Sony continues its attempt to create its own Spider-Universe adjacent to the MCU with Morbius, a Jared Leto vehicle featuring the titular living vampire from Marvel comics.
After a short prologue featuring Dr Michael Morbius (Leto) visiting Puerto Rico to collect bats (this film consistently confuses whether he is a research scientist, MD, PhD holder or… what), we return 25 years into the past to a hospital/children’s home in Greece (why Greece? – who knows), where we meet the young Michael, who is hospitalised with an unspecified illness that keeps him largely in bed, limits his mobility when out of bed, and – we are told – will likely limit his lifespan.
Arriving to join him in the next bed across is a young boy, Lucian (who will be portrayed as an adult by Matt Smith). Lucian is around the same age and is from a wealthy British family. Giving him the moniker ‘Milo’ (Michael calls every boy in that bed Milo, for some reason), Michael makes a friend of the young boy. When Milo passes out due to faulty medical equipment not giving him – well, we don’t know, but… something medicinal? – Michael is able to correct the complicated equipment with merely a paperclip. With the two boys now life-long friends after their few minutes together, Dr Emil Nicholas (Jared Harris) recognises that Michael has deep talent, and sends him to New York both for treatment, and a chance at an education befitting his talents.
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As an adult, Michael works at a hospital/research facility with Martine (Adria Arjona), both in treating children, and in working to cure his own illness. We learn that Milo lives in New York, with Dr Nicholas appearing to be his personal physician. Morbius is working with Bat DNA, postulating that this will heal his condition (the film explains this reasonably well, even if the logic is a little throwaway). Going to international waters to perform an illegal and risky procedure (one which he has teased Milo as about to attempt), Michael transforms into something of a monster, killing the crew of mercenaries (the film handily makes all his victims criminals), draining all their blood, and escaping the ship after returning to his human form and discovering the carnage.
Now on the run from FBI agents Al Rodriguez and Simon Stroud (Al Madrigal and Tyrese Gibson – no, really, honestly, they cast the comic relief from the Fast franchise as a taciturn, thoughtful cop), Michael must work to cure himself, whilst the film desperately tries to find him an antagonist the fill its second hour – and that antagonist will be exactly who you expect, taking part in events, largely, you will guess.
If we look at the earliest years of the current explosion of superhero films, the films released tended to have one major flaw in the first entry of a series. The first hour got caught up in origin story, leaving the second hour to cram in a full superhero film. The first hour would tease antagonist, but we’d be pre-occupied with the lead finding their powers. In this Morbius is an early-2000s superhero film ripped from its time and plonked squarely into an era where the genre has moved on many steps in the intervening years. Committing to a bloodier, more adult aesthetic, the attempt to provide more adult entertainment is surface only, as a bland Leto goes through the steps we saw so many times a couple of decades ago.
The pacing of the film is just well off, as we are in the second half before we even meet the problem the newly endowed lead will need to solve. In killing time before this arrives, we are given some of the most predictable foreshadowing committed to a film in this genre, perhaps ever. Bizarrely, Dr Morbius has a collection of bats in his sterile hospital, right beside where he’s doing his chemical research – and it will be clear to anyone watching that those bats will play a big role in the film’s denouement. The lack of an obvious antagonist at the film’s halfway point will cause groans as the viewer realises the far-too-obvious identity of that person, likely guessed earlier in the runtime, proves to be accurate. The fate of the Jared Harris character can be seen coming a mile away.
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That this is all framed by deeply average action, and a leading man that really doesn’t grab our attention makes the whole story a huge disappointment. This is followed by a pair of mid-credit sequences, tying into Spider-Man: No Way Home, that make no sense once having seen that film. One wonders if Sony even watched it after they had handed it to Marvel Studios to produce. Morbius avoids complete ignominy by never really being boring. It handles its running time well and presents an easy-to-follow story. That it ends up one of the most predictable cinematic experiences in how its beats unfold make it something of a waste of time and speaks to a studio that are still very poor world-builders when it comes to assembling their Spiderverse in live action. Few will likely leave itching for more of this.
Morbius is out now in cinemas.