Morbius exists because Sony owns the big-screen rights to Marvel intellectual property that originated with Spider-Man, and by god they’re gonna use them. Just because Sony ran its own Spider-Man franchise into the ground eight years ago and subsequently let Marvel Studios feed them their lunch with a superior and beloved version of the wall-crawler doesn’t mean its time to sell it all back to Disney. There’s a whole catalog of recognizable Spider-Man villains to turn into antiheroes and allies to turn into icons. Why a blockbuster starring this fourth-string quasi-vampire character was Sony’s chosen path after the surprise success of 2018’s Venom is anybody’s guess, and it isn’t clear from watching the film that those involved in making it knew the answer. That said, even a bad idea executed with faith and ambition can be a worthwhile movie. The problem with Morbius is that it’s a bad idea executed at a breathtakingly bad level.
The problem with me is that I’m a real dummy for this kind of shit and enjoyed every godawful second of it.
Sony’s marketing promises “a new Marvel legend.” In this case, it’s Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), a brilliant scientist suffering from a debilitating blood disease that has left him physically disabled and under constant threat of early death. He grew up in a little home for the similarly afflicted along with his buddy Lucien (Matt Smith), whom he renamed Milo for some reason. They’re cared for by Emil Nicholas (Jared Harris), a kindly doctor who serves as their father figure. In a terrible flashback, we see young Michael (Charlie Shotwell) win a game of chess against himself (which I guess means he’s a genius) before shipping off to earn his Ph.D. in biology by the age of 19. Morbius changes the world by inventing fake blood but otherwise devotes his life to curing himself and Milo.
For whatever reason, that cure comes in the form of genetically splicing his DNA with that of a vampire bat, thus becoming a vampire man who needs blood but refuses to kill. Then Milo gets a whiff of the serum and decides he’s a vampire man who wants to kill. They fight about it a little bit. It’s pretty dumb.
The trailers for Morbius have played in front of just about every single movie for the past two years, and the marketing spend probably dwarfs the GDP of most red states. It’s impossible to escape the movie despite the fact that it looks bad. Having seen the film, it’s surprising just how bad it is and, therefore, how enjoyable it actually becomes. Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) seems to have been forced into multiple rounds of reshoots because scenes don’t feel remotely congruous at any given time. The story beats found in most half-assed origin tales are present but feel rushed through at great speed for no discernible reason, and important events constantly take place offscreen.
Given his executive producer credit and constant presence in the marketing, it’s clear the film was sold to Leto as a way to star in a Marvel film without the responsibilities inherent to entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper. After all, Tom Hardy has had tremendous success steering the Venom ship into its unique position among a constellation of successful franchises. He’s synonymous with that role, and nobody can tell him where to show up next. It’s easy to see why Leto was sold this bill of goods, but in no universe is playing Morbius a similar opportunity as playing Venom, who remains one of the most popular Marvel characters period. Nowhere is that clearer when comparing Morbius with the first Venom film: They both follow the same basic beats, but Venom is at least hysterical, self-deprecating and deeply weird.
Morbius is weird, too, but not in the same way. None of the comedy seems to come intentionally. My favorite laugh moments are when it directly rips off Batman Begins, including its score. I also laughed at the two FBI agents, Simon Stroud (Tyrese Gibson) and Alberto Rodriguez (Al Madrigal) who do literally nothing the entire movie. Oh, and the scene where Milo, amped up on blood, gets dressed in fancy clothing while dancing to pop music in his apartment. That’s funny in a good way. Less funny are the scenes where Leto and Smith walk down the street doing their best to seem disabled, which are a bit awkward. Stray ADR work makes for amusing moments. Kudos for the title card “INTERNATIONAL WATERS,” which is always a great way of signifying something illegal is about to happen.
It’s all so inexplicable and kind of wonderful in just how bad it is but only to the discerning audience who likes bad things. You probably have to be on its level, which means completely devoid of expectations or standards. That’s me, I guess. Morbius just keeps going until it abruptly ends, setting up a sequel I’ll probably watch and a potential spinoff about Leto teaming up with another Spider-Man villain to do battle for some reason they’ll probably never figure out. That won’t stop them, though, and it won’t stop me from plunking down another $15 to watch whatever incarnation of the Sinister Six Sony finally manages to concoct. It’s difficult to go too hard on something like Morbius because ultimately, I am the problem.