Directed by Daniel Espinosa — Screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.
The first time I heard about ‘Morbius the living vampire’ was in an episode of the iconic 1990s Spider-Man animated series which I absolutely adored as a kid. I don’t remember too much about individual episodes nowadays, but I do remember seeing him with Blade and Spider-Man. However, due to awful word-of-mouth and a general lack of faith in Sony’s villain-led Spider-Man spin-off films (due to the release of the first Venom film), I didn’t immediately feel the urge to see this film when it was in theaters. Now I have finally had the chance to see it from the comfort of my own home, and, I’m sorry to say, it is pretty much exactly as messy as I feared it could be.
Daniel Espinosa’s Morbius follows its titular character (played by Jared Leto), a Nobel Prize-level scientist, who suffers from a rare blood disease that has also crippled his best friend (played by Matt Smith). In an attempt to find a cure, Morbius has captured dozens of vampire bats whose genes he plans to splice with his own. Though his experiment appears to be successful initially, he soon discovers that it didn’t just cure his condition, it also transformed him into a vampire.
Morbius, as a modern superhero spin-off film, actually had a lot going for it. The Swedish-Chilean director Daniel Espinosa made the 2017 sci-fi flick LIFE starring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, and I thought that was a really solid sci-fi film, in spite of how unoriginal its general concept was. Furthermore, Morbius also has a decent cast led by Jared Leto, Matt Smith, and Jared Harris, who always tend to do interesting things. However, those ingredients weren’t enough to save this spin-off project.
To me, Morbius feels like an early 2000s comic book movie that, presumably through last-minute additions, has been tasked to somehow connect to every other superhero universe that the film is even tangentially related to. There is a really strange and completely unexplained “Venom” namedrop more than halfway into the film, and there are these borderline nonsensical after-credits scenes that honestly made me really worried about what Sony was planning. Everything about these connections feels underdeveloped and that is exactly what the rest of the film also feels like.
The film gets off to an intriguing and mysterious tone-setting start with Dr. Michael Morbius trying to attract dangerous bats to an open wound of his, but what follows is a rather tonally uneven film. In the very next scene, we are transported twenty-five years into the past in a flashback meant to set up both Leto and Smith’s characters, but the dialogue here is completely unconvincing when spoken by child actors. This flashback is over right as you think you know these characters’ names, and then we are thrown back into the present day where Jared Leto is unbelievably pale in a scene in which he apparently (according to the very next scene) dissed all of Scandinavia. It’s strange and it goes by so fast.
The way the rest of the film will go is laid out here for all to see. Morbius is unevenly (though often fast) paced, tonally inconsistent, and awkwardly written, and its characters lack depth just as the film sometimes lacks connective tissue. It feels like two films forced together with its hurried pace, the inconsistent tone, and its relatively short runtime.
Jared Leto always felt like a good fit for the titular role to me, but I think the messiness of the film kind of got to his performance. Sometimes his delivery is oddly monotonous but appropriately serious, other times he leans more into the film’s more comedic bits. Someone who leans completely into a comedic approach is Matt Smith, who has this utterly ridiculous dancing scene. Smith actually has fun with the film, which is nice, even though his character’s development is quite over-the-top and sudden. As for the action? Well, the titular character’s vampiric grin is quite silly and some of the effects are sometimes dodgy (why is there smoke when he jumps around? It certainly doesn’t make it look any more real).
Daniel Espinosa’s Morbius is an undeniably messy Frankenstein’s monster of a film that is so awkwardly stitched together that scenes right next to each other lack connective tissue and are tonally uneven. The writing is equally subpar (there are embarrassing quips and Morbius, at one point, describes echolocation as “bat radar for the uninitiated” through voice-over). I will say that Matt Smith’s performance is genuinely entertaining at times (that dance), but that is the only thing this otherwise lifeless mess of a comic book movie has going for it.
4 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.