This movie should not exist.
I’ve been saying for years that after the shit he pulled behind the scenes of Suicide Squad, Jared Leto should’ve been fired and arrested (at the very least), like would’ve happened to literally anyone else at any other job. And none of Leto’s performances or actions in the time since have anywhere near justified the numerous passes he’s been given toward the A-list status he now comfortably enjoys. His career should’ve been long over by now.
I’ve already said my piece about how Sony is too heavily reliant on Spider-Man (read: Marvel and Disney) for their own good. I cannot possibly stress enough that for over twenty fucking years now, Sony has done everything they possibly can to gaslight the entire world into thinking that Spider-Man is — and has always been! — the exclusive and original property of Sony. And ever since Avengers came and changed everything, Sony has tried to position themselves as a worthy contender for Disney/Marvel, and they’re doing it off a brand that they’re leasing in perpetuity from Disney/Marvel. That’s deplorable, it’s short-sighted, it’s self-defeating, it’s just plain pathetic.
Plus, after all the high-profile sales to Amazon (James Bond, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania) and Netflix (The Mitchells vs. The Machines), their last reliable wholly-owned franchise is Ghostbusters. Sony should not be in the film industry anymore at this point. Let them keep their electronics and their video games, maybe their music holdings as well, but they’ve got no business being in film anymore.
The whole notion of a Spider-Man Cinematic Universe was dicey enough before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 face-planted. The notion of such a project without Spider-Man is so patently absurd that it should never have made it out of the corporate boardroom. It’s desperate and pathetic to the point of laughable that such a venture made it from conception to finished product and all points in between, without even so much as the foggiest clue as to how such a viable megafranchise is built or if any of this ties in with the greater MCU!
And of course that’s not even getting started on the umpteen delays. The public humiliation and astronomical expense of advertising a big-budget tentpole franchise film through 07/10/2020, 07/31/2020, 03/19/2021, 10/08/2021, 01/21/2022, 01/28/2022, and 04/01/2022. Count ’em up, that’s SEVEN GODDAMN RELEASE DATES over two freaking years! Between the reshoots, the COVID-related delays, and overwhelming evidence that this movie was a steaming pile of hot garbage, Sony should’ve done the smart thing and cut a deal with Disney to cancel the theatrical release and drop it straight to Hulu.
But no, Sony has put too much money and effort into this. They’ve got nothing to lose except face at this point, so they pushed ahead with a theatrical release in a sweet early April slot. And what’s really sad is that it worked. As of this typing, Morbius has already pulled down $45.5 million domestic ($90.4 million worldwide) against a reported $83 million budget. Granted, that’s not counting the fortunes that Sony must have spent promoting and reshooting the movie for two years straight. Even so, that’s enough of a win on paper that Sony will most assuredly fast-track a sequel, even in spite of all the dismal reviews the film has gotten so far.
Don’t believe me? As of this typing, Uncharted has made $140 million domestic ($374 million worldwide) against a reported budget of $120 million, and the reviews for that one were tepid at best. And that was still enough for Sony to call it “a new hit movie franchise“. If that’s where Sony is setting the bar for tentpole status, we can be sure that Morbius will clear that soon, if not already.
If I’m being entirely honest with you, gentle readers, I felt some degree of guilt about putting my time and money toward seeing this in a first-run multiplex. I’ve made it clear in the past that as a general rule, I don’t like to dignify a movie if I know for a fact that there’s no chance it will be good. But from the outset, I always knew that this movie would be a special kind of awful. Between the fun-to-hate Jared Leto and the comically desperate Sony, the two of them fit together in a strange way that I couldn’t possibly bring myself to ignore. Gods help me, I felt strangely compelled to watch the movie just so I could write the review.
You know what that means, folks. Get your guns and gather around the barrel, because it’s time to vent our anger and disgust by shooting some well-deserved fish.
To start with, the title cards are awful. The opening and closing title cards are all about moving geometric shapes in various shades of blue and purple, more evocative of a rave or perhaps a psychedelic drama than a superpowered action/adventure/horror. The colors, the shapes, the text design, even the score are all completely wrong.
Gentle readers, I want to repeat that the goddamn opening credits are garishly awful and inexplicably misguided. I swear to God, the Devil, and Stan Lee’s ghost, I have NEVER seen a tentpole Hollywood movie fail so hard and so fast. Seriously, it’s the opening credits, how do you fuck that up?!
Anyway, Leto plays Dr. Michael Morbius, an engineering/scientific prodigy born with some rare genetic disease that’s weakened him to the point where he needs a blood transfusion three times a day just to function. Morbius has devoted his entire life to finding a cure, and his research has yielded a freaking synthetic blood replacement (colored blue, for some reason) that’s already saved countless lives. This invention is of course enough to get Morbius the Nobel Prize… which he publicly declines. His reasoning? To paraphrase, he refuses to accept a prize for work that still isn’t finished.
We’ll come back to that point later.
Morbius is more focused on his current work with the famously robust immune systems of bats. Specifically, bats that he went and trapped from a remote mountain in Costa Rica. Why these particular bats in this one spot that’s especially hard to reach? How did he even get the bats from there to his lab in New York? Who the hell built that huge glass silo in the middle of his lab and how is he feeding or caring for the bats he keeps in there? It’s comic book science, so who really cares?
(Side note: As a quick reminder, I was a Bioinformatics major with years of education in molecular biology. The pseudoscience involved here made me laugh harder than anything else in this picture.)
The point is, Morbius posits that his own damaged genes could be fixed by splicing in bat DNA. Because this is obviously such an illegal and (if you’ll pardon the phrase) batshit idea that could go wrong in any number of ways, Morbius has to continue his work in secret, and in international waters. Preferably on a ship loaded with nameless disposable mercenaries to be killed with impunity. And that’s going to take money.
Enter Lucien, inexplicably nicknamed “Milo”, played by Matt Smith. Yes, this character is alternately referred to by two names, and you already know it’s because they changed Smith’s character in mid-production and a flimsy hand-wave was slapped on in reshoots to explain why.
(Side note: Sure enough, Smith was reportedly playing an adaptation of Loxias “Hunger” Crown, until the character was retooled into an original villain.)
What’s important is that Milo and Michael grew up together in the same children’s hospital, suffering from the same illness. So now Michael is a genius bioscientist and Milo somehow got independently wealthy enough that he could bankroll Michael’s work. And naturally, he’s desperate enough to get Michael his boat out in international waters.
Long story short, Morbius tries out the formula and it does indeed cure him. In fact, it also gives him super-strength, super-speed, advanced hearing, the ability to turn into smoke and fly on currents of wind, and he’s empathic with bats. The unfortunate catch is that he loses all strength and his disease comes raging back unless he constantly drinks blood. His own synthetic blood is enough to keep him going for a short while, but he needs increasingly more of it to keep going. There will eventually come a time when the blue stuff will be completely ineffectual and he can only keep going by drinking red.
Things are complicated further when Milo inevitably hears about the new “cure”. Michael is utterly horrified at the monster he’s become, locking himself away to learn about his new condition and abilities in a safe and controlled environment as he looks for a way to treat the new side effects. Compare that to Milo, who’s more interested in learning about his new abilities by hunting down and drinking any poor sadsack stupid enough to cross him.
In all fairness, Milo’s motivations are made entirely clear. He wants to live without the constant fear of death hanging over him. He wants to be healthy and mobile, to walk without crutches and enjoy life. He’s deeply resentful of all the “normal” people who bullied him all his life for his infirmity. Even if Milo’s rage is taken to the most monstrous extremes possible, his motivations are at least sympathetic. The problem is that Michael grew up in the exact same house, with the exact same condition, getting bullied by the exact same asshole kids. And the both of them are apparently super-geniuses, enough that the both of them went on to be fabulously wealthy and successful.
So, why doesn’t Morbius have a similar grudge? Where are his hard feelings about everyone who bullied the kid with crutches? Where’s his relief at being able to walk, his joy at having an apex body that most people would need years of training to achieve?
It’s a huge recurring problem with this movie that Morbius jumps directly to “this transformation is a curse and I have to fight it with every fiber of my being” and stays there for the entire film without any apparent doubt or temptation or inner conflict. Never once do we see him take any kind of joy in being superhuman. It’s treated as this huge moment when Morbius learns how to fly, but there’s no sign that he’s taking any kind of fun in the discovery. (It’s somehow handled even worse here than in Man of Steel, if such a thing were possible.) It starts with Morbius turning down the goddamn Nobel Prize and it continues all through the movie: This man is fundamentally incapable of claiming victory. There’s no sense of achievement or catharsis or satisfaction — vicarious or otherwise — when Morbius makes some scientific breakthrough or wins a fight or anything. It’s always “that sucked, it’s over, on to the next challenge.” And in a superhero movie, that’s kind of a big fucking problem.
It’s like the film wants to be this Jekyll and Hyde story (Quick reminder: I’ve spent enough time with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to consider them good personal friends of mine.), with a mad scientist pushed by his own hubris into making a discovery that splits himself in twain, forcing a conflict between his good side and his bad side. It doesn’t work because there’s no sign that his “bad” side is even the least bit tempting to him. He shows no interest in going out clubbing, having sex with anyone he likes, or even fighting crime! He could finally have a life outside his laboratory, but that thought never occurs to him, and there’s no sign that he’d be interested in taking that opportunity if it ever did.
The other big prospective touchstone is of course Dracula, but that doesn’t work either. For one thing, Dracula was about a group of mere mortals struggling to understand and exterminate a demon of incredible power. When both sides are powerful demons, the conflict between them doesn’t really work. For another thing, neither Michael nor Milo are vulnerable to sunlight, garlic, religious tokens, etc. More to the point, neither one of them have mind control powers, they’re not immortal or eternally young (so far as we know), they can’t control anything darker or more demonic than a swarm of bats, and if they’re the least bit capable of seducing or enslaving anyone, they never do.
Dracula is an evergreen character in a timeless story, in large part because of such huge themes as obsolescence, corruption, lust, religion, and so many others. Due to the origins, powers, weaknesses, and other established mechanics of these particular vampires, none of the classic themes of Dracula are possible factors. Thus we have a movie that constantly mentions Dracula, and desperately wants to be held to that same standard, but with nothing that makes Dracula so memorable and iconic.
Then we have the matter of the cast. Matt Smith is acting to the cheap seats in a desperate bid to make this watchable, and bless him for putting in so much effort. Alas, it all comes out to the moldy leftovers of his far better villainous work in Last Night in Soho.
As for Jared Leto, I cannot possibly stress enough how tedious he makes this role. He can glower and brood as the day is long, sure, but he is physically incapable of making our protagonist or this movie any fun. This is an especially huge problem in the first act — prior to the transformation — when we’re supposed to find a reason to relate with this character and emotionally invest in his relationships with the other characters, but Leto simply can’t sell it.
Say what you will about Tom Hardy in the Venom films (and I’ve said a lot), but at least he’s got charisma. He’s got a complicated dynamic with his superpowered id. He’s got a sense of humor, such that we can have fun watching him even when he’s not having fun. All of which were absolutely essential here, and none of which are remotely present in Leto’s performance.
Everybody else in the cast is worthless. Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal are on hand as a couple of annoying and ineffectual comic relief characters. Somebody paid way too much to get Jared Harris to play such a useless and thankless role.
But then we have Dr. Martine Bancroft, played by Adria Arjona. This character deserved a much better movie. She’s smart, she’s witty, she does everything within her limited means to be proactive, and she’s got backbone for days. Alas, she’s supposed to be positioned as a love interest for Morbius — it’s like watching Arjona trying to teach a sedated dog how to speak French.
What’s worse is that (A) Martine gets herself knocked out at the end of the first act, rendering her unconscious during the all-important first transformation scene, and (B) she spends half the movie after that confined to a hospital bed, then (C) she contributes absolutely nothing to the plot at any point after that, at least until (D) she’s a damsel in distress who has to be rescued, leading to (E) a sequel/tie-in tease that doesn’t make any lick of sense.
Which brings us to Michael Keaton and his much-ballyhooed cameo appearances that supposedly explain how this all ties in with the MCU. The short explanation is that this film clearly takes place in the same continuity as the Venom films, outside the MCU proper. It appears that in the multiversal shenanigans of No Way Home, Adrian Toomes got himself shuffled over to the Sony side of things and he’ll be staying there for the indefinite future.
Quite tellingly, his appearance in the first post-credits stinger is loaded with disjointed cuts, to the point where it’s basically just a montage with a voice-over from some anonymous news anchor. Even more tellingly, there’s a second post-credits stinger in which Toomes appears in full costume and never takes his mask off, leaving Keaton to talk entirely through phoned-in voice-over. The obvious conclusion is that Sony had absolutely no idea what they were doing until the last possible minute (if ever), and their efforts at pretending otherwise are ridiculously sloppy to the point of unprofessional.
Seriously, Daniel Espinosa — the director of the film! — was asked in a recent interview to explain the appearance and involvement of The Vulture in a way that made any kind of sense. He couldn’t pass the test. I want to repeat — often and emphatically — that the people who make these decisions have NO. FUCKING. CLUE.
But are the action scenes any good? Honestly, no. The CGI is ugly, the editing is a joke, and the camera is aggressively shaky to the point of distracting. Of course, the film’s incoherent morality doesn’t exactly help. A prime example is that first transformation scene on the boat out in international waters. The boat is staffed with mercenaries for security, and the filmmakers go painfully far out of their way in making the mercenaries unsympathetic, repeatedly stressing that we shouldn’t feel bad that they all got brutally exsanguinated. But there is the tiny little detail that they were brought out into international waters on an uncharted voyage to die for reasons they were never briefed on, all of which is 100 percent on Morbius.
Oh, and do you remember that shipping yard scene in Batman Begins? You know, the one where Batman takes down all of Falcone’s thugs one by one before taking down Falcone himself? Imagine that, but with no subtlety or suspense whatsoever. That’s what we’ve got here.
Morbius has all the terminal flaws of Sony’s Venom franchise, but with none of the redeeming factors. On the one hand, we’ve got an inherently R-rated character stuck in a PG-13 franchise, ugly CGI, inconsistent tone, slapdash world-building, and an overall feeling of utter desperate hope that all of this will somehow come together and make money. On the other hand, we’ve got a lead actor void of all charisma, there’s no sense of temptation or inner moral conflict between the two sides of the character, there’s no sense of humor, no sense of accomplishment, and no fun of any kind. And on top of all that, you can add incompetent camerawork, an absurdly overqualified supporting cast, sloppy editing, messy reshoots, and did I mention that even the fucking TITLE CARDS are broken?!
This whole thing was a misguided and ill-conceived mess from the outset. It should never have been made. Yet Sony is clearly desperate enough to keep throwing good money after bad, so we’re going to get even more sequels in short order. Who cares if Sony has no idea what to do with a sequel, it sure as fuck hasn’t stopped them yet!
You’re better off sticking with the Venom films, and that’s saying a metric mouthful. Delete your studio, Sony.