Morbius, the latest entry in ‘Sony’s Spider-Man Universe’ – AKA the shared superhero world formerly known as ‘SPUMC’ – further pushes this particular corner of the comics-verse down the ostensibly darker road established by its sole stablemate, Venom. That Tom Hardy-starrer was a surprise hit, anchored by an enjoyably unhinged double act between Hardy and himself, but with this dull, derivative Jared Leto-fronted franchise non-starter, the SSU has SPUMC’d any lingering goodwill up the wall.
Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius – a brilliant scientist suffering from a rare blood disease who inexplicably hits on vampirism as the solution to his ills. Powered up with super speed, strength, and nifty echolocation hearing, Morbius must consume human hemoglobin or risk the monster within getting out – a monster Morbius’ childhood friend Milo (Matt Smith) has no compunction unleashing on an unsuspecting public.
Sticking rigidly to Venom’s anti-hero origin story formula, Morbius is a shameless exercise in comic book universe expansion. It’s slickly shot by director Daniel Espinosa (Life), who wastes little time getting to the action, and deploys every trick in the VFX filmmaker’s toolkit in an attempt to dazzle (copious slow motion, wispy particle effects, corkscrew camerawork), but a frustrating over-reliance on sub-par digital doubles means much of the film’s big ticket action feels underpowered, possessing the soporific qualities of a lava lamp.
Leto is traditionally a supremely committed performer (some might say overly committed), but here he has the look of a man constantly thinking about his next manicure. It doesn’t help that the character is never adequately sketched, agonizing over a single patient one moment, brushing off eight gruesome murders the next. It’s a role crying out for a one of a kind, off-kilter performance to bring the material alive, something Matt Smith seems to recognise, but even his comically wicked dancing vamp can’t raise the film’s BPM as it flatlines.
Frankly, Morbius is a film that will inspire utter indifference – competent enough not to be a complete waste of time, but nowhere near entertaining enough to recommend to anyone but the most dedicated superhero cinema completists. After 14 years of Marvel Studios perfecting and elevating this particular brand of crowd-pleasing, interconnected comic book blockbuster to its own artform, Morbius can’t help but feel like a film that’s slavishly following the same recipe, but getting all the ingredients wrong.