Review: Much-Delayed Morbius Misses the Chance to Launch a Truly Compelling Comic Book Anti-Hero

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that any comic book character that has even the most remote stink of Spider-Man on them is fair game for a film adaptation (I’m looking at you, Venom movies), whether they deserve one or not. And this has never been clearer than with the latest “Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters” cash grab, Morbius, which the press notes describe as an “enigmatic antihero.” As both a massive Spider-Man comic book fan growing up, as well as a great lover of all things vampire, Morbius was a personal favorite of mine. He’s a scientifically created bloodsucker attempting to cure himself of a rare blood disease by synthesizing  vampire bat DNA with his own and, in the process, becoming a hybrid creature with super strength plus a type of sonar, an upturned nose, pointy teeth, and hollow bones, allowing him to fly on the wind. He really is the best of both worlds.

The film’s version of Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has a bit more of a tragic backstory that includes having this crippling disease from childhood, which inspires him to dedicate his life to finding a cure for many others with his disease. In the process, he invents an artificial blood that has led to millions of being saved in emergency situations and made him world famous in the process. Aided by Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona, Pacific Rim: Uprising) and funded by filthy rich old friend Milo (Matt Smith), who also has this disease, Dr. Morbius tests the cure on himself and turns himself into the vampire creature. He is able to satiate his blood lust with his artificial blood, but the time between feedings grows shorter over time, and it becomes clear that human blood is the only thing that will truly keep him from reverting back to his old sickly self.

With a pair of idiot detectives (Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal) after whatever it is that is draining victims of their blood around town, Morbius is forced to keep a low profile while he searches for a way to mitigate his thirst. Meanwhile, Milo becomes so enraged that Michael won’t share his cure with him that he steals the serum and becomes a living vampire himself. Naturally, Milo has no qualms about feeding on human blood…or wearing flashy suits and strutting around like he’s starring in a musical with no music. For as much as Leto underplays his version of a vampire, Smith more than makes up for it by posing for the cameras and allowing his fabulously floppy hair to hang in his face and look cool. For as hammy as he gets, at least Smith knows what movie he’s in.

Morbius is front loaded with pedestrian transformation special effects and even worse visuals for Morbius flying, with what appear to be vapor trails around him when he does. I will give the filmmakers credit for nailing the look of Morbius, who appears exactly as he does in the comics, albeit without the trademark collared red-and-blue costume. This is one of those rare superhero films that would have truly benefitted from an R rating, if only to give the killings some much-needed weight, instead of the neutered, bloodless treatment they get here.

With a screenplay from Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless, the film represents a series of missed opportunities to address bigger issues that might have driven home the antihero label, such as the moral implications of developing such a cure. It’s the classic case of asking yourself “Can we do it?” instead of “Should we do it?”, yet the film never allows us to even consider such things. Instead, we get another dopey flying sequence and more moments of Leto hiding behind his long hair, snarling at the camera to show off his fangs. To be clear, Leto is actually fairly effective as Morbius. He manages to reel in the inclination to overplay a comic book character (a la Smith), which makes his transformations into a vampire all the more effective. This film has been delayed so many times during the pandemic, many believed it would never come out. But in all that time, the makers apparently couldn’t be bothered to forge something a little bit stronger and more substantial.

Much like Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the actual climax of Morbius is dull as paint. Instead, the movie saves its most compelling moments for a pair of tacked on mid-credits scenes that wedge in better-known moments/characters from recent Spider-Man movies to give us hope that the Spider-Man we know and love might actually show up in one of these second-tier titles. Let the holding of our collective breath commence. In the meantime, treat yourself to this lemon if you’re feeling desperate.

The film is now playing theatrically.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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