Set in one of the now-infinite Marvel film universes, Morbius is an ill-fated venture of a film that gives Jared Leto a chance to redeem himself and his Oscar-winning acting abilities. It’s not even able to accomplish that, though, and somehow becomes one of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen — in a world where Thor: The Dark World and Dark Phoenix exist!
Leto plays the titular Dr. Michael Morbius, a man who’s suffered from a rare blood disease his entire life. His experiments, in hopes of finding a cure, leave him mutated and with an unquenchable thirst for human blood, with the FBI on his tail and his surrogate brother (Doctor Who’s Matt Smith) idolizing what Morbius has become.
Smith plays Milo, Morbius’ aforementioned surrogate brother, who was born with the same blood disease. He takes Morbius’ cure, knowing full well the effects it will have, and let’s just say that his desires are more violent than Michael’s. Smith, who has never given a bad performance throughout his entire career, is excellent in this film, and his garish commitment is the singular thing that made it a worthwhile viewing experience. Jared Harris, too, does a fine job with his limited screen time, but even powerhouses like Smith and Harris are unable to save a dog of a movie.
Given a better script, this film could’ve been special. It doesn’t feel like it’s past a first draft, and that's especially reflected in the cringe-worthy dialogue and complete lack of empathetic character work. None of the emotional moments land, but they might have if the story wasn’t as predictable as this year’s race for Best Actor at the Oscars.
Had it been developed further, I truly believe this film could have presented some interesting ideas. In the movie we get, none of the characters get beyond a basic motivation, if anything at all — Dr. Martine Bancroft (Good Omens’ Adria Arjona) is a completely one-dimensional character, and is constantly defined by her relationship to our lead, which makes the eventual half-baked romance feel almost insulting. She’s the one female character with any sort of role in the plot (if you could call it that), and the film does her such a disservice it might’ve just been better to leave her out entirely.
One promising element of Morbius was the fact that it advertised itself in the horror vein. While, yes, the introduction of the vampire side of Michael Morbius plays itself similarly to a horror film, the rest of the movie ditches that concept entirely, electing to go a route entirely dictated by CGI and the “same vs. same” fights that the MCU still has trouble with. Here, it takes the concept quite literally, with not a hint of originality in sight — which is also a disservice to the visual effects, some of which are excellent and could be terrifying, if given the right platform to truly shine! Though they can get silly at times, they’re another highlight and make Morbius at least slightly diverse in a visual sense.
The character of Morbius first debuted almost fifty years ago, meaning that there’s at least one hundred comic books that feature the living vampire; one hundred comics from which to mine unique ideas and stories that can be woven into a different kind of origin that honors the character’s roots, while respecting the universe that the Marvel folks have been so careful to craft over the last fourteen years. Morbius throws that (and almost all potential universe connections, shot but ending up on the cutting room floor) all the way out the door in favor of blandness and bore. The fact that we’re still not past these incredibly formulaic and generic superhero origin stories is really a shame, because these are properties that can be used to make magic on the big screen — so when it’s a letdown, it’s a big one.
Let’s not call Morbius a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, that would do too much to tarnish Marvel’s reputation. Unlike Venom, it’s not bad in an entertaining way, and at a point it’s just unpleasant to watch — not to mention excruciatingly dull at times. How it ends up being boring is a complete mystery to me, as it should be extremely difficult to mess up a vampire superhero film with a boatload of action this badly. I hope Morbius never ends up being required viewing for future films — though, if it makes any money, the post-credits scene all but confirms it — but for now, it’s better left dead and buried.
Morbius is in theaters now.