After Spider-Man: No Way Home wowed audiences over Christmas, it seems only right that Sony Pictures should extend their Spider-Verse (or should that be Multi-Spider-Verse now?) into new territory to kick off the summer movie season early. Morbius may be a rather curious choice of character for a spin-off film – not as well-known as the Green Goblin, or as iconic as Venom (with his own spin-off series) – but a horror-infused comic book flick focused on a scientist-turned-vampire is a strong conceit. Perhaps it’s a bit of a shame then that the big question on audiences’ minds is how Morbius connects to the broader franchise – although this may be in the movie’s favour. Put simply: Morbius isn’t the sort of blockbuster you can sink your teeth into.
The first act is a bit of a mess, jumping from location to location, flashback to present day, and never settling down long enough to introduce the main characters fully. The premise sees Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) attempting to cure a rare degenerative disease he and his best friend Milo (Matt Smith) suffer from, and in doing so transforming himself into a blood-sucking monster. Alas, this transformation occurs off-screen, with little in the way of build-up or suspense, and without a good reveal moment. In fact, despite the obvious horror elements, this aspect of the film feels disappointingly restrained – not doubt in order to garner a PG-13 rating in the USA (ironically, Morbius has been given a 15 in the UK). Once the transformation has occurred, the story gets going, although it still feels quite choppy, as though a lot of scenes had to be trimmed or removed entirely to keep the film under two hours.
The plot itself is quite generic, the villain rather obviously signposted from the beginning, and the action sequences are messy, incoherent, and devoid of tension. The visual effects are remarkably inconsistent for a film that’s been delayed by nearly two years, while the UK locations substituting for New York are frequently obvious (a key action beat occurs in what is clearly a London Underground station). All of this could be easily forgivable if there was a good story to invest in, but the choppy editing, awkward ADR and poor pacing means that the film simultaneously never stops moving and never gets going. Not to mention that none of the characters have fully-realised arcs, let alone interesting dynamics or relationships, meaning that there’s little to emotionally invest into, and resulting in an ending that can’t hope to feel satisfying.
At the centre of all this is Jared Leto, distancing himself from his awful portrayal of the Joker in Suicide Squad (2016) to deliver a rather flat lead performance. Leto’s hardly bad as the titular Morbius, but when on screen with Matt Smith, one can’t help but wonder if the latter would have been a more interesting choice of leading man; he makes the most of every scene he’s in, occasionally over-acting yet remaining immensely watchable. Adria Arjona and Tyrese Gibson make the most of their underwritten supporting roles as Morbius’ love interest and the investigating FBI detective respectively, while Jared Harris feels utterly wasted as the two leads’ father figure.
Morbius is not without promise: the tale of a man fighting the animal within him is a tried and tested narrative that should translate well to this premise, yet the movie never manages to take off, from its choppy first act to its abysmal mid-credits scenes (so painfully contrived that I have no idea what the future is for this franchise). There are hints of a fang-tastic horror movie, glimmers of a solid superhero flick and perhaps the sense that Morbius would have been much better served as the main antagonist in a “proper” Spider-Man film. While Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage have plenty of humour, Morbius lacks any spark to bring itself to life. Perhaps the character would be better served as a supporting player in future instalments. To end on another vampire pun: it sucks.