And as General Zod sinks slowly in the west, we bid farewell to successful superhero movies for a while. If I’m going to cover the entire history of superhero movies, then that means taking the bad with the good, so I’m about to enter the string of disappointing comic book movies of the 80s, including Swamp Thing, Supergirl and Howard the Duck, which convinced everyone at the time that making movies based on comic books was a dumb idea.
Meanwhile, way over here on the other side of history, we live in a world where making as many movies based on comic books as possible is the only logical course for every single movie studio to pursue. You can tell that the nerds have won because a movie about a minor Spider-Man character comes out, and the entire pop culture discussion around the movie is about which Marvel movie “universe” it belongs in. This is not normal pop culture behavior.
The film is called Morbius, out this weekend, and as per my self-imposed prison sentence, I’m doing a special weekend popcorn post about it. Unlike my weekend posts on The Batman and Spider-Man: No Way Home, there’s a better-than-average chance that you haven’t seen the film, so I’ll fill you in.
Morbius is about a long-haired, sad-sack trenchcoat doctor who has a debilitating blood disease that nobody cares about curing except for him. In his enormous, abandoned secret science lab that’s located in a children’s hospital somehow, Dr. Morbius uses his private stock of medicinal vampire bats to invent a DNA replacement treatment for himself, which turns him into a supermedical bat creature with all the advantages of a vampire and none of the drawbacks.
Michael gets essentially limitless CGI-assisted strength, speed and agility, as well as a rockin’ body and the ability to kill anyone he feels like, and for some reason, this does not make him happy. Urgently attempting to come up with a cure for his own cure, he hops back and forth between his old abandoned science lab, which has police tape on it because of the murders but nobody’s taken away his enormous glass pillar full of permanently furious vampire bats, and his new abandoned science lab, which he steals from a gang of counterfeiters that he decides to randomly follow one day in case they happen to live in an abandoned science lab that he can steal, which they do.
Michael is sporadically assisted by Martine, one of the other two characters in the movie. Martine is your typical devastatingly gorgeous science lady who’s apparently brilliant in her own right but mostly she follows Michael around, asking pertinent questions and completing plot-point side missions.
The villain is Michael’s childhood friend Milo, the other character in the movie. Milo has the same shitty blood disease that they keep saying has them on the brink of death all the time, although Jared Leto was in his late 40s when they shot the movie and Matt Smith in his late 30s, so how debilitating could it really be. This appears to be one of those quasi-fatal diseases where you don’t die, but your blood just kind of sucks and you have to hang out with doctors a lot.
Anyway, Milo finds out about the vampire cure and he manages to inject it into himself too, so now there are two creatures of the night and he’s the bad one.
Instead of just going off and killing as many people as he wants to, Milo is obsessed with needling Michael, so they have a whole bunch of fight scenes while Michael tries to develop a new vampire-killing serum made out of anti-bats. From there, the plot proceeds in precisely the way that you would expect it to, with a surprise twist at the end that’s only surprising if you’ve never seen a single movie with a vampire in it before.
The only real sources of pleasure in the movie are the vampire effects, which are consistently interesting to look at.
Whenever a vampire does anything, we see psychedelic trails coming off them which make them look extra scary and surprising. A lot of the movie is vampires doing things, so we see a lot of this, and I for one enjoyed it every time. There are people in the world who will try to tell you that it’s confusing or distracting, and those people are wrong. There is almost nothing else worth looking at in the movie besides this effect.
The other important vampire effect is watching their faces change, which happens constantly in every scene. There aren’t just two options, with a human face and a vampire face that they switch between at important moments. It’s more of a spectrum, with parts of their faces getting more human or more vampy, depending on how they’re feeling at the moment, and it happens all of the time.
Besides that, the film is mostly made up of movie science, with all the typical peering at screens and typing, punctuated with occasional twirling of liquids in centrifuges. The film has a lot more of this than it needs.
There’s also one shirtless scene each for Jared Leto and Matt Smith, just to prove that they have the right to be male in a movie. The bulked-up body is how you know Morbius is the hero of the film; that is the mandatory comic book movie aesthetic. Besides that, there’s not a hell of a lot to do, except echolocate.
So this is what happens when you tell a movie studio that they can’t make a movie with Spider-Man during a Spider-Man-heavy movie cycle; they lash out, and make Morbius. Sony is hoping to throw together a Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (or “SSU”, embarrassingly) without a Spider-Man, which is not one of the all-time great ideas. They’ve already made a couple of decent Venom films, and after this, they’re going to make a Kraven the Hunter movie in 2023 and then a Madame Web movie, and also they keep threatening to do something with the Black Cat and Silver Sable.
At some point, this is supposed to add up to a Sinister Six movie, but only using villains that people have never heard of. They make a gesture in this direction during the incredibly confusing mid-credits scenes in Morbius, where they suddenly bring the Vulture across a dimensional rift from the MCU into the SSU, and he tells Morbius that they should team up against Spider-Man, and Morbius says okay, even though he’s not technically a villain yet and he doesn’t know who Spider-Man is.
This is a clear-cut case of Avengers Derangement Syndrome: the overwhelming compulsion to make a bunch of single-hero movies and then bring them together in a shared movie, which will be just like The Avengers but with characters that people don’t care about.
Still, it’s a real testament to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s complete pod-people domination of our minds and wills, that people are saying that Morbius is a soulless cash-grab, while big-ticket projects featuring Loki, Shang-Chi and Moon Knight are considered totally normal artistic decisions. Next month, we’re going to get the big Doctor Strange movie, which apparently you need to watch at least two movies and three TV shows in order to understand, and people are obediently doing that homework right now. That’s why we don’t have time to see your dumb vampire doctor movie, Sony. We have important things to do!
2.50: Ice Cops
— Danny Horn