Marvel and horror has been attempted before (see: 2020’s notorious bomb The New Mutants, which I actually quite liked myself), but long-delayed Morbius from Life and Safe House director Daniel Espinosa attempts to dive deep into the vampiric delights that no production has dared before. Previously, my only familiarity with this character was via his badass representation in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. When Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto was officially cast in the lead role, my interest was piqued. Delay after delay, my anticipation waned until finally, like some weird April Fool’s Day joke, Sony delivers Morbius to hungry moviegoers around the world. Channeling the energy of flat CGI-heavy early 2000s flicks such as Van Helsing, Morbius makes minimal effort to justify its existence beyond the obvious afterthought of tying it into a larger cinematic universe.
Michael Morbius (Leto), who was once a genius boy with something vital missing from his DNA, has now blossomed into a scientist dubbed the “leading authority on blood-borne diseases.” Michael has never forgotten his humble roots, staying in touch with the man (Emil, Jared Harris) who believed in him enough to send him away to a school for gifted children in New York, as well as a crippled young boy (Milo, Matt Smith) who is now a rich aimless drunk that funds Michael’s research. As the progression of physical deterioration increases in both Michael and Milo, Michael becomes ever more determined to find a cure for their ailment.
Not a single iota of this is explained during the opening scene, which finds Michael landing in a helicopter with a small crew in Costa Rica. He slices open his hand, and a preposterous swarm of bats emerges from a massive cave nearby. The film’s editing leaves something to be desired, as we do not pick up on Michael’s bat-related journey until awhile later. Only in passive conversation between fellow scientist Martine (Adria Arjona), a realist afraid to push the boundaries, does the audience ascertain that Michael had transported a swath of these bats back to his lab. Dr. Morbius is toying with a mixture of human and bat DNA, experimenting first on mice until he is able to graduate to the first human experiment: himself.
Morbius is easy to predict as it chugs along at (thankfully) a breezy pace. If Michael doesn’t drink blood, he begins reverting back to his frail self, with bones cracking and instant-abs vanishing. Milo, Michael’s childhood friend, becomes jealous of his new looks whilst ignoring the obvious consequences. Bats welcome Morbius “like a brother,” and useless, bumbling detectives try to get on the case for a “vampire murderer” that is taking New York City by storm. The dialogue is not quite as cringe-worthy as one would suspect, and Morbius has a surprisingly high body count for a PG-13 production.
I cannot say how closely this sticks to the comic-book source material; however, this is honestly irrelevant when it comes to constructing a competent film that is able to function on even a basic surface level. Rest assured that Morbius is at least entertaining—it is the second time audiences can hear Jared Leto saying “chic” in an accent other than his own, Matt Smith gets to pose shirtless in front of a mirror to a blasting hip-hop song, and an absurdly large subway battle could make one giggle with glee or cringe in disgust, depending on one’s level of attachment to the material. During a loud, clunky final battle, just try deciphering what is happening beyond two entirely computer-generated characters tumbling aggressively down buildings.
Morbius desperately wants to be the next Matrix, content to display numerous sequences of slow-motion and ripping off the literal bullet-dodging hijinks of that film. The actors don’t even appear to grasp the tone of what type of movie they are making here, save Matt Smith, who hams it up with a silly flourish. Morbius ultimately feels half-cooked, which is a shame for a movie that has sat in the metaphorical oven for long enough to have emerged a tasty meal. Whether a case of too many cooks in the kitchen or a confused tonal abnormality, Morbius is a sad excuse for a movie that, on paper, was a literal home run. Be sure not to miss two of the weakest end credits sequences that Marvel has done to date. I have to admit what it promises seems tantalizing, yet doesn’t make the slightest bit of logical sense. Sony’s newest Spider-Verse entry seems an aimless, neutered diversion for a cast and concept that deserved A-list consideration.
Morbius lunges for the throats of audiences everywhere when it premieres exclusively in theaters on Friday, April 1st.