After many delays, comic book adaptationopened in theaters in April. But make no mistake, this is as straight-to-video as they come. Jared Leto stars as a sulking, skulking vampire in a bloodless and boring comics book adaptation desperately riding the coattails of the Marvel movie powerhouse.
Leto plays Michael Morbius, a brilliant scientist debilitated by a rare blood disease. Dressing like someone who’s read a few too many Anne Rice novels, he’s convinced he can cure himself and fellow sufferer Milo (Matt Smith) by splicing their DNA with vampire bats. Next thing you know, Morbius is reborn as a man-bunned superhuman with a craving for the red stuff, set on a collision course with his equally thirsty best friend. Which is an acceptably juicy setup for a shlocky vampire flick, but there’s very little in Morbius to get the heart pumping, as the obligatory origin story dribbles away any interesting ideas and deflates like a leaking plasma drip.
Morbius isn’t terrible, it’s just really, really dull. Originally created in the 1970s, the vampiric Michael Morbius is the latest character from Marvel’s Spider-Man comics to appear in his own movie, but without Spider-Man. Tom Holland’s friendly neighborhood webslinger is off breaking box office records in, a joint effort between Sony and Marvel Studios. But for rights reasons, Sony has to go it alone for Morbius and Venom, and the contrast is stark (no pun intended, Marvel fans). , thanks to Tom Hardy’s sweatily committed performance and the lurid looniness of his character’s split personality. Morbius doesn’t have any of that outrageous B-movie charm, or any thrilling horror or action, and it has almost no interest in creating engaging characters.
Morbius fares particularly badly as it drops around the same time as Marvel’son Disney Plus and in theaters. Starring Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight managed to be funny and scary at the same time, anchored by a hugely watchable lead performance and blending contrasting tones with style and verve. And Doctor Strange 2 did a much better job of combining comic book fun with horror movie scares.
I’m not saying Marvel is the height of cinematic artistry. But in comparison to the genuine imagination shown by Marvel’s better movies and TV shows, Morbius seems churned out by Sony’s rights department. There are enough glimpses of visual style or references to classic vampire movies to make you think the filmmakers had good intentions, but at some point the film seems to have been chewed up by an algorithm. For example, one of the film’s many storytelling copouts is that Morbius has also invented synthetic blood, and so is able to get by without feasting on humans. This fake blood is a handy metaphor for the film’s relationship to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: It just isn’t the real thing.
The vampire is an enduring and compelling monster for many chilling reasons, but Morbius can’t even scare up any decent horror. You can see studio fingerprints all over the storytelling decision to make all the minor characters really obnoxious, so audiences don’t mind when they get bitten to bits. Characters like Rude Mercenary, Aggressively Possessive Boyfriend in Bar and Rude Street Vendor basically deserve to be killed, y’know?
After the false start to his Hollywood career that was, Doctor Who and The Crown star Matt Smith pops up in another wannabe franchise blockbuster. Morbius follows on from his wildly charismatic turn in , and comes ahead of a major role in , so will surely be remembered as a blip in an otherwise pretty good couple of years. He is at least the best thing in Morbius, largely because he seems like the only person having any fun.
Once the bloodsucking shenanigans kick off, Smith really goes for it as a troubled young man who lets superpowers go to his head, even slipping in some of his signature dance moves (and making a joke about indie band The Stone Roses). The trouble is, Milo barely exists. When a character in a story undergoes a transformation, you need to know who they were before in order for the transformation to engage your emotions (or even make sense). So who was Milo before the fangs? The film doesn’t care. There’s an early implication he might be a bit on the criminal side, but it’s simply never mentioned again.
Meanwhile, after cartoonish turns as the Joker in Suicide Squad and a Gucci in House of Gucci, you might go into Jared Leto’s take on a comic book vampire expecting an enjoyable car crash at the very least. But he’s pretty restrained, and isn’t actually that bad. Leto even manages to wring some anguish from Morbius’ guilt and regret. The problem is, he’s supposed to be the main character and he doesn’t do anything. Without any clear goal driving the story, Morbius fades into the background as the film goes on. And apart from Smith hamming it up, no one else takes his place.
The film doesn’t care about any of the characters, wasting Jared Harris as a mentor figure and Adria Arjona as a fellow scientist/love interest. Nothing they do really matters, and you know exactly what’s going to happen to them. You might expect some drama or excitement as the cops close in, but the only thing the two pursuing Feds ever do is turn up at crime scenes after the blood’s been drained and chat about stuff we already know. So the entire middle section deflates as the various stock characters skulk around not doing very much of anything, and the next thing you know, a dimly lit and uninspired CG fight scene turns out to be the end.
Oh, and if you can be bothered to stick around, the bottom is well and truly scraped by athat reeks of desperation.
There’s a good movie to be made about a goth vampire in a world of comic book superpowers. Sadly, unmemorable Morbius isn’t it.
Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More
See all photos
2022’s Best TV Shows You Can’t Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More
See all photos