Morbius, the latest quasi-addition to the Marvel movie megafranchise, can’t quite decide whether it’s a modern vampire movie or a dark superhero flick. But if you have to choose, it’s pretty clear that it leans toward the vampire genre, if only for the reason that, like all those fanged blood fiends, it really, really sucks.
I say “quasi-addition,” because Morbius exists in an intellectual property netherrealm, an awkward in-between zone in which it is neither a full-fledged Marvel movie nor its own entirely separate franchise.
Historically, Morbius is a Marvel Comics character—originally a Spider-Man nemesis who rode the wave of trippy, horror-shlock comics in the 1970s. But like Venom, who has already headlined a pair of solo films, the rights to the character are controlled by Sony through the studio’s deal to produce Spider-Man movies. Complicating things further, however, the Spider-Man films are actually produced in conjunction with Marvel (which is owned by Disney), in a secondary deal that allows Marvel to incorporate Spider-Man into the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Thus, the movie ends with Morbius connecting with a character from one of the recent MCU Spider-Man films, in a multiverse event presaged by Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Honestly, it doesn’t really matter whether you do or don’t. Somehow, all of this comic book movie deal-making lore makes much more sense than the movie itself.
Like the two Venom films, Morbius is a chaotic and cruddy looking mess, a dull and listless watch-checker made to be ignored on streaming while you scroll through Twitter. It’s poorly paced, barely has a story worth following, and has all the markings of a movie heavily reworked during post-production.
Unlike the Venom films, Morbius It doesn’t even make a token effort to have fun with its character or concept. I didn’t like Venom or its sequel at all, but there was a crude energy to both films, especially the second. They weren’t good by any definition, but they occasionally seemed to try to engage the audience.
Morbius, on the other hand, grudgingly trudges from one predictable beat to another, barely developing a plot about a scientist with a rare blood disease who gains vampiric powers after he experiments on himself. What are those powers, exactly? The movie never really defines them, except to show Dr. Michael Morbius (a lethargic, unusually bland Jared Leto) swinging around his lab and occasionally moving with such speed that he turns into an airborne purple goo. If you find yourself in a room with him, be sure to wear an N95.
Elsewhere in the movie, there’s a close childhood friend, Milo, another blood-disease sufferer played by former Doctor Who Matt Smith. An hour or so into the movie, Milo becomes a villain for no apparent reason other than that the movie eventually needs one. At times the movie seems to want to liken the experience of the two lead characters to the experience of gay men during the early years of AIDS. But it has absolutely nothing to say about this comparison except to vaguely gesture in its direction. Like everything about Morbius, the central metaphor is entirely inert. This is a $75 million movie without a single remotely interesting idea.
The hope, then, seems to be that audiences will flock to it anyway because of its tenuous connections to the Marvel machine. Some of the posters explicitly play on this connection, advertising the film as the dawn of “a new Marvel legend”—true in the sense that Morbius is an old Marvel Comics character, but false in the sense that the producers and creative forces behind the MCU had nothing to do with making the movie Morbius.
Indeed, watching an off-brand not-quite Marvel movie like this is probably the best way to demonstrate the Marvel difference, and why the superhero brand has remained so successful across so many movies and TV shows for so many years. Even the very worst actual Marvel movie—and I’m specifically talking about Eternalswhich was three hours of cosmic dreck—displays more ingenuity and delivers more genuine spectacle than a rote cash-in like Morbius.
And on the small screen, with large-for-TV but comparatively modest budgets, Marvel’s work has remained somewhere between pretty good and excellent.
Consider, for example, the pilot episode of Moon Knight, an official MCU TV series that debuted on streaming service Disney+ this week. Like Morbius, Moon Knight is a modernized riff on an obscure comic book character, a man haunted by demons and granted supernatural power. But it’s clever and engaging, with character gags and nifty action and a pair of high-powered performances from stars Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke at the center. It breathes life into an old, lesser-known character. Morbius’ nickname is “the living vampire,” but this movie is utterly dead on arrival.