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‘Morbius’ Review

The Man-Bat Begins.
April 1, 2022
‘Morbius’ Review
Jared Leto as the titular Dr. Michael Morbius in ‘Morbius.’ (Courtesy Sony Pictures.)

Morbius wasn’t good: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The rottenness of the tomatoes was signed by the critics, top and otherwise.

But the ways in which it isn’t good are, if not instructive, at least somewhat interesting. Because Morbius—indeed, the whole Spider-Man Expanded Universe thing that Sony Pictures is trying to pull off here, between Morbius, the Home trilogy starring Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and Tom Hardy’s Venom movies—gives us glimpses into the past, present, and future of comic book franchises.

The thing about Spider-Man is that he’s a great character, equal parts identifiable and wish-fulfilment. He’s such a great character that in the 1990s during the comic book boom he could carry four separate monthly titles and his appearance in other titles would lead to a sales bump. He’s such a great character that his side-characters started getting spinoff books.

And this is where the problems began. A character like Venom could maybe support that kind of interest, as Venom was a legit fan-favorite phenomenon. But a mid-tier guy like the vampiric villain Michael Morbius, a scientist introduced in the 1970s whose meddling with nature turned him into a blood-craving monster? There was no reason to slap him in his own series for three years through the early-to-mid ’90s, except to piggyback off of the otherworldly success of Spider-Man. It was one of the surest signs of a comic book bubble.

Similarly, there’s no reason to make a movie about Dr. Michael Morbius except to piggyback off of the insane amount of business Spider-Man and Spider-Man-related films have done. There’s certainly no artistic reason for this movie to exist; it’s a paint-by-numbers origin story, tracking Morbius’s (Jared Leto) time as a child with a rare blood disease who grows into a scientist so desperate to cure what ails him and his friend, Milo (Matt Smith), that he’s willing to meld his own DNA with that of a vampire bat.

Shockingly, things go wrong. Morbius becomes a vampire of sorts, insofar as he’s hungry for blood, though one without the limitations of a vampire. He has no fear of sunlight; neither holy water nor crosses nor garlic seem to have any effect upon him. Would a stake to the heart kill him? Perhaps, if it’s filled with coagulant sciencey something-or-other that will mumbledee mumbledum problem solved. Morbius hates what he’s become, even though drinking blood cures his disease and gives him the power to do backflips and, I guess, swim a couple dozen miles to shore?

Equally shockingly, Morbius’s amoral pal, Milo, takes the serum and becomes very, very evil. Morbius must fight Milo, because that’s what one does when confronted by your friend who enjoys swishing about in his delightful new vampire skin.

Morbius is the comic book movie equivalent of mid-’90s filler on comic-book store spinner-racks: It has nothing to recommend it, exactly, but it’s new and it’s taking up a spot in the release calendar and it kinda-sorta calls to mind other stuff you like. It’s close enough to competent that most people aren’t going to complain too much when they get home and read it, but once it’s been bagged, boarded, and filed in their longbox, they’ll never think of it again. It’s not original in the slightest; even parts of the score seem lifted almost note-for-note from Hans Zimmer’s work on the Dark Knight movies. The visuals aren’t ugly, exactly, but they’re not noteworthy either. One imagines the ghost of comics present taking you to a premiere party where people try to be merry while Kevin Feige pulls his ballcap over his eyes and mutters darkly about Sony’s complete failure to understand why the MCU formula works.

I say it’s close-enough to competent because there’s one way in which it is distinctly incompetent. Sadly, it’s the only way that really matters for the movie, at least as far as the future of Sony is concerned. After the jump, let’s talk about the mid-credit scenes, shall we?

Jared Leto and Adria Arjona in ‘Morbius.’ (Courtesy Sony Pictures.)

There are two such scenes. In the first, the sky opens up in a way that calls to mind the multiversal rip in Spider-Man: No Way Home and all of a sudden Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) appears in a jail cell. Toomes, of course, was the villainous Vulture in Spider-Man Homecoming. The suggestion here is that Toomes has been pulled out of the Holland-verse and into the multiverse inhabited by Venom (who is name-checked and whose exploits are referenced by a pair of FBI agents earlier in the film) and Morbius. But that means that they all now exist in a universe where Spider-Man doesn’t exist—except, in the second mid-credits scene, Toomes tells Morbius that they should team up, and that Spider-Man has something to do with … something.

I want to say this as plainly as possible: Despite the fact that I have seen all of these movies and have stayed for all of the mid-credit scenes, none of this makes a lick of sense. Neither as a piece of storytelling nor as a piece of universe-building (which, again, is the only reason this movie even exists, from Sony’s point of view). You have people hopping between realms of existence and they’re all hopping to the one where Spider-Man isn’t. What … what is the thought process here? What’s the end-goal? Why are we watching this? Why are they making it?

Sony needs to figure this out, lest Sony chairman Tom Rothman be led by a ghastly spirit to a neglected stone in the Cinematic Cemetery, where he sees the only name more terrifying than his own engraved upon it—SPIDER-MAN.

Sonny Bunch

Sonny Bunch is the Culture Editor of The Bulwark. Before serving as editor-in-chief of the film site Rebeller, he was the executive editor of and film critic for The Washington Free Beacon. He is currently a contributor to The Washington Post and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association