It’s rare to see a big-budget, studio-funded superhero film be universally reviled and mocked upon release, but Sony’s latest Spider-Man-adjacent mess “Morbius” has proved to be a special case.
Sitting at an abysmal 16% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 35, the film has served as a punching bag for critics who are growing impatient toward bland and derivative superhero films.
However, there is a segment of viewers who seem to feel differently, as the film also sports a 70% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.4 user average on Metacritic. Clearly there is an audience for “Morbius,” one that is getting something of value out of it.
Whatever that something is, they must be looking really, really hard to find it.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa, “Morbius” is the embodiment of everything wrong with modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking: a boring and predictable plot, one-dimensional characters, lame dialogue and poorly-implemented special effects. It’s enough to turn anyone who sees it into a vampire thirsting for the blood of the Sony higher-ups that greenlit it.
Outside a few well-executed shots, Espinosa is mostly a non-factor as a director. Or, in the case of the nonsensical action scenes, he actively damages the film.
Considering that action is the primary source of entertainment in these kinds of films, it’s shocking that a film of this budget would be released with fights this poorly choreographed, shot and edited.
The terrible CGI doesn’t help either. A weird mist follows the characters when they’re in vampire mode, adding to the clutter of already way-too-busy frames.
The vampires themselves are terribly designed and look awful, bordering on bad Snapchat filters. The effects team were clearly aiming for edgy or scary, but they just came out silly, and not in an endearing way.
Also not endearing is Jared Leto’s Dr. Michael Morbius, one of the least interesting protagonists in any superhero film of the past decade.
Leto has given some memorable performances in the past, but none of his talents shine through here. He plays everything so straight that any attempts at humor fall flat and kill the potential for relatability, sympathy or moral ambiguity.
While the equally cringy “Venom” films also sport some bad humor, at least those films don’t take themselves too seriously or try to earn any kind of emotional potency.
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By contrast, “Morbius” attempts to force romance between Leto and Adria Arjona’s Martine Bancroft, and the lack of chemistry is palpable. While Arjona is responsible for the film’s few sparks of warmth, it makes no sense for her character to couple up with Leto, even if the film insists that it does.
A similar misuse occurs with Matt Smith playing the film’s primary antagonist Milo Morbius. Like Leto, Smith has proven himself capable in the past, but he just isn’t an intimidating enough presence to work as a villain, and his motivations as a character border on nonsensical.
Smith is actually able to tease out a few laughs, most of them accidental; if his demented screams of “Michael!” during what are supposed to be tense moments don’t elicit a chuckle, nothing will.
Even with all that said, the film’s greatest failure is being dreadfully boring. Nothing of interest happens, and by the time the credits are rolling it feels like a long, elaborate trailer playing before a hopefully worthwhile film begins.
Being released in such close proximity to “The Batman,” a film that managed its tonal juggling act much better while staying engaging for nearly twice the length, certainly makes “Morbius’” flaws stick out more, but also highlights just how derivative it is.
In the past year’s films, “The Suicide Squad” has better humor, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has better action and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has stronger emotional stakes. By contrast, “Morbius” fails to be good at anything in particular while not even amounting to more than the sum of its parts.
Compared to some of the best films in its genre to have released in the past few years, “Morbius” seems determined to stick out as little as possible, reducing its potentially interesting material to borderline B-movie levels. If this character and film indicates the future of Sony’s “Spider-Man” cinematic universe, it could be a rough few years.