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Morbius is Undead on Arrival

Because to be dead, you have to have been alive at some point first.

Dear Sony: Stop trying to make the Sony Spider-Verse happen. It’s never going to happen, especially not if you keep dropping bombs like Morbius. Maybe after pushing back the release date approximately seventeen times, you should have quietly let this slip to streaming where it might find its way into an unsuspecting soul’s suggestions. To call this film dead on arrival isn’t truly accurate, because to be dead I think you actually have to have to have been alive at some point.

Who is Morbius and why should we care? Both good questions, but only one has an easy answer. Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant man with an extremely rare blood condition that he shares with his surrogate brother Milo (Matt Smith). Morbius develops an experimental cure that splices human DNA with that of vampire bats, and testing on it himself transforms him into a vampire-like creature with multiple special powers but with an insatiable lust for blood. When Milo gets his hands on the cure and goes vampire himself, Morbius must contend with both the monster within himself and the monster Milo has become.

If that sounds at all interesting in theory, let me assure you that in practice it is not. Morbius is a c-list anti-hero/anti-villain from the Spider-Man comics that’s made a handful of appearances outside of that arena, and even fans of Marvel Comics often only have a vague idea of who he is. This isn’t always a problem. Marvel Studios has proven that they can take more obscure characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy or the Winter Soldier and turn them into household names. Sony…cannot.

Those gums look pretty inflamed. Have you been flossing?

Which brings us to the second question: why should we care? The short answer is that we shouldn’t, or at least we can’t based on the film that’s been delivered. Director Daniel Espinoza has a history of making acceptable if not remarkable genre films, and he does what he can here, but one of the film’s biggest problems is its script. Writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are responsible for some truly awful things like Gods of Egypt and even other disappointing vampire-based films like Dracula Untold. They continue their streak here with a pointless story, flat characters, and a conflict that goes nowhere and means nothing.

I kept asking myself over and over as the film went on “Why should I care? Please show me why I should care.” Denied.

Morbius himself is a major contributor to the ennui the film traffics in. As written, he’s a terribly boring character. We learn little about him other than he’s a genius and has a blood disorder that he’s spent his life trying to cure. He exists largely without context in a setting without grounding. New York City has rarely appeared as generic and unremarkable as it does here (probably because city scenes were actually filmed in UK). The film can’t even properly define Morbius’ powers, and they tend to be as powerful as the script needs them to be with new ones doled out as plot coupons.

What is wrong with you, Michael? Are you going through it?

Jared Leto does nothing at all to elevate Morbius, either. His performance is horribly one-note, his emotional palette nothing but a series of grays. He broods and whispers his way through every scene, barely coming alive except the scenes where Morbius is struggling to resist transforming into his vampiric self. Even then, he barely appears to put any real effort into his role. He’s supposed to have an important romantic subplot with fellow doctor and researcher Martine Bancroft (played by a criminally underused Adria Arjona). And this is where I make a bad joke about the two doctors having zero chemistry together, right?

There’s almost no real, meaningful conflict at all here, either. The official antagonist is pretty early set up to be Milo, who’s ethical code is much looser than Morbius’, but the stakes there are pretty low. Milo isn’t trying to bring down the city or end the world; he just wants to be a cool, murderous vampire alongside his best friend after living a life of pain and sickness under the specter of an early death. As far as motivations go, it’s relatively relatable if you take away the bloodlust, especially for someone who’s lived with debilitating health conditions.

And I’m sorry; an antagonist named Milo? Excuse me, but I’m having a hard time caring. (Yes, I know his given name is Lucien, but nobody calls him that, and I still don’t care.)

The film wants the true conflict to be between Morbius and his vampire self. Will Morbius give in to his dark side? Will he embrace his powers and try to find a way to live in the shadows or in the light? Will he decide that the cure is really a curse and seek to remove it?

Let me say this again: I. Do. Not. CARE.

And even here in this specific moment, I still do not care.

Again, there is nothing to latch onto here. Michael Morbius is a nothing character played by an actor who brings nothing to the screen. Milo is by far the more interesting of the two of them, if only because Matt Smith looks like he’s having the time of his life. He sinks his teeth (HA! I made a vampire pun!) into the role and doesn’t let go. As the sickly Milo he’s not terribly interesting, but as the vampiric Milo he’s a riot, a perfectly campy and entertaining villain that’s far more than the film deserves. He even gets a shirtless scene where he shows off a pumped up, chiseled physique that raises the film’s heart rate for a brief and flickering moment.

The only things the film really has going for it beyond the Matt Smith singularity are some interesting if not fantastic special effects. How Espinoza has decided to portray the vampiric powers is relatively interesting, even if it becomes tedious after a while and eventually bogs down an already confusing, graceless climax. Jon Elkstrand’s score is also better than the film itself and is responsible for a ton of the dramatic weight of the narrative even if it rarely shuts up, which is more the director’s issue than the composer’s.

Morbius is a sad attempt to prop up Sony’s ill-advised Spider-Verse-Without-Spider-Man-Verse and tap into the same darker energies that made the first Venom movie a hit. But whereas Venom at least had a killer lead performance by Tom Hardy propping what was an otherwise dated and shallow superhero film, Morbius doesn’t even have that. It’s lifeless, pointless, and toothless.

And I don’t care.

FBOTU Score: 3 out of 10 / D

Also: If you do decide to see the film, don’t bother staying for the two mid-credits scenes. They have nothing to do with the film itself, make zero sense, and are a clumsy attempt at franchise-building. The first scene introduces a plot hole that the second scene then barrels through like a cartoon character running through a brick wall.

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