When I went to “Morbius” opening weekend, I was surprised to find the theater practically empty. That should have been my first sign to run — I could have avoided 104 minutes of flat characters, confusing plot holes and cringeworthy visual effects.
“Morbius” is the latest in a series of Sony/Marvel crossovers set in the Spider-Man universe. It follows Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) as he attempts to cure himself and his best friend Milo (Matt Smith) of their shared blood disease. Michael turns himself into a genetic vampire (a bat man, if you will) and finds himself not only cured of his illness, but now also a superhuman. Somewhat predictably, the cure doesn’t come without a cost: Michael now has an unquenchable thirst for blood. Michael warns Milo to not take the “cure,” but Milo ignores him and joins his childhood friend as a bat-human hybrid. We are then left with a battle of the vampires — Milo fighting for increased power, and Michael trying to stop the monster he has created.
Almost nothing is worse for a superhero movie than a flat villain. Milo is cartoonishly evil with unclear motives and undirected bloodlust. In the early part of the film, Milo is sweet and funny, driven to take the cure by his desire to be well. Once he turns into a bat, though, he is a tornado of violence. He kills needlessly: eating a newspaper salesman, picking a fight with men at a bar and murdering his childhood caretaker. Milo flip-flops between hating Michael — for example, when Milo delivers a rant of jealousy or when he attacks Michael’s love interest, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) — and wanting Michael to join him on the dark side. It is difficult to feel anything but apathetic toward such an erratic, one-dimensional character.
Perhaps Milo’s personality switch is brought about by his transformation, but then why isn’t Michael also irredeemably evil? Putting aside that plot hole for a second, I believe characters can be evil without being boringly flat and incomprehensible. Take Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” or Thanos in the Marvel Universe. These characters are evil, but they still constitute vibrant and compelling parts of the story. Watching Milo was like watching a child dressed up for Halloween “play” the part of a villain.
Michael isn’t particularly compelling, either. Leto gives a fine performance, but he is working with a weak script. Michael spends the entire film riding on his high horse, lacking all self-awareness. He preaches right and wrong, but he was the one who distorted nature to make this serum, despite Bancroft’s warnings. He also kills eight people during his initial vampire transformation, but crucifies Milo for committing any batty violence. He never takes responsibility for his actions, except when he turns into a pseudo-vigilante to stop Milo. Admirers, like Bancroft and his inexplicably dedicated mentor, attempt to uphold this “holier than thou” narrative of Michael, but it just seems hollow. Michael reads less like a saint and more like an egomaniac.
These weak characters may be a side effect of a confusing plot. Take, for example, the bat powers. Michael and Milo both clearly have super strength, but what else? At times, it appears as though they can fly, but at other points it seems more like gliding, like when Michael rides the wind generated by a subway train. Things get even murkier as we look at echolocation and bat communication. In Michael and Milo’s final duel, Michael uses his super hearing and bat friends to finally best his friend-turned-villain, but shouldn’t Milo have those same abilities? Why do we never see Milo use those powers? The rules of this vampire world only get more tangled when we find out that Bancroft has turned into a bat person from a weird blood-drinking interaction with Michael. The logistics of this transformation are unclear. While the rest of the film treats traditional vampire lore as ridiculous myths, the movie suddenly backtracks to lean on classic monster legends to justify Bancroft’s survival.
Audiences are also dragged through murky plotlines to a tanker ship in “international waters” — a fact that is emphasized multiple times — for when Michael conducts his vampire transformation. It is implied that the experiment is conducted on the boat for some kind of legal immunity purpose, although this is never clearly laid out, but then federal agents end up investigating the ship and its corresponding events anyway. Why go to this boat, if not for legal purposes, and why did that plan completely fail? None of these questions are ever answered. The feds launch an investigation into Michael, which escalates later in the film when a nurse dies in his lab. During questioning, the agents emphasize that they never cared about the murders on the boat, but now they are concerned because of this latest death. Not only does this set of dialogue seem unnatural, but it also doesn’t make sense: the agents seem pretty concerned immediately after the boat incident, for example when they stoically explore the scene of the crime.
In a very un-Marvel-like fashion, the film abandons all levity and leans fully into “edge-lord” grunge. “Venom,” Sony and Marvel’s other established anti-hero, knows how to laugh through the pain, but “Morbius” takes itself all too seriously. Even DC’s latest crack at Batman got more (albeit not always intentional) laughs. Gritty lighting and set designs mix with Leto’s unsmiling Michael to create a melodramatic gloom-fest.
Unnecessary computer-generated imagery (CGI) makes action scenes confusing and visually unappealing. We don’t get to watch cool vampire combat; instead, we see swirls of purple and black twisting about in the New York skyline. Michael and Milo’s vampire faces look like something out of an early 2000s video game: fuzzy and texturally off-putting. Sometimes a bubblegum superhero movie doesn’t need a stellar plot or script — it can be enjoyed for its epic action sequences alone — but “Morbius” doesn’t even give us that. Its visual effects, just like its plot, are messy, confusing and disappointing.
I have been happy with Sony/Marvel collaborations thus far — I saw “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in theaters twice — but “Morbius” was a complete disappointment. As a stark defender of superhero movies, I wish I could say there was something redeemable here, but I can’t. Put simply, “Morbius” sucks.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.