Directed by: Daniel Espinosa | 105 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: Jared Leto, Michael Keaton, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Matt Smith, Tyrese Gibson, Bentley Kalu, Corey Johnson, Charlie Shotwell, Archie Renaux, Tom Forbes, Clara Rosager, Al Madrigal
Since childhood, Michael Morbius has struggled with a rare blood disorder that severely limits his mobility. He can only walk with crutches, but is blessed with an impressive set of brain cells. A Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Morbius is eager to overcome his illness and devote his intellect and life to the search for a cure. However, that turns out to be a huge task. Driven by despair, the brilliant and unorthodox scientist puts his cards on a risky experimental drug: a miracle cure that he develops with the help of vampire bats (yes, they do exist). What at first seems like a great success turns out to be a curse that may be worse than the disease Morbius suffers from…
Most of the well-known superheroes and villains from the Marvel Universe have long had their own movies or at least have minor roles in one of the many productions that Marvel Studios and Sony have already unleashed on movie audiences. Morbius is a somewhat obscure, but also extremely intriguing and tragic character who first appeared in comic form in issue 101 of the comic series ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (1971). Michael Morbius’s attempt to heal himself from his blood disease turns him into a terrifying vampire wrestling with an infernal dilemma: retain his humanity and relapse into his broken physical state or give in to his healing thirst for human blood. In vampire form, Morbius possesses many of the supernatural abilities associated with these mythical creatures. But as he continues to be devoid of blood, his superpowers steadily diminish.
The premiere of ‘Morbius’ was postponed several times due to the corona pandemic. But in the end there was no cancellation. However, the result is not entirely satisfactory. To start with the good: Morbius’s rock-solid transformation from fragile scientist to super-strong and lightning-fast vampire. Unlike some other movie versions of superheroes and supervillains, Morbius’ appearance in vampire guise is consistent with the character we know from the comics.
The CGI in this film is top notch anyway. At the same time, this also turns out to be a pitfall. At some point, the digital effects take over, stripping the film of its soul. Many action sequences and fights between Morbius and the villain on duty (played convincingly by Matt Smith) are filmed in such a way that they appear rushed and contrived. The story doesn’t end there either. A little more character development would certainly have been desirable. The tragedy of the character Morbius does not come through, especially because the film does not introduce him extensively enough. We know he’s a scientist struggling with a rare disease, but otherwise get little insight into the character’s complex psyche. In addition, the film is too good, a shortcoming that we also saw in the two films about Venom, one of those other dark antiheroes from the Marvel Universe. The character Morbius deserves at the very least a film with a fairly high horror content, but director Daniel Espinoza keeps it all fairly, excusez le mot, bloodless, both literally and figuratively. Even if Morbius with his long, razor-sharp vampire nails clearly opens someone’s throat, the blood remains largely invisible.
The decision not to go for an R rating is clearly intended to make the film presentable to a wider audience, but backfires. Precisely by opting for a more confrontational and gothic style and combining CGI with real effects, ‘Morbius’ could have become a cult classic in the style of ‘The Crow’. Now it is mainly a superficial spectacle film that visually looks very nice, but lacks substance, depth, tension and a much-needed sinister edge.
The extra scenes after the credits seem to hint that Morbius will make another appearance on the silver screen in the future, but the question is whether many viewers will really care after this film what the doctor and his bloodthirsty alter ego going into the future. Too bad, because although ‘Morbius’ isn’t as bad as many critics claim, the makers certainly haven’t fully exploited the potential of the source material.