Morbius hits theaters on April 1, 2022.
Sony’s Spider-Man Universe has its first expansion out of Venom territory with Morbius, the Jared Leto-led superhero flick about a so-called “Living Vampire.” Director Daniel Espinosa approaches this bat-man’s beginnings with horror flourishes once seen in his sci-fi thriller Life, but they’re never pronounced enough that they’ll satisfy horror audiences. Morbius presents its origin story with the most formulaic structure, as an overly serious Leto is doing the opposite of Tom Hardy’s campy Venom schtick that so many adore. It’s a choice that promotes Morbius’ moral conundrum as a self-conscious vampire over anything considered “superhero cinema fun,” taking everything deathly serious to an ultimate detriment.
We’re introduced to Dr. Michael Morbius as a Nobel Prize winner with a crippling blood disease he’s vowed to cure. His acclaim, and his company Horizon’s breakthrough, is an artificial blood that has saved countless lives — the seafoam-colored liquid represents one of the film’s outlying blasts of color amidst putrid darkness. Morbius works alongside scientist and eventual romantic interest Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) in the name of his ailing best friend Milo (Matt Smith) since their early private health care treatments. It’s the epitome of serious consequences brought upon by fraternal love as Morbius splices vampire bat DNA with a human subject — himself — leading to his ghoulish transformation into a not-yet-proven-controllable killing machine.
One of the early problems in Morbius is how the origin beats cycle through the monotonous motions. There’s a lacking energy behind Dr. Morbius’ condition because we know he’ll eventually go all man-bat, nor is there any attempt to creatively dump exposition that could have been read as an introductory text scroll. Countless superheroes and supervillains boast the same creation tale — writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless struggle to set apart Morbius’ emergence despite introducing such a horror-forward character. In regards to larger cinematic universes and hopeful sequels, Morbius rolls through introductory motions only to close out just as our interest climaxes. It’s always a first-step movie that exists because it has to exist for later reasons, which becomes apparent as the script fast-forwards through most explanations or descriptive advancement.
Morbius feels churned out of a Superhero Movie factory — except for Matt Smith’s portrayal of Milo.
It’s jarring to watch the digital effects-heavy Morbius so soon after Greig Fraser’s stunning cinematography in The Batman, since the former becomes another blurry post-production eyesore. Nothing is practical as Leto’s chiseled cheekbones turn into the angular, skeletal scowl of Dr. Morbius, who’s trailed by a spectral mist of sound waves whether he’s lunging, dashing, or flying. Morbius is a gloomy, black-on-black-on-black tapestry in so many sequences that monochromatically lose visual interest. Morbius flies past New York City skyscrapers like Spider-Man discovering his web-slinging for the first time, but there’s nothing aerially spectacular. No grand gothic gestures in cinematography, just an F. W. Murnau reference here, or Freddy Krueger cue there.
Morbius Trailer: 58 Images from the Jared Leto Marvel Movie
Morbius feels churned out of a Superhero Movie factory, made from stock parts — except for Matt Smith’s portrayal of Milo. He appears to have just waltzed off the set of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, allowing his dapper underworld adventurer a colorfulness the film desperately needs. Smith’s flamboyance and spirit is the antithesis to Leto’s drearily dour genius, which is a purposeful but inefficient comparison. As the two continually cross paths, it’s Smith who consistently steals scenes despite Dr. Morbius’ name as the movie’s title. Smith does so bloody good playing bad, to the point where everything almost becomes one notch above bearable (read: almost).
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So Morbius advances, calling on direct Batman imagery as the winged creatures swirl overhead and taking jabs at Marvel’s mightiest Avengers. A stern tone becomes the film’s downfall, because there’s nothing exceptional about poorly underwritten supporting characters — Adria Arjona, Jared Harris as Milo and Dr. Morbius’ caretaker Emil Nikols, Tyrese Gibson as agent Simon Stroud — and dizzying animated action. Sony’s reliance on digital renders for Venom and Carnage work because there’s an absurdity to their roles as actors talk to themselves, which isn’t a benefit of Morbius. Here, audiences are fed exactly what they’re most likely expecting from this bargain-bat origin that’s a bit exhausting until too late.
Morbius is unspectacular in ways that waste the potential of what could be an intriguing hybrid of sinister horror and superhero thrills. One single scene recalls David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out for a suitable fright, but otherwise horror accents are limited to cheesy jokes about Dracula. That’s the approach the whole film takes, in fact. Everything feels superfluous and uninterested in thoughtful storytelling because the mission at hand is to get to the end credits where the meat exists. Morbius is so focused on building Sony’s Spider-Man Universe and hopeful sequels — which could very well be better now that the foundation exists — that it forgets about enthusiastically engaging its audience from the start.