*Warning: the following review contains spoilers for Morbius, but everything discussed here was revealed by the director himself a week before the film came out (and were in the trailers). But I am warning anyone who wasn’t aware.*
During the end credits of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the filmmakers gratefully acknowledged “the original true believer, AVI ARAD, whose vision led the way to bringing these iconic characters to screen,” as if he was some genius for tarnishing not only the Raimi-verse but also the Webb-verse after trying to set-up their last installments (twice!) for a Sinister Six spinoff. “Never two without three,” it seems, with the latest film in Sony’s Spider-Man universe, Morbius, only serving as a backdoor pilot to introduce the Sinister Six yet again! Though it now seems that Arad’s twisted vision of a “Sinister Six” film is now within reach, with Kraven the Hunter and “Madame Web” hitting our screens very soon. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that “Morbius” is a top-to-bottom disaster, with some of the worst “superhero” (if you can call it like that) action ever put to film and a superficial story leaving little to be desired.
After being delayed for seven (!) times due to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, Doctor Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is finally at our service. The doctor in question suffers from a rare blood disorder that is shortening his life expectancy. Looking for a cure, he turns to bats (for some odd reason that gets barely explained) and fuses human DNA with bat DNA. After injecting the “cure” into himself, he becomes the titular “Living Vampire” and has heightened senses, fight mechanics, and an insatiable hunger for human blood. Unfortunately, his best friend, Milo (Matt Smith), also suffering from the same condition as Michael, injects himself with the serum against Michael’s wish, and…well…it’s Morbius versus Evil Morbius, just like the Venom movies had Venom fight Evil Venom twice. How original.
It’s funny how Marvel’s main villain problem is how the hero is always pitted against an “evil” version of him, with the same powers, but “evil” or “bigger and better,” and with a weakness, since the hero always triumphs in the end. That was (painstakingly) apparent in the SSU films, but it’s also a problem plaguing the MCU for a long time. White Vision is cool and all, but we’ve already seen a hero fight their “evil version” in the franchise.
What’s interesting about Michael Morbius is that he isn’t a hero. In the film, he is painted as having a moral grey area between good and evil. By nature, he isn’t good. His impulse for blood causes him to kill innocent people to satiate his hunger, but he also doesn’t want to drink blood. So he uses artificial blood most of the time. However, the effect starts to wane as his vampirism rapidly becomes an integral part of who he is as an individual. And so we’re pitted against an already evil person in Michael Morbius with a “more evil” version of Morbius since Milo kills anyone he sees without a conscience because, well, he’s a vampire, of course!
No, really. That’s the entire villainous plot of the movie. Milo wants to eat people. Michael doesn’t and tries to stop him from causing further harm to innocent people. That’s why they fight. There’s no weight to any fight scenes because the antagonist’s motivations are so paper-thin (and his powers are precisely similar to Morbius’s) that we’re quickly bored by whatever comes at us.
If Michael doesn’t want to accept that he’s now a vampire, that’s his fault. He doesn’t want to accept his new identity. But Milo has fully accepted his unique abilities (and even dances to Off the Meds’ EKSE to prove it, in the movie’s best sequence) and uses them in any way a bloodthirsty vampire would. But Michael wants to be a vampire with a conscience, only using his powers to do good in the world, even if anti-heroes plague the entire world he lives in? How will that work out for him, especially if he’s supposed to be an antagonist fighting Spider-Man in later movies? Is he good, bad, or in the “grey area” mentioned above? Who knows, and who cares? That’s what director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless think.
There is genuinely no care from the writers to flesh out every question it asks on Michael Morbius’ path to superheroism. He’s a villain and a vigilante anti-hero/cold-blooded murdered and then full-fledged superhero. But there’s no cohesive throughline that makes him naturally progress from his misunderstood status to his heroic one. Morbius only becomes whatever the script wants him to be, at any given moment, without any attention to developing him as a compelling character. Instead, the filmmakers want the movie to wrap up as quickly as possible and promptly run through Morbius’ origin story so we can get to the “good stuff” (more on that later). As a result, the film is neither interesting (since it sacrifices any instance of good character development) nor gripping because the filmmakers never once care about the characters they introduce. They’re too busy setting up the subsequent fifteen films in a shared universe of movies nobody wants to see!
Jared Leto looks incredibly bored here as Morbius. The method actor, always going to extreme lengths to immerse himself in his character, genuinely seems disinterested in any material he’s given and is clearly doing it for the money. Even the more “emotionally impactful” scenes where tension should raise aren’t gripping with Leto at the lead, sleepwalking through his lines (and mood swings), and having the most robotic fighting style since Liam Neeson’s light slapping everyone in the Taken trilogy. Espinosa’s answer to “add” emotion to the script is to make the two main actors yell out their lines in Vampire-form, which makes for incredible unintentional hilarity, yet adds no dramatic gravitas whatsoever.
Smith was good in this movie because he knows how stupid everything is. Leto wants to make everything serious, but you can’t make a movie in which a vampire/human hybrid flies in the sky through the power of fart clouds seriously. No exaggeration here; that’s how the VFX looks (and feels). As far as the action goes, you can’t understand anything during the fights. At first, it’s because Espinosa assaults your eyes with a barrage of fart clouds. After that, he brings in the bats. Maybe it’s to hide how awful the CGI looks, but the bats ruin the entire climax. Michael and Milo fight as a swarm of bats overtake every ounce of the frame. And you can’t see anything.
It’s a shame when you realize that Espinosa and cinematographer Oliver Wood were on to something here, trying to attempt something visually enticing. Still, the film’s choppy editing, overreliance on slow-motion, and frame-assaulting bats completely tarnish their attempts at kinetic action in the same style as a Zack Snyder picture. There are instances in which you clearly see Espinosa’s love for Snyder, but it gets quickly bogged down by ridiculous fart cloud-like effects and some of the worst Vampire CGI I’ve ever seen.
And after about an hour and a half of pointless fights and poor development, here comes Morbius with the real kicker in its post-credit sequences. Spoiler alert, I guess, but the director spoiled them himself a week before the movie came out, and they’re in the trailers? Which…why? But they represent the worst type of setup with any Marvel property thus far. Bringing in Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) from the MCU was a fine suspension of disbelief, but what they do afterward is entirely ridiculous. Suppose you want audience members to be excited about the next Marvel title. In that case, you need to give them a reason to be hyped beyond the post-credits tease, which means setting up compelling characters in the movie before hyping up the sequel (or the next crossover event). But since Morbius has little redeeming qualities, save for Matt Smith’s deliciously ridiculous performance as Milo and Jon Ekstrand’s thumping score, the post-credits scene falls flat on its face.
It’s even worse when it contains the single worst lines of dialogue from the entire film, especially when Morbius has no connection to the MCU, Toomes, and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man! How in the hell does he get “intrigued” by Toomes’ proposition to assemble a “team” of people “who would do some good” by going after Spider-Man, when the universe he lives in doesn’t even have a Spider-Man? Or, at the very least, the universe he lives in has a different iteration of Spider-Man? Morbius doesn’t even know of the Multiverse, nor does Toomes, for that matter! He just blatantly accepts that he’s in another universe, assembles another suit (?), and meets…Michael Morbius? Not Venom? You’re seriously expecting me to believe that the Vulture would meet Morbius first and then go after Venom? Kraven? Madame Web? Who are way more popular characters than Morbius? Come on…
Oh wait, it’s a Sony movie. One that barely cares about continuity and a compelling story and only wants to set up the next film for the inevitable Sinister Six production that may never happen if audience interest quickly dwindles. Having the after-effects of Doctor Strange’s spell from No Way Home ripple through the Sony universe is totally fine (and expected), but make it make sense. It, unfortunately, doesn’t, and that’s a significant problem that many multiversal stories will have to go through in the following years. The rules must be clear, but it completely forgoes any rules that Strange himself talked about in No Way Home! And so how do you want me to get excited for Sinister Six if you can’t make a good movie first and have your setup make sense? Oh wow, that gave me a terrific headache.
And judging by the number of seats sold for Morbius, Avi Arad may not be getting the Sinister Six/Multiverse movie he wants after all…unless Marvel Studios tries to salvage whatever the hell they’re doing…and fast.
Morbius is now playing in theatres everywhere.