“I’m getting hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.” – Michael Morbius
Morbius seemed to me to be a strange choice for Columbia/Sony in association with Marvel to feature in a solo movie. Frankly, I was thinking now that the best-known Marvel characters have been used up over the past two and a half decades, we’re down to sifting through the remaining dust, looking for a nugget of gold. Some (but not all) of the last few “non-Marvel” Marvel movies have fallen short, and I’m looking straight at Fox’s New Mutants and Sony’s Venom: Let There be Carnage as prime examples. Both had potential, but were a bit lacklustre. I was expecting more, but came away with disappointingly less. BUT - let’s not just point an accusing finger at those, let’s share the blame with Marvel themselves. The Eternals didn’t exactly set the world on fire, despite heavy advertising. (All right, Spider-Man: No Way Home was sheer dazzling brilliance in every single frame, but you get where I’m going, right?)
Because I’m old, and have been reading comic books most of my life, I remember Morbius appearing for the first time in The Amazing Spider-Man issue 101. He was a fixture in the early seventies as a costumed super-villain, joining Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery. From a historical perspective, he was ground-breaking. Appearing in the October ’71 issue, this was I believe the first issue of Spider-Man not written by Stan Lee. It was also the first time since the Comics Code Authority was established in the fifties that a vampire could be featured in a comic book due to a relaxation in the rules which governed the content that could be published.
Marvel, however were very careful and called him Morbius the Living Vampire, so avoiding the whole undead/un-Christian thing. I’m not sure if he didn’t originally suck blood through suckers in his hands, or if that was just a thing for the animated series of the nineties. I’m going to have to hit those issues again – I’ve not read them for a couple of decades.
So yeah, in one way I get it – Morbius is a controversial character in comics. In another way, I don’t. He’s a bit obscure and mainstream audiences won’t have heard of him. But then again, most members of the mainstream hadn’t really heard of Iron Man until the first film, even Marvel Comics themselves considered him a second-tier character. That soon changed. But Morbius isn’t even second-tier. He’s way, waaaay down on the list.
Casting Jared Leto in the role seemed to be a huge step in the right direction. I loved his take on The Joker in Suicide Squad (2016) and I’m hoping that we’ll get to see the director’s cut of that film which is reputed to contain much more of Leto’s performance. (His is the most chilling portrayal of the Joker we’ve seen to date in my opinion.)
As we see in the film, Michael Morbius is born with a very rare disease, one which without a cure, will kill him. As a child, he’s living in a Greek private hospital, needing several transfusions of blood per day because his body literally can’t produce blood. He’s frail and weak. He is joined by another child, Lucien whom he renames “Milo” who suffers the same affliction and at one point manages to save Milo’s life when the machine delivering the transfusion fails. The attending doctor recognises that Morbius is gifted, and sends him to a school in New York for gifted children. (I’m not sure if this a vague reference to the Xavier school in the X-Men, as Morbius isn’t a mutant at this point.)
Now in the present day, Morbius is a Nobel prize winning genius who has developed synthetic blood, with his colleague and girlfriend Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) and because the synthetic blood is only a short-term cure, has continued his research with vampire bats in a lab in New York, financed by his wealthy surrogate brother Milo, now played by Matt Smith.
But the next stage of his experiments is dangerous and illegal and need to be conducted offshore to avoid those pesky legalities. So, they board a ship called The Murnau (nice touch, named after the director of cinema’s first vampire film, Nosferatu) where things get out of hand, leaving Morbius as a kind of hybrid vampire who needs blood to survive, but isn’t prone to the usual vampire tropes of not being able to go out in the day, no aversion to crosses, and whatnot. He doesn’t have the weird superhero costume we saw in the comics, which is good – but he can fly, and has a kind of control or at the very least, affinity with bats.
Leto’s offbeat persona is perfect for the role of Morbius, effectively switching from sympathy eliciting person with a crippling disability who’s devoting his life to doing the right thing, using his talents and intellect to help others – and turning into a feral predator. But even in his feral predator state, we still feel a sympathy for him, and besides – he’s so damn cool!!!!
Matt Smith steps out of his usual nice but vulnerable guy persona to being the evil antagonist, and it’s stunning how the prosthetics used on him work, and how easily he can get under your skin in this film, but he still effectively conveys the elation his character feels when he’s no longer a prisoner of his lifelong disabilities. He’s the perfect foil for the anti-hero Morbius, and their battle is everything that the showdown between Venom and Carnage really wasn’t. It has scope, it has an epic feel and is ultimately satisfying in its spectacle.
Tyrese Gibson appears in the movie as an FBI agent investigating the “vampire killings” in New York, but strangely, his character is pretty ineffective and irrelevant to the plot. Gibson has signed a three-picture deal, so I’m hoping that future films will develop his character and actually give his something to do, other than stand around looking bemused and confused. He is literally wasted here.
There are two stings to this one. They’ll get your heart beating a little faster, but on reflection, I realise that they make no sense at all, and I’m not sure where they’re going. They seem to point to a future film but it makes no sense. Unless…
Tell you what, I’m going to add a Spoiler Zone down below to talk about this because it bothers me.
But before that I need to give it a rating and in all truth the film is far better than I had dared hope. I don’t know how cynical audiences are going to be, but I’m going my own way as usual….
Rob Rating = 8
And now, we head to The Spoiler Zone, so if you DON’T want to know what happens in the sting, stop reading now until you’ve seen the film.
SPOILER ZONE IN 10
WELCOME TO THE SPOILER ZONE
Surprisingly, after the film has finished, Adrian Toombs (Michael Keaton) The Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming appears in a cell. He has mysteriously popped up out of nowhere, because the cell was previously unoccupied and nobody has heard of him before nor knows how he got there so the authorities release him. I guess, as Venom was transported to the universe that contains Tom Holland’s Spider-Man at the end of Let There be Carnage (presumably as a result of Doctor Strange’s spell in No Way Home) the door opens both ways and Toombs is now in another reality in the multiverse. The second sting shows Toombs in full costume meeting up with Morbius, suggesting an alliance – against Spider-Man. (But again, his flying costume was based on Chitauri tech – so The first Avengers film happened in this reality too? I’m confused.)
So, wherever the hell they are, Spider-Man exists in that universe. Which Spider-Man? It can’t be Holland, one of the other two?
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