In the face of the masterfully designed entertainment domination conspiracy known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it’s difficult to recall the dark age that preceded the first Iron Man movie, when comics were silly nerd fodder and decade-spanning, multi-franchise Superhero macrocosms were laughable fantasy. In this “before time,” outside the secluded bubbles of the X-Men and Spider-Man series, the majority of superhero movies refrained from adapting the heavy hitters of the comic industry and opted for the characters that almost nobody knew or cared about: Blade, Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Spawn, Catwoman and The Punisher. The heavy stink of embarrassment still surrounded the very idea of making superhero movies, so writers chose to adapt heroes who looked edgy and cool and who were obscure to the point that audiences could forget they were pulled from the pages of comic books. Their obscurity also allowed writers to do whatever they wanted with them, which is why the “Catwoman” movie has Catwoman literally sniff catnip and battle an evil Avon saleslady. These flicks were a litany of embarrassing club-footed messes (except Hellboy, which rules supreme), and while characters like Daredevil and the Punisher have found redemption in the MCU, this grimy try-hard period of Superhero cinema serves reminder of the importance of substance over style. However, like the return of an eldritch evil thought vanquished, one last vestige of low-effort antihero movies has spasmed into theaters. “Morbius,” an adaption of “Morbius the Living Vampire,” everybody’s favorite Marvel hero, is the brainchild of, I assume, some Sony executive who was cryogenically frozen in 2002, recently thawed out, and decided it would be a good idea to lose the studio a lot of money. With all luck, they’ll put him back on ice soon.
“Morbius” is the story of Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), a renowned scientist who injects himself with vampire bat DNA in order to cure his nondescript blood disease. As mad science is ought to do, his experiment goes awry, and he transforms into a vampire. He now possesses all of the powers of a vampire bat, such as a thirst for blood, echolocation, wingless flight and colored smoke trails that bleed off him when he jumps around. You know, like a real bat. To Morbius, his powers are a curse, but for his adopted brother Milo (Matt Smith), who takes the same serum, they become a dark blessing, and out of jealousy, spite or boredom, Milo begins a vampiric feeding frenzy. Morbius is forced to find a way to stop Milo and end the movie as quickly as possible so everyone can go home.
Before you jump to conclusions, the presence of Jared Leto is not an automatic negative. Sure, Leto is a pretentious stick bug of a man who runs a cult (look it up), but the Morbius character is also a snobbish weirdo, so the casting fits fairly well. Besides, though he’s not a good person, Leto is a good actor. However, Leto chose not to act in this film. Nobody did. Morbius’s placeholder love interest, played by Adria Arjona, behaves like she just walked onto the studio lot to ask for directions. Jared Harris, bless his heart, plays Morbius and Milo’s mentor and is clearly only hanging around the set to pay for some new addition to his house. The best performance belongs to Matt Smith, who also doesn’t care but decides to just have fun, grinning and hamming it up and even participating in an adorable dress-up dance montage.
Even divorced from the performances, the “Morbius” concept doesn’t exactly lend itself to riveting cinema. Sure, nobody cared about the “Guardians of the Galaxy” either, and Marvel made them work, but the source material was still that of a team, with emotional backgrounds and quirky memorable style to build upon. Morbius is one Spider-Man side character without a rogues’ gallery, fan base or sense of style distinguishable from other grimdark antiheroes. It might have worked if they tried, but a lack of care runs in the marrow of “Morbius” to the point where the movie seems to have an antipathy for itself. I’m serious when I say that reading the Wikipedia plot summary for this movie and watching it are the same experience. This film has been edited down to vulture-picked bones, with all the jokes, heroic struggles, emotional depth, character growth and crucial plot stepping stones left gored on the cutting room floor. After Morbius becomes a vampire, the audience is subjected to the obligatory “hero figuring out their powers” scene. However, the director had a brunch to get to, so, rather than showing Morbius learning the ramifications of being a vampire slowly, allowing us to better connect with him, what follows is a ten-minute montage of Morbius describing what his powers are, as if he were preparing us for a quiz. This same expositional fate befalls Morbius and Milo’s friendship, Milo’s villainous intentions and basically anything that would have made the film slightly captivating.
Of course, even a bad story can be saved by good stylism. Well, no, but let’s pretend it can because Morbius, if nothing else, is a character defined by gothic theming and horror elements. But “Morbius” never fails to fail completely, and this film, alongside being nauseatingly boring, is also hard to look at by virtue of the dark blue sunglass filter placed over every shot. This color grading, in combination with epileptic editing, random slow motion and obstructive mid-2000s CGI smoke, makes “Morbius’” few piddling fight scenes utterly indecipherable. Although what they are fighting about remains a mystery considering both Morbius and Milo are doomed to starve to death, living in an alternate universe where people are scarecrows full of asbestos. For those who didn’t catch that, this gothic hardcore vampire movie doesn’t feature any blood, gore or viscera, apparently striving for a family-friendly G rating.
This level of backwards-shirted incompetence would be frustrating if I cared. But nobody does, not even the people that made “Morbius.” Despite seemingly gunning for a franchise, Morbius reeks of defeatism and obligation, a movie nobody asked for that exists because somebody on top floors at Sony said it should. The fact that it’s superficially connected to Marvel isn’t even upsetting. “Morbius” lacks enough impact to parasitically bring down any part of its greater cinematic universe. “Morbius” isn’t even a Marvel movie. It weakly tries to trick you into thinking it is, plastering the logo on posters, sneaking in little Spider-Man references and stapling on after-credits scenes that hint at sequels with forgotten Marvel side characters. But, this is a spin-off, the words “associated with” scrawled above the Marvel logo like fine print in some Faustian contract. But no, it’s a skin tag in the armpit of the MCU that can be blithely pinched off and discarded, ultimately rendering “Morbius’” meaninglessness its only real virtue.