If you told me 20 years ago that third-tier Spider-Man character Morbius the Living Vampire would not just appear in a comic book movie but star in one, I’d have laughed in your face. If you told me 10, or even five years ago, I would have called you a liar. Now, the movie is coming out in a mere six months, and the recent trailer is incontrovertible proof that it actually exists – and I still cannot believe this is happening.
No offence to vampires (living or otherwise) or nth-tier Spider-Man characters (because there are hundreds), but the fact that live-action superhero entertainment has become so all-encompassing that Morbius the Living Vampire can headline his own film is genuinely worrying to me. It’s undeniably a sign that studios are so desperate for comic book content they’re barely discriminating which heroes and villains land a $100,000,000 movie. That’s good news if you’re one of the 11 people on the planet who claim Morbius as their favourite comic character, or those waiting and hoping that their obscure fave might someday join somebody’s cinematic universe. But it might be bad news for the rest of us.
If you’re a nerd with anxiety issues, as so many of us are, you’ve probably wondered when the general public will finally start feeling superhero movie fatigue, and this great golden age of comic book adaptations will begin to come to an end. We all know it’s coming eventually; Marvel Studios, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures manage to put out a minimum of five superhero movies per year, which is asking a lot of audiences even when the films starred A-listers like the Avengers, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, etc. Morbius the Living Vampire is, to put it generously, not an A-lister.
I’m sure the Morbius movie will do well. Sony’s Venom solo flick was a surprisingly big hit for the studio, making $850 million on a $100 million budget. Obviously, the ol’ Living Vampire has about a hundredth of the character recognition of Venom, but Sony has likely counteracted that by implying that the Morbius movie will take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will make it appointment viewing for the tens of millions of people who feel they have to see every MCU film to get the “entire story”. Also, the movie might be great! The trailer looked pretty rad.
No matter how good the movie ends up being, people won’t be buying tickets to Morbius to see its obscure title character. They’ll be paying to see how – and how much – it will connect to the MCU. People are much more interested in finding out whether Michael Keaton is reprising his role as Adrian 'The Vulture' Toomes from Spider-Man: Homecoming in Morbius than they are in a weird semi-vampire who is inexplicably missing his nose. The fact that Morbius is essentially third-billed after a Keaton cameo and a poster of Spider-Man does not bode well for this movie… or Sony’s other Spidey side story flicks.
Sony didn’t choose to make a Morbius movie because of the character’s star appeal. Again, the character is extremely obscure – but so are all the other potential Spider-Man-less Spider-Man movies the studio has in the pipeline, which include films starring Black Cat, Silver Sable, Kraven the Hunter, Nightwatch and Madame Web. (Technically, a Sinister Six movie is supposedly in development, which would unequivocally kick arse – as long as the Six have someone to be sinister to. Without Spider-Man, there’s no point.) I’ve been a professional nerd for two decades and I barely know who these characters are, and none of what I do know makes me want to see a movie centred around them. Sony can spend $100 million or more apiece to put them into cinemas, but all the money in the world can’t make these characters interesting if they aren’t already. And a bounty of Easter Eggs may get bums in seats, but if audiences don’t care about these lead characters, they’re going to become tired fast.
That’s exactly how superhero fatigue will set in.
And let’s not forget, we don’t know if Morbius’ Easter eggs are going to be worth anything. In fact, we don’t actually know if the movie will connect Sony’s Marvel Universe with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We assume it will, because the trailer shows a poster of Spider-Man, on some wall in New York City, which someone has spray-painted “Murderer” on – an apparent reference to the hero’s state after Marvel’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, when people are blaming the webslinger for Mysterio’s death. Then, of course, there’s Keaton’s appearance in the film; while neither Sony nor Marvel has confirmed Keaton is reprising the role of the Vulture in Morbius, it would frankly be cuckoo banana pants if he weren’t.
But what will it mean if the bloody Vulture is as “connected” as we assume? Does it matter if Michael Keaton’s character – and maybe another ancillary Spider-character or two – can pop by Morbius, but not Spider-Man himself? Because that’s not a picture of the MCU’s Spider-Man – it’s Tobey Maguire’s incarnation, from the Sam Raimi-directed movies of the early ‘00s, specifically an incarnation Sony wholly owns and thus can use without having to reach some kind of legal agreement with Marvel Studios. On one hand, it makes perfect sense, because why would Sony deal go through the labyrinthine process of reaching an accord with Marvel just for a picture that’s part of a set background?
This guy? Really?! Image: Marvel Comics
On the other hand, if Sony can’t even bother to get the rights to an image of Marvel’s Spider-Man, why should we ever believe that Tom Holland will ever star in one of these films? Will Keaton actually be playing the Vulture, or a bloke who looks just like the Vulture as seen in Spider-Man: Homecoming but never gets around to saying his name or mentioning anything that happened to him previously? Would this really be enough for audiences to consider the movie as taking place in the MCU, or would it just be a gimmick at that point – something to trick viewers into thinking that Morbius somehow matters? Sony has severely raised people’s expectations here, and if the studio fails to deliver, well, that’s another great way to inform viewers that not all superhero movies are essential viewing.
Maybe I’m wrong about Keaton, about Holland ever managing to make his way into one of Sony’s films, or about Morbius itself. That’s fine with me, because I’m not at all eager for the golden age of superhero entertainment to begin to wane, but also because I like good movies. I would love for this biopic about a barely known Spider-Man character to be awesome, to make a billion dollars, and make the Living Vampire so popular kids start wearing Morbius-branded backpacks when they head to school this autumn. But even if it becomes the top comic book movie in the world, Sony is still going to need to make a Black Cat movie eventually. And Silver Sable. And Kraven the Hunter. Comic book fans have barely cared about these characters for decades; it’s foolish to believe mass audiences will suddenly find them fascinating.
Hollywood is about to run out of the superheroes people do care about – and that’s not going to stop studios from making more and more superhero movies, hoping against hope that somehow ancillary characters like Madame Web might be the next Captain America. (She won’t.) Morbius might end up being fantastic, but there’s a reason some comic characters stay obscure, and that’s usually because they were never that interesting in the first place.
Featured image: Sony