In 1623, famed playwright William Shakespeare published a comedy about love and hijinks. Despite its lighthearted nature, the story dealt with a variety of themes that included heavier topics like deceit and the woes of an identity crisis. Its title, Much Ado About Nothing, was a play on the fact that, despite a rather complicated plot, the events of the story would ultimately be insignificant in the lives of its protagonists. Morbius, the latest entry in Sony’s universe of spider-adjacent characters, is a lot like Much Ado About Nothing. Like the aforementioned work, it deals with brotherly betrayal and the struggle of lacking control. The main difference between the two is that, while Shakespeare‘s play used “nothing” as a motif, Sony’s film uses the same concept as a plot device.
Over the course of nearly two hours, Jared Leto‘s new starring vehicle essentially just exists. Incidents occur, one after the other, but they come in what feels like a series of manufactured moments. There are sometimes interesting visuals, and on paper, there are developments that should serve to keep the audience invested, but somehow the movie never manages to achieve the sensation of being complete. Materially a paint-by-the-number, beats come and go like colorless shapes quickly filled with gaudy pigmentation, with the lines between sections still oddly discernable to the human eye. From really far away, with a squinty eye, it might seem like director Daniel Espinosa and his crew have constructed something worthwhile, but any further inspection reveals they were likely just making somebody else’s idea look as pretty as their minds could muster.
The production tries to fool you, and occasionally it verges on working. A triumphant score from Jon Ekstrand blasts over the loudspeakers as the titular antihero, surrounded by screeching vampire bats, rises from certain defeat to conquer his foe. Scenes transition to spectacular slow motion as Dr. Michael Morbius plays with the outer limits of his newfound power. An impressive neon-lit landscape functions as the backdrop to a passionate rooftop kiss. Classic movie moments, which have worked before and are certain to work again. Just not here. Any of these concepts could have performed perfectly had they been set up properly, but instead they are just thrown together without much glue to keep them intact.
To get a better sense of what I mean by this, just take a look at a few key plot points and examine how they’re executed in the film. For starters — and this is the official spoiler warning to skip to the next paragraph if need be — the first transformation of Morbius into the Living Vampire is not even shown on screen. After a couple of clunky time jumps between adult Morbius illegally collecting bats in Costa Rica and child Morbius delivering a lot of exposition to a new friend in the hospital (who should probably already know about his own rare blood disease), viewers are suddenly vaulted into the midst of the character finishing his experimental cure. Then, after a few more quick scenes, Morbius is already strapped to a chair on a boat in international waters, about to test his new creation on himself. An intrusion causes the camera to cut away, and moments later when it cuts back, Morbius is fully transformed and clinging to the ceiling, not having made a peep.
It’s an almost jarring shift in tone, with the music doing its absolute best to convince anyone watching that what just happened made sense. Although, once again, therein lies the problem. Events going on in the movie are simply happening, not as the result of any prior build-up or payoff, but purely because they’re what’s supposed to happen next. Skipping to the end of the movie, Adria Arjona‘s Dr. Martine Bancroft has been murdered by Matt Smith‘s predictable, yet admittedly kind-of-fun baddie, Milo. Mostly off-screen. Immediately after Milo has just killed an entirely different major supporting character. There’s not really any time to mourn either of them, even if the VFX department put a lot of money into the look on Morbius’ pained vampire face as he screams in emotional agony to convince viewers otherwise. Just one thing after the other, coming about as the plot deems it so.
These are two notable bookends, but it’s more or less how the entire film functions. When the credits began to roll, many of us in the theater found ourselves sitting there still waiting for more. Not because we thought there would be, but because our brains had not yet registered that a full movie had played out in front of us. We were still waiting for somebody to come in and paint over the visible lines. Instead, we were treated to a handful of sequel teases played at lightspeed, almost all of which violated previously established character arcs and universal rules for the sake of forcing future conflict. Truly just a mess, and hopefully one that never needs to be spoken of at length again. If Sony and Marvel wanted to forget that Morbius ever happened, it probably wouldn’t take much convincing for general audiences to follow suit.