Director – Daniel Espinosa, Screenplay – Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless, Based on the Marvel Comic Book Created by Gil Kane and Roy Thomas, Producers – Avai Arad, Lucas Foster & Matt Tolmach, Photography – Oliver Wood, Music – Jon Ekstrand, Visual Effects Supervisor – Matthew Butler, Visual Effects/Animation – Digital Domain 3.0 (Supervisor – Joel Behrens), lola | VFX (Supervisor – Louis Mackall), One of Us (Supervisor – Lars Andersen) & Storm (Supervisor – Espen Nordahl), Special Effects Supervisor – Keith Dawson, Production Design – Stefania Cella. Production Company – Sony/Columbia/Marvel/Talmach Prods.
Jared Leto (Dr Michael Morbius), Matt Smith (Milo), Adria Arjona (Dr Martine Bancroft), Jared Harris (Dr Emil Nicholas), Tyrese Gibson (Agent Simon Stroud), Al Madrigal (Agent Rodriguez), Charlie Shotwell (Young Michael), Joseph Esson (Young Milo), Michael Keaton (Adrian Toombes/The Vulture)
Since childhood, Michael Morbius has had a crippling blood condition that leaves him walking on crutches. During the course of researching a cure for himself and his similarly afflicted childhood friend Milo, this has driven him to become a brilliant doctor, having created a form of synthetic blood. He finds hope in a serum taken from vampire bats from Costa Rica. He and his colleague Martine Bancroft conduct experiments aboard a freighter outside international waters. Morbius injects himself with the serum. This turns him into a vampire-like creature and he slaughters all of the mercenaries aboard and drinks their blood. Back in New York, Morbius explores the newfound powers that the serum has given him but refuses to drink anything other than the blood substitute. As other vampire killings appear around the city, Morbius realises that a desperate Milo has injected himself with the serum.
Morbius the Living Vampire is a Marvel Comics super-villain. The character first appeared on the comic-book page in The Amazing Spider-Man #101 (1971) and became a regular Spider-Man nemesis. DC had created the villain of Man-Bat the year before Morbius appeared on the comic-book page and Morbius can be seen as attempting to do the same thing but pushing the character over to being a full vampire. Morbius’s origin story is fairly much the same one we have in the film – a scientist with a crippling blood disorder whose experiments with a serum derived from vampire bats has left him with a vampire-like appearance and symptoms. Morbius has flipped back and forth between being an outright villain and a hero in comic-book continuity. He has had sporadic runs of his own comic-book but has mostly served as a nemesis or ally of others. He has an ongoing battle with Blade and has variously fought alongside Ghost Rider and Dr Strange.
Sony’s efforts to emulate the MCU seem to be stuck with the lack of an actual pantheon of other superheroes out of which to build a shared universe. They have dealt with that in some interesting ways – with Into the Spider-Verse and No Way Home, they introduced the multiverse, bringing together other comic-book and past screen versions of Spider-Man. With the Venom films and now Morbius, the tactic seems to be to take characters that are Super-Villains on the comic-book page and turn them into anti-heroes. Indeed, the plots of Morbius and Venom: Let There Be Carnage are very similar in the sense that they both feature a good version of the villain combatting an evil equivalent of themselves (which ends up being more the way the characters was originally conceived on the comic-book page). There is also the mid-credits scenes where Michael Keaton’s The Vulture/Adrian Toombes from Spider-Man Homecoming turns up, apparently due to some multiverse shift, and appeals to Jared Leto’s Morbius to join forces, suggesting the creation of something like a Sinister Six.
What we have with Morbius is essentially a regular Vampire that has been spun as a Superhero Film. This is somewhat of an oddity. In actuality, Morbius is the standard variant on the trope of the Mad Scientist who uses themselves as a test subject and then struggles to contain the unforeseen consequences – we have seen variants on this with Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Morbius for the most part consists of Jared Leto with long hair and beard who every so often morphs into a vampire-like visage with gaunt, skull-like face and massive fangs. There are some cool looking action scenes where he goes into combat in slow-motion action and flies across the city leaving a purple trail.
I wish there was more to Morbius but it feels a superhero film by the numbers. There is little that makes Morbius distinctive beyond a childhood flashback. There is even less that makes Matt Smith’s Milo distinctive beyond Smith over-acting to the rafters. Smith gives the film a certain amount of life but it is not a particularly good performance. Daniel Espinosa’s marshalling of the effects sequences is competent but uninspired – there are no sequences that leave you floored, you just feel all you are watching is another superheroic effects battle.
Daniel Espinosa is a Swedish director of Chilean origin who had gained international attention with his third film, the thriller Easy Money (2010). He was brought to the US to make the crime film Safe House (2012), followed by the big-budgeted Soviet era detective story Child 44 (2015) and the SF film Life (2017) about an alien organism loose on the International Space Station.