It’s hard to say if Morbius was doomed from the start, but after years of anticipating its tepid arrival, the final film earns a yawn as large as its protagonist’s unhinged snarl. The response it sparks in the viewer lacks any heat or venom; pun most definitely intended. You can’t be mad about it. If anything, you’re relieved. We’re finally free from watching its stream of neverending trailers. The movie theaters are safe again.
Let’s take a moment and appreciate Morbius‘s agonizing crawl to our screens. There was release date number one: July 10, 2020. Then, the pandemic necessitated its push toward March 19, 2021, before receiving a second shift toward October 8, 2021. But No Time to Die moved into its release window, and Morbius fled for January 21, 2022… and then pushed another week to January 28, 2022. Omnicron reared, and Morbius finally found its spot on April Fool’s Day.
For those counting, that’s six retreats, meaning Morbius got more bumps than The New Mutants. And we couldn’t shut up about that infamous mess. With Morbius, however, you and I will forget about it before finishing this review. It’s harmless. The only thing it kills is time.
The title character, played by Jared Leto, suffers from a rare blood disease. Unless he can pull off an ethically gray and utterly illegal genetic transplant involving vampire bats, his days are numbered. So, the bad boy doctor rejects his Noble prize and boards an ocean liner where he can carry out his experiments on international waters.
Morbius’s research is funded by his childhood pal Milo (Matt Smith), who is inflicted with the same deadly condition. To protect his science, he foolishly fills the floating laboratory with pistol-packing mercenaries. They’re real jerkwads, flagrantly dismissing Morbius’s sidekick and love interest Dr. Bancroft (Adria Arjona), enthusiastically attempting to earn our ire so we can relish their throats getting eviscerated a few scenes later.
The operation is a success only in lengthening Morbius’s life. Otherwise, it’s transformed him into a blood-thirsty beast. The more he consumes, the stronger he becomes, and the wilder his powers splinter into the absurd. Morbius lives in perpetual bullet time, matching Neo’s twisty contortionism but trading the cool stare detachment for the Universal monster equivalent of Zoolander‘s Blue Steel. * Rawr *
Milo doesn’t mind the voguing or the unquenchable desire for blood. He wants in on Morbius’s quick-fix, stealing the serum from under his bud’s radically upturned nose. It’s a classic BFF switcheroo: Professor X vs. Magneto, Harry Osborn vs. Peter Parker.
Handcuffed to a PG-13 cinematic universe, director Daniel Espinosa sells the violence primarily on sound design and brief splashes of impossibly black blood. As slow and modeled as Morbius attacks, any contact with his opponents is blurry, fast, and out of sight. Masking the action even further is Oliver Wood‘s dreary cinematography, draping shadows on top of shadows and lighting everything else like a dentist’s office.
Confusing matters most are the two films Jared Leto and Matt Smith are performing within. Leto wants to walk the gothic, keeping pace with moody, self-loathing bloodsuckers like Brad Pitt’s Louis from Interview with a Vampire. Smith lives in ham-town, clearly having a blast in front of the camera, embracing his villainous tantrums with petulant glee. They collide on-screen but repulse each other, ejecting the audience in the process.
Barely existing along the fringes are Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal as the two FBI agents on loan from the Law and Order slush pile. They mostly drip quips and make vague allusions to the Venom movies, but Morbius‘s insecurity pulsates obscenely with every Daily Bugle reference. The thin-as-ice ties to better movies don’t act like the buoys the studio so clearly wishes them to be; instead, they operate as aggressive threats, “hand over your cash to Morbius, and this dreck will sink our other tangentially related Spidey-films.”
There’s a bit in the movie where Gibson and Madrigal have Leto in the box. Morbius’s gory thirst is reaching critical levels. He tells them, “I’m hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.” Yep, it’s another reminder of a better comic book property, The Incredible Hulk television series. But it’s also the same joke that The Incredible Hulk movie made in nearly the same way. It’s a swing and a miss and indictive of Sony’s desperate desire to have what they never can.
They don’t have the Avengers. They don’t have the X-Men. They only have Spider-Man, a character that flailed under their umbrella until they gave the reigns over to Marvel Studios. While Tom Holland made billions, they reached deep into Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery and pulled out Venom and Morbius and Kraven and Big Wheel – okay, that last one has no projects in motion, but just you wait. Sony is determined to make a universe from Spidey’s B-list, C-List, and D-List, but maybe they should have worried about making a kick-ass vampire film first and foremost.
Morbius is too caught up in modern superhero narratives and aesthetics. They should have followed Leto’s lead, chasing the fully fanged cinematic terrors of yore rather than the spandex dynamics of today. Of course, even Leto’s loose horror nods are cues to superior endeavors. Around every corner in Morbius are reminders of characters and worlds you’d rather occupy.
When the inevitable multiple mid-credits sequences appear, you’re left to roll your eyes. What you see is not Plan A. It’s probably not even Plan B. The ADR runs rampant; the actors on screen appear to cohabitate in different rooms and at different times. If you squint hard enough, you can spot the Scotch tape and glue holding the frame together. The logic of the dialogue doesn’t align, and whatever future the movie is promising contradicts past narratives and teases no one.
Our only hope is prayer, a whisper to the film gods; please let this final scene go the way of X–Men: Apocalypse‘s Essex Corporation and Green Lantern‘s Sinestro Corps. Morbius‘ tyranny can end here. It need not infect any other franchise.
Morbius opens in theaters everywhere on April 1st.