Dr. Michael Morbius also known as the Living Vampire is part of the Marvel Universe. He was first created by writer Roy Thomas and portrayed by penciler Gil Kane, as an enemy of Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man, first published in 1971.
The charm of this fictional character is how he stands on the border between heroism and villainy. In the comic books, Morbius is not only Spider-Man’s antagonist but also an adversary to vampire hunter Blade. He is an antihero, who possesses positive traits. Before his transformation into a blood-drinker he was an award-winning biochemist trying to save lives, something that he continues to do even though his superhuman abilities often place him at a crossroads. In the graphic strip portrayal, another character who strongly rivals Morbius is Loxias Crown. He is a criminal turned killer, who benefits from experiments conducted on the Living Vampire, which enable him to transform into the vampiric being Hunger. In the Morbius film however this character gets a complete make-over.
The 2022 American superhero picture, directed by Daniel Espinosa, is produced by Columbia Pictures in association with Marvel. It stars Jared Leto as Dr. Michael Morbius and Matt Smith as Milo (the modified version of Loxias Crown), alongside Adria Arjona (Martine Bancroft), Jared Harris (Nicholas Morbius), Al Madrigal (Alberto “Al” Rodriguez), and Tyrese Gibson (Simon Stroud). In the cinematic adaptation, Dr. Morbius becomes a living vampire after curing himself of a rare blood disease. He is childhood friends with Milo, his surrogate brother originally named Lucien, who suffers from his same disorder. However, when Milo gains the same abilities as Morbius, he embraces them and becomes a villain. Other characters worthy of note, who bring to life the narrative, are: Martine Bancroft, a scientist who works with Morbius and becomes his romantic partner; Nicholas Morbius, a mentor to both Morbius and Milo who runs a facility that looks after people with incurable illnesses; Alberto “Al” Rodriguez and Simon Stroud, the two FBI agents hunting Morbius. The latter in the comic books was a white man, that the producers of the film decided to change to a man of colour.
The plot of the film would be rather vapid, since we are basically presented with a mishmash between two literary classics: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When Dr. Morbius’s bloodlust takes over he becomes the dark uncontrollable vampire (Mr Hyde-Dracula). When he is still in control of his senses, and seeks artificial blood to nourish himself, he courageously continues to save lives (Dr Jekyll-Dracula). What gives more depth to his split personality is the fact that he has to stand up to a classically despicable villain. Milo epitomises the traditional baddie that all audiences can loathe and thus cheer for Morbius. The fact that the two were childhood chums provides major psychological intricacy, since they share a brotherly bond that is compromised by them choosing different life paths.
The visual adaptation of the cartoon strip characters for the silver screen is at times astonishingly mesmerising, but in other occasions it transcends into a tedious video game mimicry. In fact, it doesn’t surprise to read that one of Espinosa’s sources of inspirations have been Nintendo’s Pokémon series, particularly to portray Morbius’ attacks and abilities in action. The anti-hero who is akin to the Chiropteran mammals surely triggers in spectators a different kind of sympathy than the one conveyed by the other superhero connected with bats: Batman. Although the latter comes from the DC Comics realm, it would be a fascinating enterprise to see a crossover with the Marvel world, allowing these two bat champions to meet and interact.
One of the most acclaimed actors to have worn Batman’s suit on the big screen has been Michael Keaton, and although this extravagant rendezvous between Batman and Morbius is still a fantasy, fans of the Marvel saga, will be excited to see that Michael Keaton does have a closer encounter with Morbius after all. He reprises his role as Adrian Toomes / Vulture from the 2017 film Spider-Man: Homecoming, announcing a continuation of the Living Vampire’s adventures on the silver screen.
Final Grade: B-