Spider-Man universe movie Morbius stars Jared Leto in the title role, but this is a long way down from the standard of No Way Home – here’s our review.
I preferred it when vampires sparkled. Say what you like about Twilight, but those movies have an eye for the camp, absurd elements of vampirism. The Cullens are golden-eyed, ridiculously earnest and drawn largely as caricatures, but at least they have personality. That certainly puts them a rung above whatever the heck leading man Jared Leto and director Daniel Espinosa are trying to do with Morbius.
The film is the latest entry in what has been dubbed the “VenomVerse” on social media, with the more official moniker “Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters” delivering the decidedly unappealing acronym SPUMC. But rather than cash in on the impressive success of Venom and its enjoyably wacky 2021 sequel Let There Be Carnage, this is a mostly separate entity – making only a throwaway reference to “that thing in San Francisco”.
Michael Morbius (Leto) is a brilliant scientist who has suffered his whole life from a rare blood disease, which threatens to kill him before he can find a cure. We’re told early on that he has already “saved more lives than penicillin” with his innovative artificial blood. But experiments in which he splices human DNA with vampire bats appear to have yielded success – with the small wrinkle of turning him into a grotesque supernatural beast with an insatiable lust for fresh blood. The chemist obviously didn’t put that side effect on the packet.
Even before he goes all Nosferatu, Morbius is a chore to be around. Leto’s penchant for taking wild risks as a performer – albeit risks that sometimes leave him sounding like Super Mario having dinner with the guy from the Dolmio ads – is neutered here to the extent of absolute nothingness. Before and after his super-fiasco, Morbius is a miserable non-entity in a black hoodie. When he’s given jokes to deliver – Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’s script sleepwalks through the superhero cliché canon – they fade in the air as he says them because the character’s persona is so anti-comedic. Leto is a Marmite screen presence, but his roles almost always feel very much his own. That’s not the case here.
In stark contrast, Matt Smith takes on a villain role with all of the subtlety of a punch to the groin. As a childhood friend of Morbius who steals some of the scientist’s serum to cure his own condition, Smith exists only to yell, swagger and run menacingly at the camera in slow-motion. Given the stellar work Smith did as a loathsome, cunning manipulator in Last Night in Soho last year, it’s a shame to see him delivering lowest common denominator evil here.
Women, meanwhile, are an endangered species in this world, with Morbius’s sort-of-love-interest Dr Bancroft (Adria Arjona) – the script tells us they fancy each other without so much as a biscuit crumb of passion – treated as a spare part by the uninterested narrative.
None of the performers are helped by the fact Espinosa and his team set the movie in a New York City – actually mostly shot in Manchester – shorn of any amount of colour, energy or excitement. This is a sludgy, grey-green dirge of a movie – it’s like they applied a snot-coloured Instagram filter – which limps through its relatively slight, sub-two-hour running time with all of the intensity of a deflated balloon in a light breeze. Even the action scenes are rendered as pig-ugly blotches of dull pixels, with the climactic scuffle so colourless as to be entirely incomprehensible and any throat-ripping, blood-sucking fun concealed for fear of alarming ratings boards.
The SPUMC – unwieldy moniker aside – faces an odd crisis of identity going forward, with Spider-Man: No Way Home's post-credit scene showing that the already quite flimsy partition door between universes is far from closed. Morbius mostly eschews such connections, save for the brief appearance of someone who was so heavily teased in the trailers. Golly, the less said about those scenes the better.
Charitably, there might have once been a better version of Morbius. It’s an ugly, misshapen film which seems to bear the numerous scars of a tumultuous production process. But its ugliness manifests in that most upsetting and terminally disappointing of ways: it’s just boring. The gonzo chaos of Venom gave life to a franchise but this vampire has, appropriately enough, sucked it all out. He doesn’t even have the courtesy to sparkle
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