It’s a tale as old as time. A brilliant doctor suffering from a life-threatening condition crafts one last-ditch attempt at curing their ailment, but the results dream up a nightmarish new reality far beyond their control. Dr. Michael Morbius embodies this anti-hero treatment in Sony’s latest ploy for a cinematic universe Morbius. Latest might be putting it kindly, as the vampire anti-hero origin story sat on the shelf for nearly two years due to the pandemic.
Following in the footsteps of crowdpleasers Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Spider-Man: No Way Home, Morbius marks a bold odyssey of expansion. The brooding vampire is a minor cog in the mainstream superhero marketplace, placing extra responsibility on Sony and their filmmaking team to establish an arresting first chapter in a new saga. Instead, Morbius delivers a toothless and aggressively soulless descent into beige superhero formula.
Before the film drives off the rails, Morbius presents glimmers of life for the all-too-commonplace genre. The film is surprisingly sincere in its anti-hero approach, crafting Michael into a well-meaning scientist who finds himself consumed by his failed experiment. Seeing a protagonist toiling with his super-powered affliction rather than being enhanced by it offers a refreshing perspective to explore onscreen.
Unfortunately, director Danny Espinosa rarely gets a chance to represent Morbius’ gothic sensibility. The film drapes every frame in a thick coat of bleak lighting choices and murky visuals, a style that vyes for the macabre but looks more like a bad TV pilot. Espinosa and company seem petrified of embracing a darker vision onscreen, with the few horror setpieces lacking the palpable tension one would expect. His flat presentation represents a studio-for-hire filmmaker who does not imbue an artistic voice into the project.
Morbius also feels severely restricted by its family-friendly PG-13 rating. Espinosa finds a few creative maneuvers around the rating restrictions (a POV shot of Morbius consuming a foe displays a rare burst of creativity) – but the director mostly finds himself confined to an autopilot delivery. The approach creates a passionless, personality-free product, a listless film exclusively formed by the half-based vision of studio mandates.
Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless collaborate on a similarly listless screenplay. The nucleus of Michael Morbius’ story radiates promise, taking an intimate dive into a tragic anti-hero who pays the price for trying to cure his deadly disease. His struggles as a doctor morphed into a flesh-eating monster never receives the time it needs to breathe onscreen. Mixed with dialogue exclusively made of exposition jargon, Morbius passes by without ever drawing a genuine attachment from audiences.
I know star Jared Leto is somewhat of a punching bag in critical pundits, with several ostracizing the actor’s penchant for over-the-top performances. I will say it’s refreshing to see the actor step into a more grounded figure that fits the performer’s brooding energy. However, Leto finds himself stuck on a sinking ship. Neither he nor capable supporting players Matt Smith and Adria Arjona have any room to create distinct characters within the droning screenplay. It’s all so monotone and drab, leaving everyone in the cast looking around waiting for something to do.
Capped off with an incomprehensible CGI-slugfest of a finale, Morbius showcases the superhero genre in its most generic state. If the character continues forward in future sequels, I hope the creative team develops a more succinct vision for who the character should be.