Dangerously ill with a rare blood disorder and determined to save others from the same fate, Dr. Morbius attempts a desperate gamble. While at first it seems to be a radical success, a darkness inside of him is soon unleashed…
BE WARNED – SPOILERS
Review by Tim Robins
I’m not going to say that Morbius sucks, because that joke had already been done to living death by online reviewers – and, more importantly, it doesn’t. For those tired of the Marvel Cinematic Universe cookie cutter movies, Morbius, for the most part, offers a suitably horror-infected take on a character who was originally a minor Spider-Man villain, now brought to the big-screen by Sony’s ownership of characters originating in Spider-Man comics.
Marvel fans of a certain age (mine, for instance) will recall Dr Michael Morbius from a frankly bonkers story, (published back in 1971, in The Amazing Spider-Man #101 and 102, most recently collected in Marvel-Verse: Morbius), in which Spider-Man grows four extra arms, turning him into an eight-legged-freak.
At the same time, with shades of The Lizard’s origin, scientist Michael Morbius tries to cure a debilitating illness by injecting himself with bat serum… what could possibly go wrong? Vampiric shenanigans follow, as Morbius finds he has developed a taste for human blood.
Morbius: The Living Vampire was a product of changes in the Comics Code to allow explicit reference to horror staples such as vampires, werewolves, zombies and their ilk. Some creations blended superheroes with the supernatural (Man-Wolf, Ghost Rider, Son of Satan), while others revelled in their own fog-shrouded worlds (Dracula, the Zombie and the Werewolf by Night). The tremendous art and ink team of Gil Kane and Frank Giacoa gave Morbius an auspicious birth but the character was best served in the black and white magazine Vampire Tales.
Of late, Morbius has been subject to various “grown-up” reworkings, principally designed to make the anti-hero cool enough for modern audiences.
The mew movie is pretty much a two-hander between Jared Leto as Morbius and Matt Smith as “Milo”, characters who meet as children suffering the same crippling illness, that sees them hobbling around on crutches and in imminent danger of death, unless they receive regular blood transfusions. The adult Morbius is feted by the scientific community for the invention of artificial blood, while Milo/Lucian has become an eccentric billionaire with dubious morals and an equally dubious taste in soft furnishings. When Lucian sees Morbius has apparently cured himself, he wants the serum, even though this means he too will become a vampiric monster.
Leto is excellent in the titular role and his various prosthetics/CGU facial transformations dramatically capture the tormented living vampire from the comic. Leto’s brooding performance also sells us on the character, even when the script doesn’t. The direction, by Daniel Espinosa, is at its best when emphasising the creepy, bat-like qualities of the character, particularly a scene where the now vampiric scientist is first discovered hanging from the ceiling of a laboratory.
Matt Smith is, frankly, odd as Milo/Lucian. While he is another commanding screen presence, and I’m sure his inclusion here will perk up Doctor Who fans, and brings a contrasting energy to Leto, I just found his performance perplexing and reminiscent of his role as ‘Genysis’/ Skynet (in Terminator: Genysis natch’).
Apparently, Espinosa encouraged Smith to give a bold, villainous performance. It was, for me, a bad idea. Improvisation is not Smith’s forte, and Milo’s I-was-bullied-one-time-as-a-child backstory does nothing to flesh out the character. And that is one of the film’s key problems.
No character feels as if they have an existence beyond the scenes they’re in, particularly not the FBI agents, Al Madrigal as Alberto “Al” Rodriguez and Tyrese Gibson as Simon Stroud, who seem to be more important than anything in the film’s script suggests. Even the always compelling Jarid Harris as Dr. Emil Nichola, and the watchable intensity of Adria Arjona as Martine Bancroft, a scientist and Morbius’s girlfriend, don’t take the film anywhere particularly interesting.
The reasonably well structured script is often by-the-numbers, so the moments of horror are over-familiar: Oh it’s a hospital corridor attack, oh it’s thugs on a boat or in a bar. Much like New Mutants, the film lacks the drive or the will to steer its own course, even though you can see everyone is putting their all into the production. There’s the corpse of a good movie struggling to rise from its grave.
It seems that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes re-writing and re-editing going on, enough to drain Morbius of much of its life blood. I regret that online critics vampirically feasting on superhero movies and the audiences they attract have ripped the film to shreds but, no matter. The MCU will be tossing more carrion their way in the coming months.
Dear reader, a review is an opinion. Other opinions are available.
Morbius in Marvel Comics
• Marvel-Verse: Morbius
By Ralph Macchio, Gil Kane, Kevin Grevioux
Released January 2022
Michael Morbius is one of the most tragic figures in all of the Marvel-Verse – transformed by his own hand into a living vampire] Watch him struggle against his bloodsucking impulses in astonishing adventures that blend super heroics with horror] In Spider-Man’s first encounter with Morbius, our hero has his hands full… all six of them] Can Spidey tackle his vampiric new foe, and old enemy the Lizard, while ridding himself of four unwanted extra limbs?] Then, Morbius joins the Thing in a fight to avoid being wiped out by the Living Eraser] Michael is haunted by a ghost from his past – and compelled by a bond of blood] Plus, vampire meets demons in a thriller featuring Spidey and Doctor Strange]
Collecting: Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #101-102, Marvel Two-In-One (1974) #15, Morbius: Bond of Blood (2021) #1, and material from Spider-Man Family (2007) #5
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.