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Morbius review: Cold, dead, and desperate

The last time a studio decided to build a film franchise out of a vampire from the Marvel Comics world, 1998’s Blade paved the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe we know today. This year’s long-delayed Morbius, however, feels more like a stake through Sony Pictures’ superhero-loving heart.

A lot can change in a few decades.

Impressive cast

Jared Leto walks in a hooded raincoat in a scene from Morbius.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Life) and featuring Oscar winner Jared Leto in the title role, Morbius follows brilliant scientist Michael Morbius (Leto), whose efforts to cure his debilitating blood disease lead him to conduct dangerous experiments with vampire bats. One such experiment seems to deliver that cure — along with a host of superhuman abilities — but also gives him an insatiable bloodlust. His attempts to cure himself of those deadly urges are complicated by the emergence of a villain with similar traits who’s happy to indulge his brutal instincts.

In theory, Morbius has all the ingredients for a fun, entertaining film. It has an accomplished, quirky actor in the lead role who’s more than willing to dive into the characters he plays, and it surrounds him with a similarly talented supporting cast. Emmy-nominated The Crown and Doctor Who actor Matt Smith plays Morbius’ best friend, Milo, who suffers from the same blood disease, while Adria Arjona (Pacific Rim: Uprising) plays Morbius’ research partner and love interest, Martine. They’re joined by two-time Emmy nominee Jared Harris (ChernobylMad Men) as Morbius’ father figure and caretaker.

Along with that impressive cast, Morbius arrives with plenty of ties to established Marvel franchises, existing in the same universe as the (relatively successful) Venom films while also adjacent to the (outrageously successful) MCU proper, thanks to the increasingly blurred boundary between Sony and Marvel Studios’ characters. That connection gets plenty of attention in the film, too, with references to elements of the MCU and Venom films peppered throughout Morbius’ adventure.

And yet, somehow, Morbius never manages to capitalize on any of that potential.

Missed opportunities

Jared Leto as Morbius.

Despite offering plenty of opportunities for its protagonist’s tragic childhood and plight as an adult to strike an emotional chord with audiences, Morbius never ventures much below the surface with its title character or any of the supporting cast, for that matter. You’re given little reason to care about Morbius or forge any kind of connection with the sentiments that drive him, making the stakes feel frustratingly low and leaving the characters feeling detached from anything familiar.

Leto seemingly does the best he can with the material he’s given, but there’s simply not much dramatic meat on the bone in Morbius. The entertainment factor increases a bit with Smith, though, who leans into his arc with a wild abandon that often overshadows Leto’s more muted and (seemingly intentional) brooding performance. Smith is always fun to watch, and that’s especially true in Morbius, where he’s the brightest light in a dark and fairly dull environment.

Matt Smith walks down a street in a scene from Morbius.

Of course, Morbius didn’t need to be dull. From the aforementioned Blade to the more recent Deadpool films, there’s plenty of precedent for embracing the bloodier side of superhero stories. And what sort of project would be better-suited for that sort of horror-fueled treatment than a film about a superhero vampire?

Sadly, Morbius is surprisingly bloodless for a film about a character obsessed with, well … blood. The action is bland by comic book movie standards, the scares are tame, and the characters are largely uninspiring (and not even moderately cheer-worthy) for much of the story. Rather than leaning into any of the elements that could have made Morbius stand out in a crowded genre, the film opts to remain frustratingly tepid across the board, hesitating to commit to any of the cinematic possibilities its source material offers.

Wasted potential

Jared Leto and Adria Arjona sit at a table in a scene from Morbius.

Still, even as Morbius seems intent on wasting its potential, the film also comes across as shamefully desperate to prove its value in the larger Marvel movie-verse shared by Sony and Marvel Studios. Nods to the MCU and Sony’s cinematic Spider-Man universe are shoehorned into the story in ways that make Marvel movies’ ubiquitous self-reference seem subtle in comparison. These heavy callouts culminate in a pair of mid-credits sequences that seem completely disconnected from the film’s story, intended to offer another reminder that Marvel’s recent Spider-Man films and Sony’s superhero universe are indeed connected — just in case you forgot.

It seems silly to call a film about a vampire “lifeless,” but that might be the most accurate label you can apply to Morbius, which wastes a tremendous amount of potential by consistently opting for the most boring, predictable storytelling decisions at every turn. Morbius had every opportunity to be just as groundbreaking as that other Marvel vampire film was years ago, but instead it feels like just another nail in the coffin of Sony’s Spider-verse.

Sony’s Morbius premieres April 1 in theaters.

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