Bloody Disgusting’s Morbius review is spoiler-free.
Spider-Man: No Way Home opened up the multiverse and introduced the vast potential for crossovers and introductions to Spider-Man’s more horror-based rogues. It makes sense that Morbius comes hot on No Way Home‘s heels, and well ahead of the new Blade. The living vampire’s comic origins as an adversary to Spider-Man and Blade expands the cinematic web further but introducing the character in a standalone feature to general audiences means skipping ahead straight to his antihero persona. It results in a standard origin story meant to acclimate audiences quickly, but it’s also devoid of much life or personality.
Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant doctor determined to find a cure for the rare blood disease that’s afflicted him and his surrogate brother Lucien (Matt Smith) since childhood. With the help of fellow doctor Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), at least in keeping his work honest, Dr. Morbius experiments with the anti-coagulation in vampire bats. His tests cause him to inadvertently transform, granting him superpowers and a need to feed on blood.
The script by Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama includes a few wry winks that hint at an intended sense of humor. Morbius transforms into the living vampire aboard the Murnau in international waters. The Murnau, of course, being a nod to Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau. The scene draws cheeky parallels to Dracula’s famous voyage across the sea on the Demeter, from Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Beyond that, though, Michael’s origin story gets stripped to its core basics and falls into a more familiar formula.
The actors become tasked with communicating the deadpan humor and very rarely do they nail the delivery to make the jokes land. Only Al Madrigal, as an agent tracking Morbius, consistently succeeds in being funny. Leto takes himself too seriously, for the most part, for the dry one-liners to hit their mark. On the opposite end, Smith pushes his character too far into caricature.
Director Daniel Espinosa (Life) attempts to inject style into Michael’s constant discovery of emerging powers and his battle with the film’s big bad. Still, the brisk run-through of by-the-numbers narrative beats means no time to let the character relationships organically develop. Leto and Arjona lack chemistry and their superficially rendered characters don’t give them much to grab onto either. It makes it challenging to invest in their rushed romance. That applies to Michael’s relationship with his brother, too, which is a much bigger issue considering the film’s emphasis on brotherhood. It’s hard to invest in any of these characters.
The movie spends so much time on Morbius trying to control his bloodlust and run damage control on a deadly threat, firmly setting him as more of a hero type than a foe or even an antihero. It makes for a somewhat confusing final few moments for the character and an even more confusing duo of mid-credit scenes. Those scenes offer more personality than anything that preceded, but they also directly contradict the character we just met. It’s as if the precedence is with the bigger picture than the smaller, standalone components.
In an oversaturated space of superhero cinema, Morbius sits smack in the middle. It’s not terrible, but it’s not memorable either. Leto mistakes a lack of emotion for stoicism, and it’s up to the VFX to do the heavy lifting to imbue the living vampire with any identity or temperament. Without, say, someone like Tom Hardy embracing the weirdness of the character in Venom, it’s tough to find rooting interest or muster any excitement for the vampiric bat man. At best, it’s a serviceable placeholder until the next installment of this expanding universe.
It gets the job done, but Morbius is primarily a fangless affair.
Morbius releases in theaters on April 1.