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What Does the Failure of ‘Morbius’ Mean for the ‘Venomverse’?

Critics hated 'Morbius,' and fans agree that Jared Leto isn't as compelling in the title role as Tom Hardy is in 'Venom.' What does the film's underwhelming reception mean for the future of Sony's Venomverse?
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Sony doesn’t handle criticism well. When the studio released Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014 to middling reviews and a ho-hum box office haul, it threw in the towel and stopped making standalone Spider-Man flicks. This saw the studio part ways with Andrew Garfield and eventually collaborate with Marvel Studios on Spider-Man: Homecoming

However, Sony hasn’t given up on its dreams of crafting a cinematic universe full of Spider-Man adjacent characters and competing with Marvel Studios on their own terms. The 2018 Venom solo feature showcased a possible path for Sony: unusual monster-style movies based on Spider-Man foes and featuring captivating lead performances.

Tom Hardy is a forceful, charismatic presence as Eddie Brock in the Venom films. The movies work thanks to Hardy’s propulsive performance and the sickening, intriguing CGI that makes the symbiote feel like a slimy alien parasite. Sadly, the studio wasn’t able to pull off a similar magic trick with Jared Leto in Morbius. Despite turning in a serviceable performance, Leto can’t lift Morbius above its middling script and muddy, incomprehensible CGI action.

Morbius Sinks Where Venom Soars

Critics despise the Venom franchise. Both entries in the series have received abysmal reviews from most professional critics, yet audiences mostly love the series for its overriding weirdness and campy dialogue. At times, Let There be Carnage takes its villain and his dark fascinations far too seriously. However, most of the time those movies remember that the point is to provide a fun, entertaining experience for the viewers.

Morbius doesn’t just veer into self-seriousness; it spends its entire runtime telling the audience just how awesome and dark and grown-up this all is. The film’s embarrassing desire to impress the grown-ups is further undercut by obvious concessions the film had to make in order to secure a market-friendly PG-13 rating.

In one early scene, Dr. Michael Morbius undergoes a horrific transformation and becomes the Living Vampire. He then viciously attacks a group of rifle-toting sailors aboard a ship. Well, the camerawork and audio mixing suggest that Morbius’s attack is vicious, at least. The visual effects the audience sees don’t match this, though.

In one particularly laugh-worthy sequence, Morbius uses his vampiric strength to supposedly cut a man’s neck, and the audio suggests that blood is gushing from the wound. However, the team didn’t add in any blood effects in post-production. The henchman simply grasps his throat and playacts as though he’s been injured, before bloodlessly collapsing to the ground. 

It’s painfully obvious that this film was subjected to countless editing changes to make it more palatable for the MPAA. However, there’s a lot more editing weirdness going on under the hood in this movie that leaves it a compromised, incomprehensible mess.

Was the Real Morbius Left on the Cutting Room Floor?

There’s plenty of other evidence that the film underwent significant changes in post-production and was edited for a variety of studio-mandated reasons. For instance, the film’s refreshingly short runtime is somewhat unusual, given the hasty nature of its exposition. Scenes often feel rushed, as Morbius trips over itself to tell the audience about its bizarre medical disorders and Macguffin blood. In places, it feels like dialogue has been added over existing interstitial footage to create a brand-new scene.

What’s more, the film seems to have completely scrubbed all mentions of Spider-Man. Given that Morbius is basically an extended trailer for Sony’s continuing Venomverse, this is suspicious. Pre-release trailers for Morbius showcased the Oscorp building, an early meeting between Morbius and villain Adrian Toomes, and prominent posters of Spider-Man. The team apparently scrubbed all of these Easter eggs from the theatrical version of the movie, leaving in only a confusing series of post-credit scenes that completely misunderstand the plot of Spider-Man: No Way Home. 

This all gives the impression that something happened behind the scenes between Sony and Marvel. It is possible that Sony intended for Morbius to take place in the MCU but then Marvel Studios pulled the rug out from under them? Given the incredibly ill-advised Vulture cameo at the end of the film, some critics have argued that a very different version of Morbius likely existed at some point in the post-production process.

That Vulture Cameo

Let’s address the elephant, err, Vulture, in the room. Michael Keaton reprises his role as the Vulture from the 2017 film Spider-Man: Homecoming. He shows up in a jail cell after purple cracks appear in the sky above New York. His arrival becomes headline news, and a reporter tells audiences that this newcomer will likely be released in a matter of hours, given that he simply materialized in a prison cell.

The news report makes no mention of the purple cracks in the sky, of course, as these are irrelevant to moviegoers who have already watched Spider-Man: No Way Home. Of course, if you have seen that film, you likely have several questions about how Adrian Toomes could make the journey from the MCU into Sony’s Venomverse. For one thing, Doctor Strange’s spell in the third Spider-Man movie pulled people who knew Peter Parker’s secret identity into the MCU–it never sent anyone from the MCU into other universes. For another thing, Strange reversed the spell at the end of No Way Home, sending characters like Doc Ock and the Lizard back to their respective worlds. 

So, even if Toomes had gone to the Venomverse as a consequence of Dr. Strange’s botched spell, he would have returned home shortly after. Sony already got this right once in Let There Be Carnage. Eddie Brock was dragged into the MCU by Strange’s spell because Venom knows who Peter Parker is as a result of his symbiote hive mind knowledge. When Strange reverses the spell at the end of No Way Home, Eddie and Venom are whisked away to their home universe–though Eddie does leave a small amount of symbiote material behind on his way out.

Why did Sony get it so wrong in Morbius? No Way Home didn’t just allow Spider-Man characters to slide between realities at will.  

In any case, the post-credit sequence sees Vulture inexplicably seeking out Dr. Morbius to pitch him a plan to “do some good.” The film doesn’t explain how Toomes reacquires his Vulture wingsuit, why he isn’t panicking about being in a separate reality from his wife and daughter, or how he came to learn about Dr. Morbius. The entire sequence is such an obvious and ham-fisted effort at getting audiences excited about future sequels that it could give you superhero fatigue even if you like these kinds of movies.

Still Setting Up the Future

Sony is insistent on making its own Spider-Man cinematic universe work. The studio tried to replicate the MCU’s success with its Amazing Spider-Man franchise, a series of films that failed to resonate with audiences the way the Avengers did. There’s plenty of interest in a third outing for star Andrew Garfield now that he’s returned to the role in No Way Home. Some fans have even speculated that a hypothetical Amazing Spider-Man 3 could see Andrew Garfield’s version of the character teaming up with Tom Hardy’s Venom to fight the Sinister Six, including Jared Leto’s Morbius and Michael Keaton’s Vulture. 

However, Morbius’s critical failure and box office performance are both notably worse than ASM 2. It’s currently sitting at a 17% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s on track to bring in less than $100 million domestically. That makes it a shockingly poor-performing flick for a Marvel property, leaving Sony with a bigger failure than the movie that saw them abandon their initial plans for a Spidey-themed cinematic universe.

Will Morbius’s stunning failure condemn the upcoming Sony Spider-Man features to a similar cancellation fate? Probably not. Sony seems serious about wanting to cash in on Spider-Man now that No Way Home has raked in nearly $2 billion and proven how much audiences love it when studios play around with multiverse shenanigans and bring back classic actors.

Can Sony Pull It Off?

There is one more question lingering over a potential Amazing Spider-Man 3. Critics have pointed out that the Tom Holland-led trio of Spider-flicks in the MCU has better writing than previous Sony outings like Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2. Without Marvel’s oversight, is Sony still capable of making a good Spider-Man movie?

That depends entirely on the script the studio signs off on. Andrew Garfield is an excellent actor and an incredible Spider-Man, as his outing in No Way Home proved. Tom Hardy is the best part of the Venom franchise, and he regularly makes absurd material extremely entertaining. Jared Leto is a talented actor even if Mobius is a mess. It’s not impossible to picture him playing an engrossing tragic villain.

Can they finally do right by the Web-Head and give him his first strong Sony solo outing since 2004’s Spider-Man 2? They haven’t given fans any evidence that they know what to do with the character. However, with the right creative team, Sony’s talented cast could make something magical happen.