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‘Morbius’ Is a Curse

Sony Pictures’ superhero efforts have varied wildly in success, but their latest deserves a stake through its heart

Sony Pictures/Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

Movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe may well be likened to theme park rides, but at least you know exactly what you’re getting from them. The MCU doesn’t produce many great films, but by adhering to a crowd-pleasing formula, it also isn’t responsible for flat-out disasterpieces. (Thor: The Dark World and Captain Marvel are exceedingly mediocre more than anything else.) And that’s where Sony Pictures comes in. As the owner of the film rights to Spider-Man and the extensive library of comic book characters associated with the superhero, Sony has created many of its own Marvel movies, and the results have been all over the place. The Andrew Garfield–led Spider-Man franchise was so underwhelming that the studio turned to Marvel Studios when rebooting the character—and the Kevin Feige–approved Tom Holland era has been considerably better—while the Venom films have emerged as a horny, chaotic celebration of symbiote-human companionship.

But the greatest virtue of the Sony-produced Marvel movies—their sheer unpredictability—can also be a curse, much like a Nobel Prize–winning doctor discovering a cure for a rare blood disease that turns him into a living vampire. That’s right: After several delays going back to 2020, Morbius finally will be in our lives this weekend. The fact that Sony pushed back Morbius more times than The New Mutants before settling on April Fools as a release date led to amusing speculation that the film was an elaborate prank devised by one of Hollywood’s most notorious trolls, Jared Leto, or that it was such a transcendent experience that humanity wasn’t ready to experience it. (We can thank Teen Wolf star Dylan O’Brien for sharing that compelling theory.) Alas, I can confirm that Morbius exists: It’s a movie that the studio spent actual money to make and that stars real actors, including, for some reason, beloved character actor Jared Harris.

And now that Morbius has been released, our worst fears have been realized. Sony has distributed a film that is so breathtakingly terrible, and so excruciating to watch, that it could be mistaken for one of the 10 plagues of Egypt. I truly believe that Morbius’s opening weekend is the three days of darkness foretold in the Bible. Our only recourse is to drive a proverbial stake through the heart of this “Marvel legend” and ensure that a sequel never sees the light of day.

At the start of the movie, we see Dr. Michael Morbius (Leto) capture a group of vampire bats in the jungles of Costa Rica, hoping to splice their DNA with that of humans to cure his blood disorder. This is obviously wildly experimental and dangerous, but Dr. Morbius is one of those badass doctors who receives a Nobel Prize but refuses to accept it, so rest assured he definitely knows what he’s doing. And so, along with his colleague and possible romantic interest Dr. Martine Bancroft—a character whom actress Adria Arjona earnestly compared to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—Morbius tests the cure on himself in exotic international waters (a.k.a., 16 miles off the coast of Long Island). Suffice it to say, it doesn’t go well—as in, Morbius turns into a vampiric man-beast who drains the blood of everyone aboard the ship aside from Bancroft.

Horrified by his insatiable thirst for blood, Morbius tries to feast on the “artificial blood” that he previously invented for medicinal purposes, but soon realizes that it’s a temporary salve. At some point, Morbius will need the real thing again—or he’ll die. Meanwhile, his childhood best friend Milo (Matt Smith)—whose name is actually Lucien but Morbius decided to call him Milo when they were being treated at a nondescript Greek hospital run by Jared Harris (don’t ask)—has been bankrolling the human-bat DNA experiments and doesn’t care whether there are some gnarly side effects. He just wants a new lease on life, and so he takes the experimental cure against Morbius’s wishes. Milo/Lucien is way more chill about randomly sucking people’s blood, so Morbius must embrace his inner vampire to stop him.

Morbius goes about crossing off all the things that audiences expect from a superhero movie—the origin story, the villain with a personal relationship to the protagonist, the journey of learning to embrace new powers—with all the enthusiasm of a routine colonoscopy. Sadly, this isn’t like Venom, which offset occasional moments of mundanity with Tom Hardy doing the Absolute Most. The closest that Morbius gets to displaying some semblance of personality comes when Smith, as a healed Lucien, dances in front of a mirror shirtless. Or when our hero vampire randomly barges in on some low-level thugs operating out of a disheveled science lab (?), notes that the human hand has 27 bones, breaks some of those bones when one of the guys tries to stab him, and recommends six to eight weeks of rest with ibuprofen as a treatment. For one brief, glorious sequence, you could imagine Morbius as a kind of bizarro comedy in which this vampire with a PhD goes about kicking ass while rattling off facts from WebMD. Just imagine:

Random criminal: [Attempts to stab the fearsome Dr. Michael Morbius] Stay away from our makeshift lab hideouts, you freak!

Morbius: [Punches him square in the face.] Mmmmm, yes. [Licks the blood off the man’s face.] That injury will require an external nose splint administered by a medical professional. The splint will protect your nose and the surrounding cartilage as the bone heals. The recovery period is approximately three to four weeks, and it is vital that you avoid strenuous physical activity in the meantime. If you experience additional nausea or uncontrollable bleeding from the area, please contact your primary care provider.

Unfortunately, Morbius never comes close to nailing a tone, campy or otherwise. Whenever the film veers toward being a moody character study of a vampiric antihero, it throws in a wacky scene in which Morbius is called “The Vampire Murderer” on the news. (Why not just “The Vampire,” nondescript local news anchor?!) The movie simply exists because Sony needs to flesh out its nascent cinematic universe of Spider-Man-adjacent characters. The sad truth is that Venom might’ve followed a similar path if it weren’t for Hardy hijacking the project by jumping in a lobster tank and being a complete weirdo on every level.

What’s especially disappointing is that, like Hardy, we know Leto has WTF energy to burn. He was one of the most entertaining performers of 2021, turning in performances in The Little Things and House of Gucci that stole the show from the likes of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, and Lady Gaga. Had he brought half the chaotic energy he did to playing a creepy serial killer suspect or a paunchy failson to Morbius, the film could’ve been watchable—perhaps even worthy of a so-bad-it’s-good sequel. But Leto’s antihero is surprisingly muted and devoid of any charisma, whether he’s sharing scenes with a supposed love interest or a childhood best friend turned villain with an impressive net worth that is never explained. Instead, Morbius’s greatest legacy might be that it united the internet to dunk on a movie nobody asked for.

If the film’s two mid-credits scenes featuring (minor spoiler alert) Michael Keaton’s Vulture are any indication, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Dr. Michael Morbius, who could find himself sharing screen time with other Spider-Man villains in the near future. Of course, this also wouldn’t be the first time that Jared Leto showed up in a superhero blockbuster with a host of villains—and we know how well that went. The only cure for Morbius is to put the eponymous vampire and this tepid attempt at a franchise out of its misery. Here’s hoping Sony Pictures reads the room and grants the prescription.