Movie Review: Morbius
Spoiler Warning: This review contains plot details about Morbius.
Sony/Columbia Pictures was on a nice roll recently with their Spider-Man-related movies: Into the Spider-Verse, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. It has all come to a screeching halt with Morbius. Although it would be difficult to argue that the studio has wasted all the goodwill it has accumulated in the past few years, the bloom is definitely off the rose. Morbius is not only a massive disappointment but the marketing campaign promised more to fans than this generic, by-the-numbers origin story was able to deliver. Although the multiverse shenanigans from Spider-Man: No Way Home is sampled in a perfunctory fashion, that doesn’t happen until midway through the end credits when Michael Keaton (who for some curious reason is featured in the film’s advertising) makes his overdue appearance…which lasts all of about a minute.
Morbius opens with a scene that feels like it might have been taken out of a mid-20th century vampire movie. An emaciated Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), barely able to walk, disembarks from a helicopter to approach the opening of a large cavern that is home to a colony of vampire bats. He slits open his hand and extends it, inviting the bats to feast on his blood. They swarm around him and we’re treated to a flashback from Michael’s childhood at a sanitarium in Greece. It chronicles his meeting with lifelong friend Milo (played as an adult by Matt Smith) and illustrates his genius as a scientist/ engineer.
Most of the story takes place in New York City, where Michael has relocated as an adult. During his life, in an attempt to find a cure for the rare blood disease that afflicts him and Milo, he has invented a form of artificial blood but his most promising experiments cross the line into the realm of the unethical and involve splicing bat and human DNA. Feeling that time is running out, Michael makes himself human trial #1. The results are promising – he has increased speed, agility, and strength to go along with various bat-like abilities (like echolocation) – but it comes at a price: like a vampire, he must consume blood at regular intervals. Although the artificial blood initially works, he realizes that, over time, he will have to start drinking real blood to stay alive. Michael is horrified by the implications but Milo, who steals a vial of the serum and injects himself, doesn’t share his friend’s compunctions. The two become rivals and, as Michael hunts down Milo with the goal of stopping him, Michael’s girlfriend, Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), continues to work diligently in the lab.
Morbius is the kind of bland, by-the-numbers origin story that shows comic book movies at their least innovative. It follows a familiar trajectory that shows the hero and villain gaining their powers, baiting one another, then eventually fighting to the death. The ending is anticlimactic and most of the pyrotechnics and associated special effects seem anything but “special” in 2022. They’re not bad; they’re just a little overused and uninspired. When the titular character employs echolocation, the result looks cool but makes no sense whatsoever. Evidently, little effort was expended on figuring out how to make this sensible and coherent on-screen.
Director Daniel Espinosa seems more interested in making a horror movie than a superhero/supervillain one. The tension between the two genres is evident and not always fruitful. For a vampire story, the film is hampered by the PG-13 rating, and Morbius’ position in Sony’s Spider-Man spinoff universe disallows the film to get too dark. Michael is presented sympathetically as a tragic figure whose only real “out” may be suicide. But the movie rushes past the ethical quandary on the way to the obligatory smack-down and the potentially confusing credits scenes that seem desperate to establish a future team-up of Spider-Man baddies. (Something similar was started at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but gained no traction.)
In terms of faint positives, Jared Leto’s established intensity is on display. He’s broody and moody but his work here lacks the energy with which he invested his other comic book character, The Joker (in Suicide Squad). Here, he’s overshadowed by Matt Smith, who gives it his all and is about as far away from his milquetoast incarnation of Doctor Who as one might imagine.
Despite only being a little over 90 minutes long, Morbius is a chore to sit through. It lacks imagination, zest, and a thrill of discovery. While similar charges could be leveled against Sony’s first Spider-Man villain spin-off, Venom, at least that film had a sense of humour. It was also really fun to laugh at. Leto plays this with a seriousness that even Putin might find dour. It’s too early to condemn any eventual Sinister Six project but, unless better writing is involved, it’s going to make the theatrical release of Justice League look like a masterpiece.