The trailer for Sony’s Morbius should’ve been anticipated. Whether Martin Scorcese likes it or not, comic book movies are now an ingrained part of the cinematic world and the latest new property to come down the pipeline takes things into previously uncharted territory. Two years removed from their last attempt to expand their roster with the Tom Hardy-starring Venom, Sony is primed to return with another character that’s walked a very fine line between hero and villain.
Set to be unveiled this summer, Morbius’ forthcoming release will be Jared Leto’s second attempt at portraying a cherished comic book character. After his tattooed and toned interpretation of The Joker was met with a mixed response from fans and the studio itself, the actor/Thirty Seconds To Mars frontman has signed on to portray the infamous living vampire. Helmed by Swedish director Daniel Espinosa—famed as Child 44 and purported Venom prequel LIFE— its brief teaser trailer has left many entry-level Marvel fans wondering where this mysterious character ties into the world they’ve come to know.
Created by former Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Morbius’ origins date all the way back to 1971 in The Amazing Spiderman #101-102. Originally, the character was modelled after actor Jack Palance and hailed from Greece. Like other famed Marvel alter egos such as Donald Blake (Thor), Reed Richards and Otto Octavius, Morbius comes from a medical background as a world-renowned, PHD-sporting biologist that set out to find a cure for his rare blood condition. Brought about by combining electroshock therapy with the DNA of vampire bats, a make-or-break experiment went awry and resulted in him killing his lab assistant on the spot. Imbued with many of the powers and afflictions that are synonymous with the mythical beings, an important distinction is that Michael is a “pseudo” or “living” vampire and as such, his bite turns his victims into these same hybrid creatures.
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After hopping on a ship to America and feasting on the blood of the entire crew, Morbius arrives in New York and finds himself entangled in a battle with not only Spider-Man, but Dr. Curt Connors’ The Lizard. Taking place shortly after Spidey had grown four extra arms, the arc is eventually resolved when one encounter sees the friendly neighborhood wallcrawler extracting a blood sample from the vampire and ridding himself of his new mutation. Since then, Morbius has became a trusty staple of the comic book universe, flitting between both sides of the hero-villain divide and getting into skirmishes with everyone from The X-Men and Ghost Rider. The subject of his own 32 issue run from 1992-1995, he even sank his fangs into Blade back in 1999. Enlisted by Dr. Strange as a member of The Midnight Sons in order to wage war against the demonic Lilith, Morbius also had a hand in the comic book edition of Civil War, tasked with getting the aforementioned vampire hunter’s signature for the “superhero registration act” by S .H.I.E.L.D.
Although most Morbius-oriented storylines have played out across inked panels, Leto isn’t the first man to take on the role. The living vampire has been briefly brought to life in animated and live-action productions. Previously depicted in a deleted ending to Wesley Snipes’ Blade, this fleeting 1-minute scene—which can be seen on YouTube—was intended to set the “living vampire” up as the sequel’s central antagonist before the studio opted in favour of Jared Nomak and Damaskinos. Older viewers may also recall the character through his brief spell on the heralded Spiderman: The Animated Series. Rendered in a more Transylvanian vampire tradition, viewers witnessed his origin story take shape as a result of a bat interfering with a science experiment, leading the new and improved Morbius on a relentless hunt for “plasma” — not to mention in hot pursuit of Spidey’s love interest Felicia Hardy. While that was watered down for younger audiences, the new movie is not yet classified but the success of previous R-rated Sony outings such as Deadpool and Logan could lead them down a suitably gritter path.
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Beyond altering his early years from living under the tyranny of an abusive mother to a horrific spell at boarding school, some of Morbius’ powers mapped out in the trailer are consistent with what we’ve seen in the comics. After a brief glimpse of the transformation that he describes as “not exactly legal,” Leto cites increased strength, speed and the use of echolocation as well as the burden that comes with his newfound gifts— “an overpowering urge to consume blood.”
We also see Adria Arjorna in the role of Martine Bancroft, a fellow biochemist and, in the source material at least, Michael’s fiancé. On top of that, the film marks the first appearance of Tyrese as Simon Stroud. A CIA operative turned S.H.I.E.LD Agent within the comic books, the kinetic armor around his forearm would suggest that he could be acting on behalf of the shadowy organization from the outset. From there, the Fur Elise soundtracked teaser gives us a glimpse of Matt Smith. The third Doctor Who alumni to enter the MCU behind David Tennant (Jessica Jones) and Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World), he’ll be playing the role of Loxias Crown, otherwise known as Hunger. According to Marvel, Crown “benefits from experiments conducted on the Living Vampire Morbius and becomes the Vampiric Being known as Hunger, whose bloodlust may outweigh his unwilling maker.”
Although unconfirmed, Morbius’ previous storylines mean that these invasive tests could be conducted by comic book villain Doctor Paine, a sadistic physician that nurses a morbid fascination with Morbius and even held him captive to see what’d occur if he was deprived of blood. Intriguing as this all is on its own, the combination of a title card that stipulates “In association with Marvel” and a few subtle hints to the wider MCU has amplified the chatter surrounding the film. Towards the trailer’s final moments, fans were taken aback by the sight of Michael Keaton reprising his role as Adrian Toomes, otherwise identified as the shunted salvager-turned-malevolent Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Aside from inadvertently giving us the chance to see Batman and The Joker share the screen in a Marvel production, the appearance of the Chitauri-tech-powered villain implies that Morbius could have broader implications for the Sony universe/MCU relationship.
Beyond wild theorising from the fandom, an opportunity for further blurring of the lines between the studios was actually mentioned by Marvel’s cinematic mastermind Kevin Fiege himself. Amid his adulation over the deal they’d struck to keep Tom Holland’s web-slinger in the MCU stable, the acclaimed film producer suggested that the iconic character that would be crucial in fostering a gateway between the two on-screen worlds: “Spider-Man is a powerful icon and hero whose story crosses all ages and audiences around the globe. He also happens to be the only hero with the superpower to cross cinematic universes, so as Sony continues to develop their own Spidey-verse you never know what surprises the future might hold.”
As if that wasn’t enough, we also get a fully-fledged Spider-Man Easter egg in the form of a mural on a wall that’s been underscored with the words “murderer.” An allusion to the post-credits scene g of Spider Man: Far From Home in which Mysterio incriminates Peter Parker from beyond the grave, the inclusion of these two characters and the rumored appearance of JK Simmons as J Jonah Jameson raises the question of whether this film will have a far more robust grounding in the MCU than Venom had. Although the likeness of Spider-Man bears a greater resemblance to Tobey Maguire’s time as the crimefighter than Tom Holland’s Tony Stark-crafted suit, Feige’s comments take on even greater significance when you consider that Mahershala Ali’s Blade reboot is in the works for MCU’s Phase 5. Whether it comes in a subtle visual nod or reference in the dialogue, don’t be surprised to feel the presence of the sword-wielding half-vampire and long-time adversary of Morbius within the movie.
Months away from its scheduled release, it’s hard to predict whether this film will be a runaway success for Sony or another misstep in the vein of recent efforts such as X-Men’s Dark Phoenix. However, what’s clear is that its possible connections to the MCU and the insertion of a more macabre element to the comic book movie canon will have cinemagoers flocking to see Morbius in droves.