Few films have experienced the roller-coaster trajectory that Morbius has had. Starring Jared Leto and directed by Safe House's Daniel Espinosa, the movie appeared to come with high expectations from Sony, being only the third entry in its nascent Spider-Man-inspired franchise. Upon release, though, it did not yield the positive financial or critical results expected of it.
It's important to note that the Jared Leto-led pic was not the first critical shortcoming for Sony's superhero efforts. Venom was not well-received critically, (30% "Rotten" Tomatometer score with an 80% Audience score), but still became a financial behemoth, with a $856 million global haul against a comparatively measly $100-million budget.
Its follow-up, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, fared slightly better, garnering a 58% "Rotten" and 84% Audience scores, and finished its theatrical run with a global cume of $506 million — an impressive amount given its release at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What was different about Morbius is that it didn't enjoy the same (admittedly lopsided) success. It was panned critically, garnering a 16% Tomatometer score (Audience score of 71%). Unlike its predecessors, however, it only made $163 million worldwide.
Surprisingly, out of the ashes of disappointment, the movie found new life through mockery, as internet users rallied behind the hashtag "It's Morbin' Time," a fake line from the film which became an online phenomenon. Sony appeared to take advantage of Morbius' infamy, re-releasing it to paltry financial results. With that, Morbius remained a beacon of ridicule in the film and comic book communities.
The criticism directed against the movie was such that, much like other derided superhero projects like Batman & Robin, Fantastic Four (2015) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Morbius became a blemish on the comic book-movie genre.
The film is often treated as a dreadful experience with little to no redeeming qualities. Yet, the apparent mass dislike of it makes it worth asking: was Morbius actually that bad? Subjectively speaking, not really. Let's dive into why.
Much has been said about the plot of Morbius, from it being nonsensical to outrageously boring. In reality, it was neither. The story was... well, just fine — neither excellent nor atrocious. Its pacing had some issues, and the end left a lot to be desired, cutting to black in a pivotal moment that saw Morbius flying away from his fight with Milo while his partner, Martine Bancroft, resurrected as a vampire.
Other than that, Morbius is a fairly straightforward experience: entertaining and accessible. There's nothing groundbreaking about it. It's, simply put, a fun standalone adventure. Keep in mind, its simplicity does not make it flawless. The movie has a few plot holes and inconsistencies (Michael randomly finding criminals with an underground lab and his unexplained stay at a Greece medical institute being two of them). Yet, it rarely veers into dumbfounding territory.
In fact, it could be argued the number of logic flaws in the film is consistent with the amount of plot holes in many other comic book films. After all, plenty of logically questionable story beats can be picked out from even the best of superhero blockbusters (Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Batman come to mind).
Superhero origin stories have a challenging task: Introduce audiences to someone they can connect to, regardless of how little or how much they know about them. To accomplish that, films usually give their protagonists a "hook," either storytelling or character-wise.
Many successful examples of such "hooks" can be found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shang-Chi had extraordinary abilities, yet hid his talents in favor of a mundane life. Natasha Romanoff was a former assassin who realized the error of her ways and became a superhero. Steve Rogers, a man lacking important physical attributes required for the army prior to his transformation, was chosen as America's Super Soldier due to his earnestness, bravery and innocence.
Morbius also provided its protagonist with a hook. Michael was not the typical action star. He was subtle, soft-spoken and calm, but could crack a joke every now and then, which made him feel approachable. Aided by the character's writing, Leto made Dr. Morbius feel like a genuinely good person. Similar to its plot, Morbius didn't break the mold with its main character. However, it did deliver a likable protagonist who was easy to root for.
Characters are what anchor a story. On that note, Morbius' supporting players make for a well-rounded experience (even if there wasn't anything necessarily groundbreaking about them). Many of them are archetypes of characters from other superhero adaptations (the funny detective, the scorned best friend, the wise father figure, etc.), but they were serviceable, with Adria Arjona's Martine Bancroft being a standout.
Morbius' best friend, Milo (a.k.a. Lucien), played by Matt Smith, was another promising aspect of the film. Despite the fact he was not fully fleshed out and ended up embodying the "hero fights an evil version of himself" trope, he had potential, even if he never reached the full extent of it. For starters, his relationship with Michael was compelling, and their love for one another was believable.
His transition from a relatively laid-back individual into a full-on psychopath was jarring, but it was still somewhat plausible for a brash and narcissistic person suffering from a debilitating life-long illness to let his new, god-like abilities get the better of him. Milo has been criticized as having become a caricature following his vampiric transformation. It's a fair grievance, yet his demeanor was also consistent with the playfulness he demonstrated throughout the film's first act.
Even his infamous dance number as he was getting ready to go out offered some insight into his psyche. It was silly and wince-inducing, and that was the point of the scene — Milo was a psychopath, making a fool of himself as he enjoyed his newly acquired physique.
Overall, he was an amusing adversary, even if he did fall into the "deranged, power-hungry former ally" trope.
The Post-Credits Scenes
One of the most infamous aspects of Morbius was its two post-credits stingers. The first saw Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes (a.k.a. The Vulture) make his way into the "Venom-verse" through Doctor Strange's multiverse-shaking spell from Spider-Man: No Way Home. The second one showed Vulture, fully suited up, recruiting Morbius for a super-team.
The sequences felt somewhat out of place, but weren't really offensive. They've been criticized for seemingly twisting the universe-traveling logic of Doctor Strange's spell, but as post-credits scenes for films like Iron Man and The Avengers have shown, such stingers don't always add up upon release. It takes time for plans to unfold to realize the full extent of their relevance.
As such, while Morbius' meeting with Vulture may not make sense now, it could be the basis for promising stories in the future, especially as Sony's Spider-Man universe expands with films like Madame Web and Kraven the Hunter.
So, to sum it all up, Morbius isn't really bad. It doesn't necessarily meet the high standards set by the likes of Avengers: Endgame, Black Panther and The Suicide Squad, but most superhero films don't reach those heights. The majority — as well-crafted and engaging as they are — don't elevate the comic book-movie genre, and that's okay. They are simply pleasant experiences.
That's what Morbius is — a fun, one-off adventure reminiscent of character-focused one-shots that comics have offered for decades.
Morbius is available to purchase on Digital and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD.