If Morbius were the first film in Sony’s Spider-Man Cinematic Universe, we’d be talking about it as the beginning and end of the franchise. It would be what The Mummy was to the Universal Monsters. Despite sitting on the shelf for two years, delayed largely because of COVID-19, the antihero film led by Jared Leto as the vampiric Michael Morbius is a complete misfire and a total bore, with the only real consistency being how consistently bad it is. This thing will suck the energy out of audiences faster than Morbius can drain a vial of artificial blood.
Surprisingly, my beef with Morbius doesn’t extend to star Jared Leto, who is usually in my crosshairs for giving performances only he seems to understand. As Dr. Michael Morbius, , who suffers from a debilitating blood disorder, he’s actually quite dialed-back and reserved. Unfortunately, it’s in keeping with Leto to go against what the film actually requires but a more over-the-top, demonstrative performance would’ve helped liven up this dull film.
Instead, the Leto wackiness is given over to co-star Matt Smith, who plays Morbius’ longtime friend, Lucius, although he’s derisively nicknamed Milo as a child, a name that sticks into adulthood. Born with the same blood disorder, Milo is envious when Morbius, a renowned doctor so rebellious he rejects a Nobel Prize because…*shrug*, why not, uses vampire bats to create an experimental cure. The side effect is a monstrous transformation and an unquenchable thirst for human blood. But at least he has cool sonar effects and can fly using air currents or something, plus speed, agility, and all that good stuff. The blood thirst is a problem, though; his artificial blood is dwindling and its effect are decreasing. Milo doesn’t care; he steals the serum from his friend and takes it, but rather than fighting the thirst he gives into it, becoming a killer of the innocent. It’s up to Morbius to take his former best friend down.
The film is directed by Daniel Espinosa, whose spotty resume includes breakout crime flick Snabba Cash, followed by blockbuster Safe House, the forgettable Child 44, and the underrated sci-fi horror, Life. Speaking of which, there is absolutely no life to what Espinosa brings to the table. One groggy, inexplicably blue-tinged scene stumbles into the next. Action is at a minimum, especially unforgivable when you consider Tyrese Gibson co-stars as a cop with a friggin’ hi-tech arm. What fighting we do get is slowed down with shoddy CGI effects, made messier by vapor trails and other nonsense meant to dazzle. None of it does.
Gibson isn’t the only co-star who goes to waste. Adria Arjona has little to do as Morbius’ colleague, friend, and love interest Martine Bancroft. Shockingly, Arjona has said the character is inspired by politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which should be like a slap in the face to the Congresswoman she’s so painfully underserved. At one point, the filim boasts scenes with Leto, Smith, and the always-great Jared Harris, and they are briefly a pleasure to watch. But ultimately, the level of talent is squandered by a script that has no direction, no passion, and no moments that make you want to see more of Morbius. Leto tries his best but he miscalculated his performance. And Smith, who recently admitted he doesn’t understand the movie or his character, has a perfectly evil dance number that comes out of nowhere and is the film’s one actual highlight. We don’t understand Milo or his motives and there is zero attempt to explain him. The hatred between him and Morbius goes straight from 0 to 60.
All the film has to lean on are a handful of Easter Eggs, including one real eye-opener about a certain school in New York, but is even a tease of close MCU ties enough to build a Morbius franchise on? Sony will hope so, but I think the blood has been sucked dry out of this one before it ever really got started.
Morbius opens in theaters on April 1st.