Morbius – Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Starring Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson
It’s not a surprise Sony’s Spider-man franchise is feeling its oats right about now. Not only did they just have one of the top-grossing films of all time, but they just managed to make a deeply stupid franchise into an oddly beloved hit. They’ve long been talking about mining the archives for spin-offs, with movies in development for some odd names including Kraven the Hunter, Madame Web, and Silver Sable.
First out of the gate is Morbius, and on the surface it doesn’t look like the worst choice. The character of Michael Morbius, a scientist who accidentally transformed himself into a vampire-like creature, added some horror edge to classic Spider-man comics. The trailers made it look like a generic if entertaining superhero thriller, and the presence of acclaimed-but-controversial actor Jared Leto as the lead gave it a bit of gravitas. No one was expecting too much, but the evidence was that Morbius could at least be an entertaining throwback.
It’s not an entertaining throwback. In fact, Morbius is on a short list for the worst superhero movie of the modern era.
So how did this all go so very, very wrong? We’ve got to start with the lead. Leto is a talented actor, but he’s known for method acting in a way that mostly seems to torment his co-stars. I’m not sure what he did here, but he mostly seems to sleepwalk through the first part of the movie before going completely, utterly insane. As Michael Morbius, he’s a sickly genius born with a mysterious blood disorder. This is the kind of blood disorder that is slowly killing him, but at an indeterminate timeframe. It also forces him to hobble around on crutches, despite there being no mention of why what sounds like a clotting disorder would do this. It must be one of those diseases in the Hollywooditis subgenus. Not only is there no internal logic, but it’s another example of actors cosplaying disability.
One thing that surprised me is how empty this movie feels. Aside from Morbius himself, there are relatively few supporting characters. Jared Harris is around as Dr. Nicholas, a kindly doctor who treated Morbius’ condition and first recognized his genius. His role is mostly to stand around and seem concerned. Then there’s Adria Arjona as Dr. Martine Bancroft, Morbius’ coworker and love interest, whose role is mostly to…stand around and seem concerned. As things go sideways, Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal show up as a pair of FBI agents who don’t seem likely to have ever solved a case in their life. They add a few amusing lines, but it’s mostly about just how bad they are at their jobs.
And then there’s by far the biggest problem in Morbius – Matt Smith’s Lucien. Or is it Milo? Michael’s best friend from childhood when they both lived in some sort of sanitarium for boys with Mysterious Diseases, he was left behind when Michael was discovered to be a genius and was sent abroad to school. Twenty-five years later, he’s an arrogant tech-bro who feels his own clock ticking down, and he and Michael still obsessively work towards a cure. Which of course, leads to the main plot of the movie.
This is the type of movie where one character says “The experiment will have to take place in international waters”, and then the next scene has a caption reading “International waters”. It’s not subtle, and it’s also not smart. Michael wants to splice his DNA together with a vampire bat’s to gain their unique coagulating abilities, which at one point involves standing in the middle of a Central American cave filled with bats and later involves injecting himself with a serum while on a ship guarded by shady mercenaries in the middle of the ocean.
Naturally, it works, and Michael becomes Morbius the living vampire. The problem is, this movie doesn’t really know what a vampire is. Yes, Morbius likes blood, but it does an incredibly poor job of explaining exactly what he can do. One minute he’ll be talking about how he has advanced strength and senses, and then the next he’ll be teleporting across the city and tearing down brick walls with his bare hands. He feels more like some sort of combination of Hulk, Flash, and a werewolf than an actual vampire. Add in a bizarre subplot about artificial blood created by Michael that he tries – and fails – to subsist on, and every time this movie tries to explain itself it becomes a snore.
But the big problem comes back to Lucien, who is just an unlikable character no matter how much the movie tries to make us care about his childhood trauma. As soon as he asks Morbius to share the cure with him and Morbius refuses because “I’m a monsterrrrrrr”, it becomes clear how this is going to go. Lucien becomes a vampire too, bodies start showing up, and Michael is blamed. This isn’t a spoiler because I could predict every single turn of this movie from a mile away. Smith’s mugging for the camera as a villain is out of control, and the vampire transformations in particular look like they’re taken right out of a 1990s sub-par Buffy rip-off.
Without spoiling the post-credit sequence, I can safely say it’s the worst one I’ve ever seen. It brings in a popular character from another movie, in a way that has no logical consistency, and then proceeds to have the character make choices that are completely at odds with how they acted in their last appearance. I’ve never seen a movie more clearly go “Okay, we have to get the characters to this potential franchise – just half-ass it”.
But then, that’s what Morbius is all about – half-assing it. They had some hits and assumed that fans would just eat up anything they were dishing out. Is it the worst superhero movie of all time? Probably not. But it’s insultingly bad and I’m hopeful the fans won’t take the bait – because the last thing we need is studios cranking out low-budget superhero cash grabs again.