Review: MORBIUS, Marvel's Living Vampire Gets an Underwhelming Origin Film
Jared Leto and Matt Smith star; Daniel Espinosa directed.
When Sony broke the news in 2016 that Venom, arguably Spider-Man’s second- or third-most important comic-book-based supervillain, would get a solo big-screen adaptation, MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) fans understandably asked how, if not why, the bad-tempered, over-sharing, cannibalistic alien symbiote would appear in the MCU and how Venom would fit into Marvel-Disney’s plans.
The answer was both simple and, at least at the time, perplexing: Thanks to the soon-to-be-over-exploited multiverse, Venom would appear in a Spider-Man adjacent universe without Spider-Man or with the Spider-Man MCU fans know and love a marginal, tangential figure who’s never referenced or mentioned. And with Venom a major box-office hit for Sony Pictures, other Spider-Man characters currently leased to Sony were bound to pop up somewhere down the line in a Venom sequel, if not get a standalone/solo film of their own.
That, in turn, eventually led to one of Marvel’s more obscure, supernatural/horror-themed anti-heroes/supervillains, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), to get an origin story to call his own, Morbius, regardless of fan interest or even recognition. Giving the role to a relatively high-profile, somewhat popular actor like Leto, an Academy Award-winner (in)famous for approaching every role with Method Acting seriousness and the first post-Heath Ledger Joker in the now-defunct Snyderverse, made sense at the time, but after multiple delays, some related to the global pandemic and some not (reshoots spread across two years), and a running social media gag that posited Morbius didn’t actually exist as a feature-length film, just a collection of teasers and trailers, the Leto-led arrives in multiplexes simultaneously with the far superior Moon Knight miniseries on Disney+.
When we first meet Morbius, a genius-level, Nobel Prize-winning scientist obsessed with finding the cure to the unnamed blood-related disease that’s left him physically frail and perpetually dying, he’s on an all-important research trip in the mountains of Costa Rica, collecting an entire cave’s worth of vampire bats for a potentially life-altering experiment while the hired help scatters in all directions. Funded by the incredibly deep pockets of a lifelong friend, Milo (Matt Smith), who similarly suffers from the same disease, Morbius hopes to fuse vampire bat DNA with human DNA and like every cliched mad scientist going back centuries, use himself as a test subject. Morbius recognizes the blatant illegality involved in the idea, less so the ethics or morality, pushing forward with his plan with the help of paid mercenaries aboard an off-shore cargo ship and his lab partner/romantic interest, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona, badly underused).
Even with modest safeguards in place, testing the new vampire-bat/human serum on himself goes predictably awry, turning the frail Morbius into the “Living Vampire,” a super-powered (strength, speed, hearing/echo-location) who needs human blood to survive. At least at first, though, Morbius discovers he can survive temporarily on the artificial blood that earned him that Nobel Prize.
The efficacy of ingesting artificial blood to control Morbius’s outsized appetites, however, shortens by the week, the day, and the hour, forcing Morbius to make a seemingly impossible decision: Give into his baser impulses or find a means of removing himself permanently from society. (Blood banks appear to be a non-option in Morbius' world.) Along the way to the inevitable end credits, a supervillain without Morbius’s moral code or personal style makes an appearance, setting up the obligatory running battle in the streets, subways, and skyscrapers of New York City.
Filled with over-familiar, déjà vu-inducing genre tropes, Morbius slavishly follows the (doomed) superhero template increasingly exhausted audiences have seen time and again beat by agonizing beat, from the amoral supervillain who mirrors and duplicates his superpowers, if not his fashion sense, to the obligatory romantic interest who functions more as a plot device and emotional crutch than a fully formed, independent, three-dimensional character with a life outside the central character’s wants and needs. With Morbius’s split nature (human/vampire), the origin stories for Venom and the Hulk immediately come to mind, as in “You wouldn’t want to see Morbius when he’s hungry.”
It’s only when Morbius unironically embraces the videogame-inspired fight scenes, with Morbius and his superpowered antagonist inexplicably leaving colored trails behind them when they’re moving at vampire-fast speed, that the latest underwhelming addition to Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU) becomes slightly more watchable (right up until boredom inevitably begins to set in).
Ultimately disposable, generic entertainment, Morbius is far less a minor embarrassment than it is a missed opportunity. The end credits set up the usual sequel shenanigans. By now, though, hoped-for sequels are starting to feel less like a promise and more like a threat.
Morbius opens exclusively in movie theaters on Friday, April 1. Visit the official site for locations, showtimes, and ticket information.
- Daniel Espinosa
- Matt Sazama
- Burk Sharpless
- Roy Thomas
- Jared Leto
- Michael Keaton
- Adria Arjona