Sony’s effort to build its own universe of Spider-man-adjacent superhero stories which has borne huge fruit with the two Venom movies, continues with Morbius, an all-around ill-conceived effort sporting a boring hero, an uninteresting villain, and probably the least-appealing visual style of any film this year.
The film, directed by the Chilean-Swedish director Daniel Espinosa (Life, Safe House), is based on the Marvel character Morbius, the Living Vampire. While its premise has a germ of a good idea, its story can never quite get going, and its visual style is cruddy and ugly. The action sequences, in particular, are a chore to sit through.
The premise of Morbius is that Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has suffered for his entire life from a rare blood disease. Raised in what appears to be a hospital/orphanage hybrid under the care of a doctor (Jared Harris), Morbius grows up to become a brilliant scientist who has devoted his life to trying to cure the condition, but for himself and others similarly afflicted.
Morbius then attempts a cure, involving bats, so experimental and controversial that it can only be performed on a boat in international waters- and it succeeds, with the unfortunate side effect of turning him into a vampire. No, it doesn’t require him to be undead, and he can still be outside in the sunlight. But he gets all the other aspects of vampirism, including the Dracula-style fingers, and the overwhelming urge to suck blood.
The character spends most of the movie trying to be an “ethical” vampire, able to inject synthetic blood to keep the demons away, at least for dwindling periods of time. Meanwhile, his lifelong best friend (Matt Smith), who had a similar condition, isn’t so concerned about the ethical part.
There are some decent ideas here, but most of them, whether it’s his quest to not kill or various allegorical elements have been well-trodden before, especially by Twilight, True Blood, and other touchstones of the vampire craze of the aughts.
The biggest failure of the film, though, is visual. It looks like crud, almost every minute. The action scenes, in particular, are a poorly shot muddle, with shaky-cam galore. And it concludes with one of the more underwhelming finales of any superhero film in memory. I would also love, one of these days, for the mid- or post-credits sequence of one of these things to be held somehow besides a prison or mental hospital.
Leto, needless to say, is something of a polarizing actor. No one has such a great opinion about his brief turn as the Joker, and his turn in last year’s House of Gucci was much-mocked (though I laughed my ass off every minute he was on screen.) Leto’s method intensity is serving him well currently on WeCrashed, the current Apple series about the collapse of WeWork.
But in Morbius, he gives something of a listless performance, one that leaves no mark. That’s also the case with Smith, who gets one great moment where he gets to dance, but doesn’t make much of an impression otherwise. Adria Arjuna has quite an on-screen presence as Morbius’ partner and love interest, but she isn’t given much to do.
Meanwhile, Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal, portraying a pair of FBI agents investigating the paranormal events, are off in their own little movie — one that owes more to The X-Files than to anything Marvel — which is much more interesting than the main one.
There’s one amusing thing I noticed, which is that every time the film shows a news report, there’s a bit at the end in which the reporter says “a source” has told them some insider info about what happened in the previous scene. This implies that the FBI agent characters, offscreen, have been leaking to the press all along. It’s like the screenplay is making a subtle point about the interplay between media and law enforcement, in a movie that has practically nothing to say about anything else.
Still, these are the first movie cops I’ve ever seen who, after a long stretch investigating a crime scene, look up and notice that there’s a surveillance camera. I’d imagine most law enforcement professionals would look for that first.
I hated both Venom films too, which were huge hits, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Morbius succeeds and leads to numerous future sequels and spinoffs (the Venom movies, at least, offered some humor, and a charismatic lead performance). But Morbius, in most ways, is ghastly.
- Stephen Silver