A brilliant doctor attempts to cure himself of a rare blood condition, but – whoops! – turns himself into a vampire in Morbius, a dull and dour adaptation of the Marvel Comics character. While Spider-Man: No Way Home received calls for Oscar consideration, new multiverse cousin Morbius is unlikely to follow that trend.
Jared Leto stars Michael Morbius, the brilliant doctor who has already invented synthetic blood and turned down a Nobel Prize by the time the movie opens. While he’s revolutionized the healthcare industry and likely saved millions of lives, he still considers himself a failure if he can’t find the piece of the puzzle to cure his own mystery illness.
That puzzle piece lies within vampire bats sourced from the caves of Costa Rica, which Leto’s Morbius lures out with his own blood in the film’s grandiose opening scene. As assistant Martine Bankroft (Adria Arjona) explores Morbius’ new aquarium filled with constantly-swarming bats (that can’t be healthy for the little fellas), some clumsy exposition fills us in to his master plan.
Cue dramatic experiment in international waters aboard a cargo ship named Murnau (wink, wink) funded by Morbius’ childhood friend Milo (Matt Smith), a member of European royalty who suffers from the same affliction. And within the first thirty minutes of Morbius, our main character has become a rabid CGI monster who sucks the blood out of the ship’s crew.
The first act of Morbius is familiar but efficient and well-crafted, as director Daniel Espinosa (Life, Safe House) wastes no time in getting through the story basics and evokes some nice atmosphere within the sterile laboratories and smoke-filled New York streets much of the film takes place in.
But while Morbius is set up as a horror-thriller in the mold of Hollow Man or The Fly, it sharply pivots: this bloodthirsty monster who has just eviscerated ten men on screen is no threat but the heroic new face of Sony’s Spider-Man-less superhero movies, soon to hook up with Tom Hardy’s Venom.
And so over the following two acts of the movie, Michael Morbius becomes a tortured anti-hero who comes to terms his newfound abilities, and finally the genuine hero who saves the day. He does so by taking down boyhood friend Milo, who has also injected himself with the vampire serum but becomes an actual monster, for reasons of plot necessity.
All throughout Morbius, Leto transforms between the effects-enhanced monster and the good doctor seemingly at will. It’s ostensibly when he needs to refill on blood (“you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry,” Morbius says, aping the Hulk), but the distinction between Jekyll and Hyde is never quite clear.
To make an action scene out of Jared Leto and Matt Smith chasing each through the New York City subway and atop skyscrapers, the filmmakers leave a cloud of Venom-like goo in their wake. It’s colorful eye-candy intended to distract us from the fact that we really have no idea of the power of these vampires, or the stakes involved as they slam each other into walls and off rooftops a la Man of Steel.
Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal show up the New York beat cops on the Morbius case, who reference similar goings-on in San Francisco; despite plenty of screen time, they’re given nothing to do beyond watching the events of the movie unfold. Jared Harris, too, is wasted in what should have been a larger role as Morbius and Milo’s caretaker.
Not one, but two mid-credit sequences after the finale attempt to follow-up on events of Spider-Man: No Way Home and set up a potential Sinister Six movie, something that Sony has been teasing for the past decade since the first Amazing Spider-Man movie.
Given the caustic reception Morbius is likely to receive, chances of that happening might be slimmer than ever. Unlike the fitfully fun Venom movies, Morbius is to Sony’s Spider-Man franchise what The Mummy was to Universal’s ill-fated Dark Universe.