I still haven’t fully figured out how Sony’s Spider-Man Universe connects with the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some parts seem more connected than others while other parts don’t seem connected at all. Oh well. To be honest, I’ve lost interest in trying to figure it all out. In a nutshell both universes are (somehow) related and “Morbius” and the most recent installment.
Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly good installment. It’s not terrible either. Certainly not as bad as Sony’s last effort (“Venom: Let There Be Carnage”). But it’s hardly a movie you’ll be rushing out to see again.
“Morbius” always seemed like an unusual and risky choice. And from the very start, it never felt like the studio was all that certain on how to approach the movie and on when to release it. Granted, COVID-19 played a big part in some of its delays. Still, there was a hesitancy from Sony that was hard to miss especially in their promotion of the film. And even the earliest trailers seem desperate, name-dropping Venom and revealing Michael Keaton’s Vulture just to grab the attention of the lucrative superhero genre’s fan base.
It feels like “Morbius” has been about to come out for years. One of the great blessings about its release is that I’ll no longer have to sit through its trailers which found their way in front of every single movie I would see at the theater (I could almost recite them word for word). And while my interest in the movie had waned, I still held out hope regardless of the lashing it took during early screenings (much of it from the Marvel Studios faithful).
“Morbius” is directed by Daniel Espinosa and despite the mixed reactions, I enjoyed his last three movies (“Safe House”, “Child 44”, and “Life”). This is a much different venture for Espinosa and it shows. At times his movie plays great and sports its own unique style which really comes out in some of the action scenes. But there are just as many moments that feel disjointed, rushed, or uninspired. The result is a mixed bag.
Jared Leto is a nice fit playing Dr. Michael Morbius who suffers from a rare debilitating blood disease he has had since birth. Gifted since childhood, Michael gained notoriety in the medical science world for developing a life-saving synthetic blood. Since then he has used his talents to try and find a cure for his disease. Helping him is his scientist partner and (potential) love interest Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona). And funding his work is his wealthy friend and surrogate brother Milo (Matt Smith) who happens to share the same illness.
Strangely, Michael’s serum seemingly comes out of the blue. All we really know is that it involves vampire bats from Costa Rica and the mixing of bat DNA with human DNA. As Michael explains to Milo, it’s “highly experimental, morally questionable and very expensive”. When a sickly and desperate Michael injects himself with the serum, he does indeed cure his disease. But he also gains superhero strength, sonar-like sensitivity, and a rather disturbing appetite for human blood.
In one sense it’s tempting to praise the movie for cutting through the scientific mumbo-jumbo associated with Michael’s work. There are a couple of scenes where he’s recording medical logs explaining his symptoms. But for the most part Espinosa and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless mercifully skip past that stuff. On the other hand, it’s such a weird and wild approach to medicine yet we get nothing to form the basis of his experiments. A guy turns himself into a living vampire and we’re just supposed to go with it.
Of course every superhero story needs a villain and here it comes in the form of Milo. Frightened by what he has become, Michael tries to protect Milo by refusing to give him the serum. But Milo gets his hand on a vial and injects himself. While Michael sees his vampire condition as a curse, Milo fully embraces it which pits the close friends against each other. Like most of the characters, Milo lacks some needed depth. Matt Smith’s performance is solid even though the script pulls him in some weird directions. Sadly, the bond between Milo and Michael (which should have added emotional weight to their conflict) barely gets beyond surface level, leaving Smith and Leto with little to explore.
Visually there are some cool stylish touches that I liked quite a bit. They’re unlike anything we’ve seen before in the crowded superhero movie space. But the drab and murky color palette doesn’t always help. And there are times where the CGI heavy action can be hard to decipher. Take the final 15 minutes which can be really hard to make out, right up to the film’s jarringly abrupt ending. Meanwhile Arjona offers a good supporting presence even if she isn’t given much to do. And there’s Tyrese Gibson in the thankless role of a generic FBI Agent trying to track Michael down after bodies drained of blood begin showing up across the Big Apple. Gibson is more of a plot device than an authentic character.
Of course there are also two obligatory post credits scenes that confused me more than excited me. Sure, they tease interesting things to come. But they also reminded me of how convoluted this Sony/MCU collaboration has been. “Morbius” does little to change that. Leto is certainly up for the role, and I can see where he could have done something special with a better script and more focused direction. As it is, “Morbius” is a ‘middle of the road’ Marvel movie. One that ultimately teases more than it’s able to deliver. “Morbius” opens in theaters tomorrow.