After the excellent Spider-Man: Far From Home and the gift-wrapped fan-service of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Sony, which owns the rights to the web-slinger but temporarily loaned him back to Marvel Studios, takes the reins once more in spin-off Morbius.
And it immediately confirms that it learned nothing from the partnership, taking no notes, perhaps not even bothering to watch the films. Instead it has created what may be the most regressive, pointless superhero film of the last decade.
It follows Dr Michael Morbius, a brilliant scientist with a rare blood condition that requires thrice-daily transfusions. In a bid to cure his disease he turns, naturally, to vampire bats. His cunning, highly illegal plan: to splice human and bat DNA!
Funded by moody playboy Milo, a fellow sufferer and childhood friend, he tests the “serum” on himself, thereby winning superhero bingo within the first 20 minutes of the film. Alas, while the serum at first appears to work, it also turns Morbius into a blood-hungry vampire, complete with Buffy-esque facial transformations when he gets mad.
Guzzling his way through medic’s blood-packs, Morbius doggedly resists sucking on live blood, only to find Milo, who steals the serum, doesn’t share his moral compass. What follows is a bafflingly undercooked yarn that recalls the very worst of the late 90s and early 2000s superhero movies; utterly po-faced, resorting to cliche at every turn, all CGI and no soul.
There are hints that, at some stage in the film’s development, its horror elements might have been more pronounced – there’s a cool, creepy shot in a long hospital corridor, for instance – but if that’s the case they’ve been edited into bland insignificance.
Jared Leto, back in the superhero fold after his aborted attempt to modernise the Joker, is unable to imbue Morbius with anything resembling a personality. His go-to acting techniques are either “puppy eyes” or “sudden growling” depending on the situation.
Matt Smith is at least allowed to have a little fun as Milo. There’s a scene where he does a dance, which is pretty funny, I guess. Other than that his character is laughably two-dimensional, little more than a walking plot device.
Even Jared Harris can’t muster a decent performance, although it’s hard to grudge the Mad Men and Chernobyl actor the paycheck.
The whole thing feels like it wasn’t so much written as farted out, a bunch of toxic particles floating around aimlessly, stinking the place up. The fact it comes hot on the heels of Matt Reeves’ superlative The Batman only serves to highlight its shortcomings.
The closing moments feature a triumphant teaser for the next instalment in what Sony clearly hopes will become a lucrative new franchise; hopefully someone will put a stake through the heart of that idea before it can claim any more victims.