Review: ‘Morbius’ (the living vampire reference)

Sony really needs audiences to buy a movie ticket to this, because they have a lot more planned. Pretty please with a blood bag on top?

After a lifetime surviving a rare blood disease, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is close to synthesizing a cure for himself and other sufferers. Combining vampire bat DNA with the human genome could unlock the secret, but ethics issues force him to tap friend-since-childhood and fellow sufferer Milo (Matt Smith) to set up an offshore test site in international waters. Morbius is injected with the experimental serum by his lab partner Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), but the would-be cure transforms the doctor into a hybrid creature with a craving for blood… a living vampire. When a fresh body drained of blood turns up while the doctor is researching his needs and new abilities, the NYPD closes in, and even Morbius himself can’t say for sure he is or isn’t the murderer… or if he could stop himself from doing it again.

It’s possible Jared Leto was born to play the title character in Morbius — far more than Suicide Squad’s Joker — for more reasons than sharing a similar look. With a screenplay by Dracula Untold writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless plus helmed by Life director Daniel Espinosa, Sony is leveraging the expansion of their Spider-Man co-licensing agreement with Marvel Studios into a bigger franchise beyond their success with Tom Hardy’s Venom films. As the first Marvel superhero film of the year but not the first official MCU entry, can Sony leverage a new-to-cinemas origin story into a Venom-sized hit, or will it take the upcoming Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to wash the taste of blood out of viewers’ mouths?

The Social Network, The Prestige, and even Marvel’s own Captain America: Civil War are just a few films mining the “best friends become enemies” trope. Complex emotions are supposed to run deep in these melodramas, but when it’s used as a plot outline instead of the story, it loses its bite. That’s the core conceit of Morbius: we know where it’s been, where it’s going, and there’s zero emotional impact when we get there without a hint of a denouement. While the CGI transformations and super-power effects are money well spent, it’s a total DC-MurderVerse move to computer-animate the entire final battle climax, never mind the WWE Hulkamania finishing move our protagonist is expressly incapable of. The screen writers also turned in Gods of Egypt… and it shows.

Dr. Morbius hilariously has a “Degree of Science” certificate hanging in his apartment — not a thing, folks — but he was a Nobel-prize winning biologist in the comics (they got one right!) Like too many vampire-esque films these days, twin fang marks found on bodies don’t match up with a mouthful of incisors — details, people. The constant bloodsucker references were amusing, from exotic locations to the names of ships, and even characters getting in on the act with their own pokes at the genre — props to the sneaky Dracula Demeter reference. Sadly, the film champions style over substance, referencing scenes from horror films like Event Horizon and the writers’ own Dracula Untold, but character moments that make stories meaningful are reduced to footnotes going unread. Adria Arjona’s love interest Martine isn’t even given a proper refrigerator; how is this kind of plotting still a thing?

Fans of Leto and Marvel completionists won’t be entirely disappointed, but the film is too brooding to be as fun as Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Even if Morbius doesn’t break as big as the Venom films, Sony still has unfettered access to their own MCU-canonical Spider-Man whenever they need one — thanks to No Way Home — as long as Andrew Garfield is willing to go up against an impending Sinister Six.

Morbius is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, some frightening images, brief strong language, and getting out of social situations by exploding into a thousand bats.

Two skull recommendation out of four

One comment

    The ending truly looks like a DC-MurderVerse video game, just two CGI characters whirling around each other like Tasmanian devils falling off a high rise… and when Morbius is down for the count, he goes all Hulkamania, brother! “Whatcha gonna do, when Morbius-mania runs wild on you?!” 💀


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