is by no means a terrible performer, but Cotillard acts rings around him and is significantly more magnetic a presence. She’s sultry and slinky, but always more than a mere caricature of a femme fatale.

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The stars and the costumes they wear are pretty to look at, but Allied provides little more than that. Thanks to Zemeckis’ years of experience, it is competently assembled and there are no egregious missteps along the way, but neither the thrills nor the romance have the visceral impact the story needs to be truly affecting.

Summary: Allied’s megawatt star pairing should have yielded more excitement than this, but Robert Zemeckis’ direction saves this old-timey wartime romance from being a completely staid experience.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

For F*** Magazine

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Director : Guy Ritchie
Cast : Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Luca Calvani
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens : 3 September 2015
Rating : PG-13 (Brief Nudity and Some Violence)
While superheroes do most of the world-saving on the big and small screen these days, back in the ‘60s, that was primarily the domain of the superspy. In this reboot of the classic TV show, we are transported back to 1963, at the height of the Cold War. When nuclear scientist Udo Teller (Christian Berkel) goes missing, American and Soviet intelligence agencies form an uneasy alliance to track him down. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) must go undercover to find Teller, with Kuryakin posing as the fiancé of Teller’s daughter, Gabby (Vikander). Gabby’s uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) works for an Italian shipping company run by Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria (Debicki) Vinciguerra, a couple in cahoots with former Nazis and with deadly designs on cutting-edge nuclear technology. Solo and Kuryakin have to work through their obvious differences while secretly pursuing their own agendas as the world stands on the brink of an all-out nuclear calamity. The seeds for a new agency, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.) are thus sown. 
A cinematic Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot has been in the works at Warner Bros. for over a decade, with a multitude of writers and a laundry list of directors including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Matthew Vaughn attached at some point or another. Practically every Hollywood male A-lister, from Christian Bale to Michael Fassbender to Tom Cruise, was considered for the lead role of Napoleon Solo. The film finally arrives with director Guy Ritchie at the helm and the Superman of the hour, Henry Cavill, playing Solo. Ritchie has obviously set out to make a throwback that stops a safe distance short of being a parody, seeing as this genre and this time period does lend itself so well to being lampooned. “Groovy, baby” anyone? Or maybe “LANAAAA!”? The end result is a bog-standard espionage thriller which Ritchie tries his best to spice up. 
This is very much a case of style over substance, as it has been with most of Ritchie’s movies. Editor James Herbert employs funky transitions and split-screen effects and the subtitles are rendered in an old-timey font with yellow lettering. Composer Daniel Pemberton’s jazz flute-heavy retro score is an aural treat and a refreshing change from the same-old same-old Hans Zimmer-style action movie music audiences have become accustomed to. “You Work for Me”, performed by Laura Mvula, is a wonderful homage to the Shirley Bassey-sung Bond themes of yore. There are also a few clever uses of cinematic sleight of hand, where the characters reveal something to each other but the audience is left in the dark until an opportune moment. 
Unfortunately, most of what’s interesting about this is purely superficial. The screenplay is heavy on both unwieldly exposition and double entendres that just aren’t quite witty enough. The pacing is patchy at best, with noticeable talky stretches in between the action. While there are several fun set pieces, including a boat chase as seen from a unique point of view, the film never achieves genuine edge-of-your seat thrills. Part of the climax includes a dune buggy chase which is somewhat incoherently shot. The comparisons to the recent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation are unavoidable, and that film certainly outclasses The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when it comes to exhilarating stunts. 
Henry Cavill, stepping into the role originated by Robert Vaughn, is appropriately debonair and old school chic, reminding audiences that he was only narrowly beaten to the James Bond role by Daniel Craig. Cavill is not the most arresting actor in the world and the cadence he affects sounds a little off at times, but he’s got his classically handsome features to fall back on. Armie Hammer, succeeding David McCallum, fares little better in the accent department, but he looks like he’s in on the joke as the brawny, stoic Kuryakin and he manages to be funny while playing the unfunny character. The scenes of comic one-upmanship and hints of bromance tend to hit their marks, even if this is far from the most memorable action hero buddy pairing we’ve seen. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Cavill’s or Hammer’s performances per se, but they can’t help but feel like the third or fourth choices for the roles. 
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who broke through with a mesmerizing turn in the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, possesses the requisite slinky mystique as the leading lady here. The character is a mechanic and a skilled driver, with Vikander valiantly attempting to keep Gabby from coming off as a third wheel. Vikander also gets to display her comedic chops, goofily dancing to Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” in an attempt to get Kuryakin to loosen up. Once again however, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation trumps this film in the female lead department, with fellow Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson getting a meatier role in the proceedings. Elizabeth Debicki has fun as the femme fatale, but doesn’t go as deliciously dastardly as she needs to be an outstanding villainess. Hugh Grant balances out the charming and authoritative sides of Solo and Kuryakin’s boss Waverly, but he’s in this for a very short time. 
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a watchable if unremarkable serving of spy-fi nostalgia. It’s sporadically entertaining and its leads are definitely very easy on the eye, but it’s lukewarm rather than sizzling, with all snazziness strictly on the surface. While Warner Bros. actively pursued a Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot for quite a while, it doesn’t seem like something audiences in general were clamouring for. It has its moments, but not quite enough of them for it to be worth getting excited about. 
Summary: Moderately stylish, moderately sexy and moderately entertaining – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t reach any particular heights, but it’s a decent spy-fi throwback.  
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong

The Man from Krypton meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

The Boxtrolls

For F*** Magazine

THE BOXTROLLS

Director : Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable
Cast : Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Jared Harris, Tracy Morgan
Genre : Animation
Opens : 11 September 2014
Rating : PG
Running time: 100 mins

We know we’re not alone in mishearing the lyrics to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit as “here we are now, in containers”. Orgeon-based animation studio Laika brings us the story of loveable, misunderstood beings – in containers. Evil, greedy pest exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) misleads the residents of Cheesebridge into believing that they are plagued by subterranean baby-eating monsters called the Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls, so named because they “wear” cardboard boxes, are really harmless tinkerers who collect discarded knick-knacks to build their own amusing doodads. The Boxtrolls raise a baby, whom they name “Eggs” (Hempstead-Wright), as one of their own. An adolescent Eggs discovers the world above and has to learn how to fit in as a regular boy, the precocious Winnie Portley Rind (Fanning) becoming his friend and teacher. Eggs and Winnie have to convince the populace of Snatcher’s deception to save the Boxtrolls from being completely wiped out as Eggs learns how he came to be cared for by the Boxtrolls.


            Based on Alan Snow’s fantasy novel Here Be Monsters!, The Boxtrolls is Laika’s third feature film, following Coraline and ParaNorman. Short of location filming on the surface of the planet Venus, stop-motion animation has got to be the most painstaking way to make a movie ever. With every movement needing to be tactilely manipulated, every tiny costume hand-stitched, every minute prop machined, it’s easy to see why it’s not a commonly-seen form of animation in theatres today. While the stop-motion work in The Boxtrolls is enhanced with computer animation, everything still has that quaint handmade feel to it. The studio manages to marry the old-fashioned with the cutting edge, using 3D printed parts in their puppets. The effort and care taken to craft Cheesebridge, the Boxtrolls’ domain below and all the inhabitants within is readily apparent and is something moviegoers should cherish, standing in sharp contrast with the production line feel of a film like Planes: Fire and Rescue. So, hats off to directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, lead animator (and Laika CEO) Travis Knight and all the artists and technicians involved.

            Just like the two films before it, Laika has wrangled a wonderful, predominantly British voice cast for The Boxtrolls. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, best known as Bran Stark on Game of Thrones, plays Eggs as a sweet, amiable, slightly lost fish out of water – it’s a good performance, though there are times when he can sound a little stiff. Elle Fanning is entertainingly headstrong and off-kilter as Winnie and follows in her older sister’s footsteps, Dakota Fanning having played the title role in Coraline. It is Ben Kingsley who truly steals the show with his rumbling, sneering turn as Archibald Snatcher. Combined with the grotesque character animation (that allergic reaction Snatcher has looks truly disgusting), Kingsley gives life to a vile, despicable villain who recalls the most memorable baddies from British children’s literature. The Child Catcher from the film and stage adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seems to have been a major source of inspiration. Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade are expectedly comical as two philosophical lackeys, with Tracy Morgan as the demented third henchman. Also noteworthy are the veteran voice actors who provide the Boxtrolls’ vocalisations, including experienced animated monster/creature portrayers Steven Blum and Fred Tatasciore.

            The message in The Boxtrolls is one we’ve seen before in family films – “different is good”. However, it is articulated in a sincere, charming manner here. The sweetness and fuzziness is balanced with gross-out moments that will have kids going “eww – but yeah!” There’s also some social commentary, with the aristocrats in charge of running Cheesebridge deciding that a giant wheel of Brie is a better use of their money than a children’s hospital and with Snatcher hankering after a white top hat, a symbol of status and power. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of visual invention that Coraline did and it is not as emotional and poignant as ParaNorman, that Laika magic is in full force in The Boxtrolls. Stick around for a mid-credits scene in which Mr. Trout (Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Ayoade) wax existential as the truth about the nature of their very being is revealed.


Summary: Laika keeps the flame of stop-motion animation burning bright with a warm, very funny, beautifully-crafted film, served with a side of the weird and gross.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong