Title: Morbius (2022)
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Matt Sazama (screenplay), Burk Sharpless (screenplay), Roy Thomas (character)
Stars: Jared Leto, Michael Keaton, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Matt Smith, Tyrese Gibson
Marvel’s own “living vampire,” Morbius, is here, with swarms of bats and questionable computer-generated imagery. The otherwise terrific Jared Leto takes on the role of the blood-thirsty antihero, and after watching this film, I wondered if he had lost some bet. Surely, an actor of Leto’s caliber can find better projects than this discount Batman/Blade-wannabe?
So we’re back in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, where we last witnessed the terrific third part of the “Home Trilogy,” Spider-Man: No Way Home. Of course, following an epic film like that can’t be easy, especially if you’re a lesser-known Spidey villain/frienemy that only comic book fans might know about. Sony must have been encouraged by their success with their two Venom films, even with all their grinding computer-generated imagery. But what carried Venom to success was his wit and humor, something Morbius sorely lacks.
Meet Michael Morbius, the brilliant, Nobel-prize-winning, slightly maverick doctor specializing in blood diseases. Suffering from a rare blood disease since childhood, Morbius’ life-long quest has been to find a cure for himself and his friend Milo, whom he met at a children’s hospital when they were both young patients there.
After a title sequence with booming music that sounded as if it had been lifted straight out of a Batman movie, the film opens with Morbius finding his way to a massive bat cave (sigh…) deep in the jungles of South America. Here, against the warnings of the superstitious locals, who advise him not to linger after nightfall, vampire bats are captured to help him search for the cure. These bats, you see, drink human blood, and have natural anticoagulants, making their DNA critical to his cure.
Fun fact: The cute critters in the bat cave are real indeed vampire bats, the hilariously named Desmodus rotundus. Their saliva contains a numbing compound that stops coagulation and prolongs bleeding, allowing the bats to feed on sleeping animals, such as cows and pigs, for around 30 minutes at a time.
But this is an antihero origin story, so something has to go wrong. Due to ethical concerns, the cure made from the bats is concocted on a cargo ship in international waters. Of course, human trials (on Morbius himself) work only too well. After injecting himself with the new serum, the doctor gains superhuman strength, hearing, echolocation and a craving for human blood! A craving that the synthetic blood he invented and won a Nobel prize for can only sate for so long.
So things go as they usually do in a movie like this. Morbius, now a living vampire struggling to balance his blood-fueled superpowers with his humanity, finds out that his childhood friend, still sick and dying, also wants the serum. Milo (played by Matt Smith) steals the “cure,” but unlike Morbius, he cares nothing for human lives. As vampire Milo goes on a blood-drenched killing spree, Morbius tries to stop him. And to quote Deadpool: “Go get ’em, tiger! Big CGI fight coming up!”
Morbius is standard superhero (or rather antihero) origin fare. It is utterly average in its presentation and feels more like a forgettable filler between bigger and better franchise installments. Jared Leto is good enough as protagonist Michael Morbius, especially before he actually transforms. Still, there is something cringy about seeing two adult men growl at each other through questionable CGI vampire makeup.
As with Morbius, Matt Smith’s character Milo also works best before the transformation occurs, with believable friendship and chemistry between the two childhood friends. The always excellent Jared Harris plays Emil Nikols, the aging doctor and father figure from the children’s hospital where the two younger men spent much of their childhoods. There are some genuinely moving scenes between the three.
So Morbius is not great, far from it. There are fans of the character out there, to be sure, but most people I talked to before watching this hadn’t even heard of Marvel’s “living vampire.” There are some interesting ideas and action scenes in here, but they’re often marred by the ever-present and too obvious CGI effects and cringy, slow-motion action-posing. The special effects often reminded me of the creatures from Will Smith’s survival horror I Am Legend, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
But the worst sin of Morbius isn’t the cringy, CGI-driven action, but rather how average and forgettable the film is overall. Morbius is a formulaic origin story that lazily checks all the boxes. We’ve seen it all before.