Morbius may be in indication that the Marvel Universe is not as vast and limitless as some may have hoped. You could argue that the folks at Marvel are running out of story material and steam.
For starters, Morbius is a relatively minor figure in the line-up of Marvel characters. His cinematic roots can be traced back to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) in which Spencer Tracy portrayed a scientist who became the victim of his own diabolical experiments, becoming a man with a monstrous alter ego.
It’s been the theme of many sci-fi, horror films including The Fly (1958 and 1986) in which scrambled DNA can have disastrous results. Mixing human genes with those of another species—for any reason—is usually not a good idea. At least not in the movies.
And that includes the plight of Dr. Michael Morbius (Oscar winner Jared Leto) who suffers from a severe blood disorder tracing back to his childhood. He’s brilliant, but he’s also sickly and frail.
He and his best friend Milo (Matt Smith) both teeter on the brink of death, unless Morbius can come up with a cure.
His relentless research takes him to the jungles of Costa Rica where so many biological experiments have gone awry, where he finds a cave of vampire bats that might hold the key to his recovery. To his delight, his hypotheses are correct with the exception of one nasty surprise. The bat-man DNA splicing transforms him into a fang-baring vampire with a powerful thirst for human blood.
In terms of the basic story, Morbius really doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen before. The only questions are: how many people will he kill, how gory and bloody his victims deaths will be, and of course, what will happen to him in the end?
The answers are: a reasonable body count, only mildly bloody and violent and a happier ending than you might imagine.
Dr. Morbius, as it turns out is a likeable character. He’s portrayed as a bright young man with the best of intentions who wants to cure his illness and hopefully save others in the process.
We’re to believe that his transformation into a blood-sucking vampire was just the result of some bad luck. He’s essentially just a flawed protagonist with some uncontrollable urges and issues.
He’s a character that we’re supposed to root for, which is why Jared Leto was obviously chosen to play him. He’s handsome. He’s charming. He’s immensely likeable. He even bears more than a passing resemblance to Jesus, with his shoulder length hair and beard.
On some deep level, the movie seems to beg the question: If Jesus had a drinking problem, could we find it in our souls to be understanding and forgiving? One look into Leto’s eyes is all it takes to answer the question.
Despite appearing a little anachronistic for the part in this movie (a better fit might have been to have him play the vampire in a Bram Stoker version of this tale set in the Nineteenth century) Jared Leto is a pretty good choice to play Michael Morbius, in terms of his appearance.
He looks the part as Morbius the man. It’s when he appears as Morbius the vampire that things fall apart. The digital transformation of his face is nothing shy of clunky and unconvincing. The face looks like something from a 1980s vintage horror flick. The teeth look like they were borrowed from Venom.
It’s Leto’s looks and star power that this movie is banking on. Once again, he seems unable to connect with the sinister energy required for this role.
The same could be said of his attempt to play The Joker in Suicide Squad (2016). Pure evil is difficult to portray. And, in fairness, it’s tough to top the performances of Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix when they played The Joker.
Morbius is lacking in so many ways. The writing was a dull, by-the-numbers script that lacked freshness and creativity. The same can be said regarding the direction. It lacked the powerful vision that made The Batman (2022) such a thrilling cinematic experience.
The timing here couldn’t be worse, but it comes after nearly two years of pandemic-related delays. The Batman was a hard act to follow, as they say in show business. And as another expression goes: timing is everything.
While the ending of Morbius alludes to a possible sequel, it’s hard to imagine there will be one.
The sudden, surprising appearance of a familiar character from another Marvel movie at the very end (no spoilers) only serves to add more bewilderment to where a spin-off movie might go. It seems so random.
In the end, Morbius is a modern-day vampire movie that isn’t scary, or bloody, or even mildly entertaining. For the most part it is bloodless and lifeless.
Morbius is in theaters now.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sony Pictures © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.