Morbius 2022 Movie Review
Morbius is the latest addition to Sony’s Spider-Man-adjacent universe, with Jared Leto playing the titular character. There’s some reason to be happy here in that we are delving deeper into Spidey’s network. At the same time, the film and its approach feel a little late to the game.
As I watched this, I kept thinking, what’s the frame of reference that I could use to enjoy this movie? Because, well, it’s kind of a mess. And where I wound up was I began imagining it as something that was released in the ’90s; somewhere in the neighborhood of Blade and Underworld is where it might work.
It opens with Morbius limping from a chopper to connect with a cauldron of vampire bats (yeah I had to google that; cool though right?). Then we get the obligatory flashback that builds out the origin story. Kid with a rare blood disease seeks cure for himself and his bestie, a kid named Lucien whom he renames Milo (yeah it’s weird, I don’t get it).
As adults, Morbius is a brilliant scientist with questionable ethics, and Milo, played by Matt Smith, is his financier. The main cast is completed by Adria Arjona as Martine, who is both Morbius’s research partner and love interest. And in a decision that hews closer to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than modern medical practice, Morbius decides to test the cure to the blood disease on himself. So he injects himself with vampire bat DNA. (What do you expect? The concept is from a ’70s comic). And vampire antics ensue.
I suppose it’s at this point that I can raise my first big issue with the film. It takes around 40 minutes of run-time for us to go from opening sequence with bats through origin, brief segue into mad scientist ethics justifications, and then finally vampire stuff. It might be unfair to compare, but I kept thinking that 40 minutes here could have been accomplished pretty painlessly in four comics pages. There’s just a lack in storytelling economy.
The trailer hints at said vampire stuff, and promises some horror. This is a vampire movie after all. But I found that the horror sequences just needed more to them. Again, if this had come out in the ’90s, what we have here would’ve been cool. But where we are with horror and monster movies, it just lacks…bite (sorry, you all know I had to).
Morbius in the comics starts off as a villain before becoming a vigilante. To spur that transformation we have the counterbalance of bestie Lucien/Milo also turning himself into a vampire and deciding to go on a killing spree. These bits I found problematic. And sure I might have not been paying attention or empathizing enough. But from reckless research scientist, suddenly Morbius becomes a moral crusader, and Lucien/Milo’s turn to total mustache-twirling villain feels like it lacks appropriate set-up. Just the level of evil, against the screen time to develop that, doesn’t feel balanced. Which is to say that after all that 40 minute set-up, it still felt like it lacked the gravitas or it did not turn the heel turn.
That said, once Matt Smith stops playing frail and goes into crazy vampire mode, it is glorious. He is a scene-stealer and the degree to which he relishes the opportunity to go all out is a real thing to watch. His performance is one of the things that makes this movie fun. While Leto plays Morbius as mostly subdued, Smith is up and in your face and enjoying it.
The action here is okay. Again, I’m wishing that they had leaned into the horror aspects more. It doesn’t necessarily mean it should’ve had more gore (though that would have been good, too) but to use the horror elements that should be part of this kind of story to their fullest. So sure, there are some cool sequences, especially as Morbius discovers and unlocks new aspects to his powers. But it all feels like more could be done with it.
I suppose that’s where I land. More could have been done if there had been more decisive creative choices. The movie has elements of three things: a horror movie, a vampire movie (I know there’s overlap between the two, but vampire movies have their own conventions), and a superhero origin movie. And bizarrely, the movie makes the safest, most vanilla-flavored decisions, picking the tamest parts of each of the three things and using these to put this together.
Which brings us back to the start: if this movie had been released in the ’90s, I might have loved it. And seen through the lens of superhero movies figuring themselves out, this would have been truly fun. As it stands, I keep thinking about how good it could have been. There were genuinely fun moments. There were visuals where I really sat back and said, wow, that’s a great sequence, or, that’s a great idea. The quality doesn’t hold through the whole film, though. So fans might find the good moments worth watching this for, while people who aren’t too interested in these, or are just feeling that superhero movie fatigue, would do well to skip it.