Morbius is a tangentially related Spider-Man movie about a tangentially related Spider-Man character that is even more tangentially related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the amazing blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home. This feels haphazardly tossed off, but Morbius is not an unendurable, unwatchable cinematic travesty. It may be guilty of Marvel Easter Egg marketing that isn’t in the film and it rushes from one somewhat adequate CGI fight to the next. But there are flashes of dark fun here, a genuine minor connection to the MCU, and the bad guy who loves being evil so much that he tap-dances with joy which gives it a pass.
Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has a rare disease that prevents him from full mobility, a curse he shares with his childhood friend Milo (Matt Smith). In depths of despair and desperation, Michael performs illegal experimentation on himself which turns him into a vampiric creature, much to the horror of his assistant and friend, Martine (Adria Arjona). Now Morbius the living vampire can sustain himself on synthetic blood, however it isn’t as powerful and nourishing as red human blood. Followed by two investigators, Stroud (Tyreese Gibson) and Rodriquez (Al Madrigal), Morbius is locked up in jail when a nurse is drained of all her blood. The shocking truth is his friend Milo has taken the “cure” and Milo has no qualms about feasting on red human blood for power.
The tangled web of character rights for Marvel characters is complex. Sony Pictures owns Spider-Man and all its associated characters, one of which is Morbius. But the gigantic MCU machine is owned by Disney, so both companies have played nice for movies like No Way Home. So, when the Morbius trailer hit, fans spotted connections like a shot of Morbius walking down the street with a Spider-Man poster that says “Murderer”. A shot which is nowhere in the movie and the director, Daniel Espinosa, said was specifically inserted into the trailer. There is eventually a connection to the larger MCU in a post-credit scene however, it doesn’t make a lick of sense based upon what happens at the end of No Way Home.
Still both this and Venom are set in the same universe which rubs elbows with the MCU so if one was going down a completist checklist this movie’s last three minutes qualify. Also, this Sony-universe hasn’t established which Spider-Man is there, either Tobey McGuire or Andrew Garfield (the Tom Holland Spider-Man is part of the Disney owned MCU). Considering in No Way Home Garfield’s Spider-Man admits he went dark and “stopped pulling his punches”, and both Venom and Morbius have an Extreme late ‘90s early ‘00s movie grittiness vibe, it’s fair to believe these movies count as continuation of the Amazing Spider-Man series.
The movie is very CGI heavy and it’s not great CGI either. The way Morbius and Milo move has a cloud effect that’s supposed to imply super-speed, but it just looks like they’re shedding. Vampire characters flop back and forth between human and vampire looking. The only time Morbius fully resembles his comic book counterpart is at the end and Milo looks like an escapee from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some scenes pop, like Morbius’ initial transformation where he takes out a bunch of goons is visceral. Although some bits are shamelessly cribbed from other, better films. A scene when Morbius walks into a cloud of bats is ripped off from Bruce Wayne discovering the cave in Batman Begins, as even the music sting sounds like an imitation of the Begins score. There are some moments of humour about how absurd the notions of a vampire are, like when one of the cops interrogating Morbius brings along a vial of holy water to be safe, or when Morbius jokingly pretends to be hurt by sunlight.
Leto makes for a weird action hero, but Morbius is a weird character so that fits. His disabled Morbius is a lot of hunched walking which makes his moments when he’s fully powered stand out. As his buddy turned baddie, Smith is bombastic when Milo gets jacked up on red blood, literally dancing for joy after he murders a bunch of folks, and he’s adequately pathetic when Milo is drained of his power. Both men are overseen by a doctor played by Jarred Harris who is supposed to be their father figure but it’s undercooked. Harris wasted in the role but has an effectively messy exit. Gibson and Madrigal as the two cops are interchangeable exposition pieces the movie eventually forgets about. As Morbius’ love interest, Arjona gets to look concerned and the only decent moment she has is at the end even if, like a lot of stuff in the movie, the result is unexplained.
Morbius is not a notable or particularly memorable entry in the Marvel movie canon, its connection to the larger story of the MCU is tenuous, and it’s a slightly desperate bit of Spider-Man franchise right extension by Sony. But it is a movie about a superhero vampire who is conflicted about his vampire status, and it has a few moments of campy fun and some gothic bloody bombast. As far as offbeat superhero movies go, it’s not bad.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal and Tyrese Gibson