These days, superhero films are a dime a dozen – you can’t go to the cinema without falling over Marvel or DC’s latest offering. But there’s still space for superhero films that play things slightly differently, and I’ll admit that the horror-inflected potential of Morbius was exciting. The New Mutants promised us a horror superhero film, but fell flat – could Morbius deliver? The answer, frustratingly but inevitably, is no. There are hints of a good film here, but they’re buried beneath a mediocre lead performance and too much silliness.
The film follows the titular Dr Michael Morbius (Leto), who is suffering from a lifelong illness that will eventually kill him. Funded by childhood friend Milo (Matt Smith), who himself suffers from the same condition, Morbius continues a search for a cure for them both. His research takes him to Columbia and vampire bats, where Morbius creates a serum containing bat DNA that he hopes will finally be the answer he has sought. But the cure turns him into a monster, granting him enhanced speed and other bat-like abilities, but cursing him with an insatiable thirst for blood. That soon proves to be the least of his problems, however, when Milo gets his hands on the cure.
This is a film that needed to be played either dead straight or completely silly
Morbius was a strange film to watch, because it starts off on a really high note. The opening, in which Morbius summons the bats, coupled with scenes of Morbius’ life thus far and the quest for a cure, it all sets up a really interesting film that feels quite tonally dissimilar to other superhero fare. This makes it all the more frustrating that it fails to deliver on that initial promise. This is a film that needed to be played either dead straight or completely silly, because the vampire-scientist-superhero idea would otherwise feel too daft.
The film is practically goofy, with all the premise of a horror hero evaporating in a series of dull CGI and dreadful lines. At one point, Morbius actually says ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry’, and it’s so stupid you can’t help but laugh. The first transformation should have been terrifying, but the effects kill the fear, and it’s like that throughout – this is a film that works against itself too much. In a later scene, which should have struck the audience, Morbius sees the air but it keeps cutting to a slow-mo shot of a vampire Matt Smith in a suit running towards him, and becomes laughable. Attacking criminals, and then making jokes, becomes silly. And the ending – silliness overload. Morbius could have been a good film in a number of ways, but opting for this angle made that impossible.
Compounding this frustration, the central character of Morbius is not a particularly interesting one – Leto’s performance is really uninspired, bringing little life to a production that desperately needs it. Leto’s Morbius is very flat, and you would expect that an Oscar-winning actor playing a terminally ill scientist could have given more than a listless performance. If you like your heroes to be quiet and withdrawn or unemotive when happy, sad, betrayed, in love, etc., you’ll like Morbius.
Jared Harris and Adria Arjona… are excellent, if criminally underused
Despite the negative review, let me state that there are good aspects of the film. Some parts worked well, including a horror-inspired sequence that demonstrated the film’s potential and promise. Matt Smith gives his all as the baddie, clearly having fun in a role that indicates what the tone should have been – he makes a fine counterpoint to Leto’s Morbius, in that Milo actually lights up the screen. Jared Harris and Adria Arjona (as Morbius and Milo’s doctor, and Morbius’ partner respectively) are excellent, if criminally underused. It was also good to see Michael Keaton, but if you’re coming to this film because the trailer suggested a significant role for him, stay far away.
Morbius had potential, certainly, but the film just falls flat in about every way it can. It’s tonally inconsistent and strikes entirely the wrong balance of seriousness and fun, relying on a central character with little about him to carry the action. Flashes of life in some effective sequences and a genuinely good supporting cast salvage the film a little, but I left the cinema hoping that we won’t see the sequel that Morbius is so clearly setting up.