There’s a pungency to the corporate desperation with which Sony continue to seek a means to exist in the world of IP universes. An existence outwit their family friendly frolics with the Marvel machine. Surprise success with Venom might have hinted at a code cracked but Morbius brings things back to square one. Or, rather, Daniel Espinosa’s infeasibly bland entry into the ‘Sony Spider-Man Universe’ exposes a studio still stuck in an tiresome past. Put simply, the big players in this game have long since abandoned so rote an approach to origins story tentpoles. Venom had the same faults but found salvation in the sheer force of its comic character. Morbius offers neither comic relief nor character.
Much like Venom’s Eddie Brock, Dr. Michael Morbius is a perfectly serviceable foil to Spider-Man in the comics but by no means an obvious choice to stand alone on the big screen. And yet, stand alone here he does. Jared Leto leads, shunning the excess of his brief spin as the Joker for a more engaging performance. His Morbius is a man both of superior intellect and gentile ambition. A scientist so driven that he rejects a Nobel Prize on the grounds that his work remains incomplete. This good doctor seeks to cure the blood condition that has left him unable to walk without the aid of crutches. He does this not so much for his own benefit as for the many others around the world who share his affliction. So far, he has succeeded solely in manufacturing artificial blood for transfusion.
Somewhat confusingly, Morbius opens in Costa Rica and at a point neither at the start nor end of the tale. Scenes to come will prove similarly baffling. Hereafter, we flit back and forth between a childhood in Greece and the meat of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’ script, which is set in a murky present day New York.
In the past, a young Michael befriends Lucian, whom he renames Milo and who will be played in adulthood by Matt Smith. In the present, Dr. Morbius has found a way to harness the coagulating properties of vampire bat blood, via gene splicing, as a cure to his own condition. The science is total hokum but only in a tip of the iceberg kind of fashion.
Naturally, it’s not long before an ill advised human trial on his own body goes slightly awry. Surely, the illegality of it on mainland America was big enough a giveaway? While Morbius’ cure works, it does so by transforming him into a bloodthirsty, vampiric superhuman. His resistance is a ticking time bomb. Artificial blood can sustain him only so long and the real red stuff grows sweeter by the minute.
Things go from bad to worse when Milo too swigs a slug of the good stuff and finds more thrill in the potential. What a pity that said thrill does not extend to the broader film itself.
For all the fun Smith reaps from playing shadeless evil – Leto is more earnest in his effort to find dramatic heft – the film around him fails to bite. Morbius is plagued by an inner turmoil that never truly compels. Milo is never more than a peripheral threat. The trajectory of their conflict proves as witheringly obvious as the prosthetics they are subjected to are lame.
The adults only rating aside, Morbius offers little by way of frights and only sporadically spooks. It helps not a jot just how much Leto and Smith resemble old Buffy villains whenever they don their fangs and fake cheek bones. The sheer absurdity of their appearance undercuts any possibility of intensity as the climax beckons. Perhaps Espinosa is aware of this. Such would explain the limpness with which the film fizzles out.
As for the credit stings, the less said the better.