Not bad enough to be terrible but not good enough to feel disappointing
You better hurry if you want to see the re-release of Morbius on the big screen.
No, we’re joking. Literally almost no one wants to take advantage of the Morbius re-release. The film was a box office and critical bomb when originally released on April 1, but if Sony thought they were playing an April Fool’s joke on the audience, they ended up hoist on their own petard: an online, grassroots campaign convinced the studio to put the film back in theatres, where it bombed again. Apparently, the studio decision makers were blind to the fact that the campaign was tongue in cheek, with alleged fans praising scenes and dialogue that do not actually occur in the film, such as Morbius delivering the catchy tagline, “It’s Morbin’ Time!”
Sigh. In an era when anything less than an instant blockbuster is shuffled off to home video with lightening speed, it is nice that a studio would give a film a second chance, but really…Morbius?
To be fair, Morbius is nowhere near a contender for worst film – or even worst superhero film – of all time. It is too bland to generate outright hatred. Rather, it’s a by-the-numbers affair that feels more like a generic template than a finished work. All the expected story beats are there, but neither the writers nor the director imbue them with any pizazz or style. Even the fine cast can wring little out of the material.
This is unfortunate, because Jared Leto certainly has the look and the demeanor to carry off a vampire anti-hero. And former Doctor Who Matt Smith would seem to have the acting chops to play a former friend turned evil. And yet even when the two of them are onscreen together, sparks fail to fly. The only actor who comes across memorably is Al Madrigal as a sarcastic police investigator, who manages to wisecrack his way through the movie without ever devolving into an annoying comic relief character.
The film gets off to a bad start, with Morbius travelling to South America to capture some vampire bats, who are amusingly presented as flying piranha fish, capable of stripping larger animals to the bone in mere seconds. In spite of this, Morbius cuts his hand (no worry about infection in the middle of an Amazonian jungle!) to lure the bats into a trap with his blood. Confusingly, none of the bats actually seem to be captured in the device. Instead they swarm around the crew of the helicopter that brought him to the isolated location – but presumably do not strip anyone to the bone, since we later see Morbius back home as if nothing bad had happened.
From there, the story follows Morbius, a doctor suffering from a blood disease that renders him a virtual invalid. His friend Lucien (Smith) enables him to carry out an ethically dubious experiment aboard a ship parked outside the territorial limit of the U.S. in order to avoid legal interference. The experiment turns Morbius into a semi-vampire, who immediately kills most of the crew, but that’s okay because they’re thugs. Morbius feels bad about his new status, which requires increasingly frequent meals of artificial blood in order to avoid killing victims for the real thing. Despite Morbius’s misgivings, Lucien steals the “cure” and turns himself into a vampire, which in the time honored tradition morally compromised heroes, stops Morbius from feeling bad about himself because now he can use his superpowers to fight the bad guy. That battle between Morbius and Lucien is supposed to be fraught with personal emotion because the two have been friends from childhood, but the attempt to cast Lucien as a tragic figure corrupted by his new powers fails badly because Lucien was obviously corrupted long before. When Lucien is finally defeated, we’re supposed to feel a touch of pathos as his allegedly innocent self re-emerges, but that self never really existed (a man who arranges for mercenary thugs to man a ship conducted illegal experiments has more than a few skeletons in his closet).
The script deficiencies are amplified by the special effects, which turn the action scenes into a rather dull videogame. The visceral punch needed to make a vampire-against-vampire brawl exhilarating is completely drowned by CGI. Much of the action resembles vapor trails meant to suggest superspeed, which suddenly shift into brief bullet-time slow-mo, the frozen poses of the characters apparently meant to recreate the stylized look of comic book art. The problem of course is that, regardless of the comic book source material, this is a movie, and there are better ways to make action exciting (e.g., John Wick).
One mildly interesting aspect of Morbius is that the filmmakers at Columbia Pictures are clearly trying to follow the footsteps made by their groundbreaking Spider-Man (2002), but they have not learned their own lessons. Remember when Peter Parker woke up after being bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly found his physique was totally buff? Well, revisit that moment in Morbius! On the other hand, remember how Peter Parker, even after acquiring his superpowers, still seemed vulnerable because he had yet to master those powers? Well…better forget that. Morbius is almost completely adept from the get go. There’s even a scene where he discovers a new power on the spur of the moment: sensing the pressure wave from an approaching subway train, he immediately begins flying (or at least gliding) as if he had been doing it all his life – just in time to escape from the villain.
Anyway, after defeating his opponent, Morbius has not really solved his blood addiction, and technically he is still guilty of murdering those people aboard the ship, but the police don’t seem to care, and presumably neither is audience, so the movie ends as if everything has been resolved.
Then there is a mid-credits celebrity cameo setting up a sequel that presumably will not happen. Sorry, Michael…
Perhaps if the filmmakers had resisted the convenient, easy options and attempted something more daring, Morbius would have had more impact, for good or bad. As it stands, it’s too bland to get worked up over – not bad enough to be truly terrible and not good enough to feel disappointing.
Though it bombed at the box office and with critics, Morbius is too bland to stand out as a truly terrible film. It just feels like a generic template that someone forgot to fill in with interesting details before presenting it to the public.
Morbius (Columbia Pictures, 2022). Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Written by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless. Cast: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Tyrese GIbson, Al Madrigal. Rated PG-13. Runtime: 104 mins. US Release Dates: April 1; June 3 (re-release).