Movie marketing nowadays is such a naked game of leveraging whatever brand names you happen to have the rights to. We shouldn’t be able to look at the trailer and think more about the bind the studio is in to draw oil from their limited amount of IP, as opposed to how appealing the movie looks. But such is the predicament of a Sony Pictures consumer. Rather than experiment with new ideas, it’s far easier to take the only movie property you own that anyone cares about, and mortgage off various side characters in the hopes of making them standalone stars in their own right.
This is how we have two solo Venom movies, neither of which are very good but they did make serious bank at the box office. To the studio’s credit, Uncharted was a concerted attempt to branch out from the studio’s Spider-Man shadow, although casting literally Spider-Man into the main role probably did little to diversify the portfolio. And now the Spider-Man Rogues Gallery Cinematic Universe marches along, with a Kraven movie in the works, and the recent release of the latest Marvel pic – Morbius. By this point, the Sony logo should just have a spider tattooed above it for every future film the company releases, as no studio has ever come to be defined by one character.
In Morbius, we follow two childhood friends in Michael (Jared Leto) and Milo (Matt Smith). The former is a brilliant scientist who strives to find a cure for the rare blood disease that happens to afflict both him and his friend. However, things quickly go awry when the test for a potential cure has the unintended effect of transforming Michael into a grotesque and vicious vampire. As Michael struggles to reign in his new bestial nature, while attempting to estinguish his blood lust, Milo discovers his friend’s findings and becomes intrigued at the possibility of curing his own disease.
However, in all of Michael Morbius’ research he fails to find a compelling reason for this movie to actually exist. It’s a bland nothing burger whose use is solely for table setting. The story is so blandly told that it fails to muster up an ounce of dramatic conflict, while drawing apathy for the title character. Is Morbius a hero, villain, or anti-hero? The reality is he has no firm role, switching between archetypes depending on whatever the movie requires in a given moment. Need the movie to be a half-assed horror flick with some “cool” deaths? Morbius is your killer, and he won’t show an ounce of remorse afterwards. The movie needs a 3rd act fight to make the audience feel like they saw a spectacle? Morbius will be positioned as the hero in opposition of our baddie. Need him to be a villain to tease the next movie? Well, more on that later.
What is perhaps most perplexing is Jared Leto’s performance. Predictably, he plays the sickly version of Michael as if he’s going for the Oscar, or starring in a live action remake of Tearjerker. Which is fine, that’s the typical over-the-top method acting we’ve come to tolerate from Leto. But once he actually gets his powers, there’s no change in personality to come with what is described as a dramatic boost in energy. Nope, Leto is still playing Michael with the virility of Tiny Tim. Even Tyrese Gibson, a long appreciated source of comedy and charisma in the Fast & Furious and Transformers franchises, is sleep walking through this train wreck. He’s reduced to the generic detective you’ve seen in dozens of TV police procedures, sporting a shitty jacket that’s also one size too large.
What nearly saves the movie is Matt Smith, as he was the only one that got the memo that this a B movie deserving of some delicious scene chewing. One moment in particular sees him, now with a new lease on life, having a blast dancing to some banger of a song while making silly faces in the mirror. The scene is so gloriously stupid that it adds half a star to the movie’s rating. Which is what this movie needed, it’s so dull that the audience desperately craves for it to fully embrace the camp. At least the Venom movies have that going for them. Instead, we’re left with uninspired characters in an uninspired “friends turned foes” storyline, accompanied by a poorly realized romance. Oh yeah, there’s a romance here between Michael and fellow scientist Adria (Martine Bancroft). Almost nothing about their relationship leaves an impression, except for a moment early on where Michael encounters an unconscious Adria and tends to her by… just putting a blanket over her. I don’t think the cold air is what knocked her out, Mike.
Now, for as much flak as I’m giving Sony, we can’t neglect how binary all major studios can be, with their reliance on the same finite franchises. But Sony takes it to a new nadir, a company that hasn’t produced a great live-action film in their flagship franchise (WITHOUT the creative assistance of a completely different studio) since 2004. It would be partially forgivable if movies like Morbius weren’t so damn lame, an unpleasant experience with mid 2000s special effects, drab cinematography, and a cast that more closely resembles a husk than interesting characters. This whole project would be forgivable if they bothered with having… stakes? Conflict? Character development? A genuine interest to entertain rather than acting as a commercial for upcoming sequels? The movie can’t ever decide how to feel about the lead character, wanting to have it’s cake and eat it too. Which, of course, leads to that mid credits scene that continues to baffle the internet (spoilers ahead).
In the post credits scene, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (The Vulture) is transported out of the MCU into Morbius’ world, due to the multiverse shenanigans in No Way Home. Not only does Toomes conveniently transport from his prison cell to an empty cell in this new world, but his first remark is that he hopes the food is better. I guess, sayonara to your wife and daughter, right? Also, why did he need to land in another prison, Dr Strange’s spell is that savage? Couldn’t he just land in an alley, Terminator style, that way the writers don’t have to come up with a dumb reason for him to be released from prison?
But not only does he get out of jail, he then gets in touch with Morbius to proposition him for a team up, because this weird universe hopping mess has “Something to do with Spider-Man!” Which he states based on no evidence whatsoever, and it’s unclear if Morbius would even know who Spider-Man is or what Vulture is talking about. Who is the Spider-Man in Morbius’ world? Don’t worry, Sony doesn’t know either – contract negotiations still pending. But please don’t do Andrew Garfield or Miles Morales dirty by saddling them with this mess and making them fight the Sorrowful Six. There’s already enough blood on everyone’s hands, both in front of and behind the camera.