I’m not entirely sure what goes on at those culty gatherings hosted on MarsIsland (perhaps an Elizabeth Báthory approach to skincare) but it seems to work for probable real-life vampire Jared Leto, whose inability to age is, at this point, slightly concerning. It’s a shame, then, that his dedication to acting is not given the same priority as his quest for eternal youth. Known for going way too hard for absolutely no reason, Leto has become the anti-Daniel Day-Lewis; all Messiah complex, method for the sake of method. It’s no surprise that such a person would jump at the chance to play a brilliant scientist who inadvertently turns himself into a powerful vampire in a Marvel-associated production, but the skin-deep reasons why this might’ve been a good idea are barely evident in Morbius, a film with little bite and even less substance.
Leto plays Michael Morbius, a Nobel Prize-rejecting scientist whose invention and implementation of synthetic blood has saved millions of lives across the globe. But he hasn’t been able to cure the rare blood disease that he happens to share with his surrogate brother Lucien (nicknamed “Milo” to distract from the lack of subtlety in this Biblically-influenced relationship). In a flashback from 25 years earlier, Michael and Milo live in a private hospital in Greece where everyone speaks English. When Milo’s blood machine fails one day, Michael saves him by sticking a pen coil in the battery port, jolting both the machine and Milo back to life. This apparently displays to the facility’s Dr Nicholas (Jared Harris) that Michael should go to genius school in America, so he packs his bags and gets a free ride to universal acclaim from the scientific community while Milo stays back at the hospital under 24-hour care.
Present day Michael Morbius is now 35 and played by the youngest 50 year-old in existence. He works alongside his inexplicably hot 20-something colleague (and possibly girlfriend?) Dr Martine Bancroft, testing a serum he’s created from a questionably-legal bat procurement trip that he recently took to the Amazon. The trials are unapproved and must be done on international waters, so M & Co head out on a cargo ship (on Milo’s dime by the way, he’s somehow a billionaire) and get to it. I can’t speak to the soundness of the science behind extracting whatever it is in vampire bats that makes them vampiric and injecting it into yourself to force your body to start making blood, but this guy won a Nobel Prize and threw it back in the face of the King of Sweden, so let’s just trust him. After about two attempts, the serum works and Michael Morbius drops his Christian name, abandoning his walking aids, developing a healthy golden hue to his once pallid complexion and massacring everyone onboard the ship except for Martine.
Joining Leto in this mess of a production are Matt Smith as adult Milo/Lucien (or is it Loxias Crown? No one seems to be on the same page) and Detective Tyrese Gibson from everyone’s favourite family car franchise. Adria Arjona is Martine and she tries her darndest to establish some chemistry with Leto, ultimately failing due to the fact that Jared Leto loves no one but Jared Leto. Jared Harris’ talents are completely wasted here and any attempts at humour by Tyrese Gibson’s clownish detective partner (played by a poor man’s Fred Armisen) fall back into the void from whence they came. But the supporting cast can only work with what they’re given; let’s take a look behind the veil.
Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, the duo behind such cinematic pieces as the Vin Diesel-led The Last Witch Hunter and the Gerard Butler showcase Gods of Egypt, we can start to see why maybe Morbius wasn’t given the most primo blood on which to thrive. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, whose semi-enjoyable Life took a little more inspiration from Alien than necessary, Morbius also emulates more fun and stylistic flicks like Blade and Underworld…without any of the fun or style. It’s interesting to note the initial rumour that Life might be a Venom origin story as Espinosa’s new film shares some of the issues with Sony’s other Spiderman villain spin-off franchise.
A prudish lack of gore considering the subject matter is a trait kindly donated by Venom 2. It’s frustrating to again be teased into a Creature Feature only to see impotent deaths and human bodies devoid of fluids, but it’s becoming more and more common in these Marvel spin-offs that need to cater to children. Morbius’ first kill leaves multiple victims behind but much like their corpses, there is absolutely no blood to be found. I can understand the intent in creating an extended universe post-Avengers but maybe don’t pick the most animalistic, horror-leaning villains from the source material if the product has to fit within ratings guidelines.
The unfortunate fact is that there’s likely a cool character lurking in the shadows; even a brief look into the origin of Morbius, the Living Vampire hints at a fascinating and tragic arc of an antihero trying to cure himself of a self-inflicted curse. Instead of showing any of this, the film stumbles around from messy editing, nonsensical plotting, an anticlimactic final boss battle and an overuse of unconvincing CGI through to an obligatory post-credits scene of Morbius meeting up with another villain from the Spidey-verse. It’s a move that is so expected, there wasn’t a single gasp of awe or excitement in the audience (and I witnessed these people cheer over Free Guy).
This telling silence from the usual superhero fiends in the crowd was a powerful shared experience, like we’d all collectively been screwed and then left in an empty bed 20 seconds later to stew in our disappointment. And with Morbius currently sitting at a frightening 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, the silence is getting louder and louder.
Morbius is in cinemas now and if you’re still planning on seeing it, take a Maltofer. 2/10.