Of all the Spider-Man-adjacent characters that Sony could pull for its Spider-Man-Adjacent film universe—which, after Spider-Man: No Way Home is now canonically an offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s multiverse—Venom and his symbiote pals are definitely the most obvious pick. Would Dr. Michael Morbius come immediately after that? Probably not, nor would Kraven The Hunter (to say nothing of Madame Web, another project that’s been announced). But there’s a thematic advantage in choosing Morbius’ origin story because it kind of mirrors Spider-Man’s: He is to bats what Peter Parker is to spiders. The difference is that bat-powers are a little scarier than spider-powers.
That, or maybe just Jared Leto’s desire to play this specific weird character, drove Sony’s decision to make Morbius the first post-Venom branch of its Spider-Man universe. And after a ton of pandemic-related shuffles to Hollywood’s theatrical schedule (if it tells you anything, the first trailer premiered before we learned anything about Spider-Man: No Way Home), director Daniel Espinosa’s film is finally coming to theaters April 1.
But what’s the deal with this Morbius guy anyway? Why do they call him a “living vampire” in the comics? And who are the characters the film’s other big-name actors are playing?
Dr. Michael Morbius, created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in the ’70s, was a renowned chemist with a rare blood disorder, which is the sort of thing that’s normal and usually treatable in real life, but in comic books pushes someone to experiment with dangerous, fantastical cures. For Morbius, that meant using vampire bat DNA for some reason, which went wrong and gave him “pseudo-vampirism.” Consequently, his symptoms manifested in an unquenchable thirst for blood, a horrific bat-like appearance (no offense, Michael), the ability to fly, and a healing factor that allowed him to survive being injured. However, and this is the important part, he did not die when he became like a vampire, meaning he did not turn into an undead creature of the night like regular vampires. Ergo, “Morbius, the living vampire.”
The character first appeared in Spider-Man books trying to cure his nightmarish condition (and Spidey’s, since this was the era when he grew extra arms), but his thirst for blood would always end up getting the better of him and he’d start hurting people. Morbius later landed his own solo stories in the hyper-specific horror comic Vampire Tales, which explored the disgust and guilt he felt whenever he ended up feeding on someone.
But everyone loves a tortured antihero—especially one that is also sort of a vampire—and Morbius eventually re-entered the mainline Marvel universe as more of a good guy, butting heads with supernatural-leaning characters like Blade, the Werewolf By Night, and Ghost Rider before teaming up with them to fight greater threats. Well, until his unquenchable thirst for blood ended up getting him in trouble, as it always does.
In the movie, Tyrese Gibson plays an FBI agent named Simon Stroud who’s tasked with hunting down Morbius. He appears to have some kind of enhanced robot arm in the film’s trailers, but in the comics Stroud is a CIA agent who has crossed paths with Morbius in past, first when he was tasked to investigate him and later when they teamed up to fight other vampires. Because this is a common thing that happens to comic book antiheroes, it will probably happen in the movie.
Matt Smith was originally attached to Morbius as a character named Loxias Crown, but in a recent interview, he basically shrugged off any questions about who the character is and what he (or the movie in general) will have in common with the comics. It seems clear that Smith is playing a bad guy in Morbius, but who that bad guy is and what he might be up to are anyone’s guess.
In the comics, Loxias Crown is another vampire-like villain who goes by the name Hunger. He more or less willingly turns himself into a pseudo-vampire like Morbius, but doesn’t possess the same compunctions about drinking blood and hurting people. There’s not a whole lot to him, which may be why he was chosen for the movie in the first place—and why Smith may not have much interest in the comics version.
Jared Harris seems either to be playing a new take on Morbius’ lab partner Emil Nikols, according to some websites, or a new character who happens to be called the similar-sounding Dr. Nicholas. In the comics, Nikols was present when Morbius conducted the ill-fated experiment that turned him into a living-vampire, which set him up to become Morbius’ first victim after obtaining his vampiric powers.
As for Keaton, that’s a good question. In the first teaser, released before the COVID delays, he seems to be playing Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture, who he played in Spider-Man: Homecoming. At the time, it seemed like a hint that No Way Home would combine the MCU and Sony Spider-Man universes, but Tom Hardy’s cameo as Venom in No Way Home made it clear that those remain largely separate. All of which indicates that, despite being a Sony movie, Morbius either takes place in the regular MCU like the Spider-Man movies, or there are some other shenanigans impacting its mythology (that poster of Spidey seen in the first trailer sure looks like Andrew Garfield’s web-head). We’ll just have to wait and see.
Probably not. They made two Venom movies without him (save for a post-credits scene in Let There Be Carnage), and Sony would probably rather develop its own franchises instead of continuing to lean on Marvel Studios and Disney. If anything, it would make more sense for Blade to show up than any other MCU character, but even after that inexplicable vocal cameo in Eternals, it seems unlikely that Mahershala Ali will debut his take on the daywalker in a Sony movie… assuming he doesn’t appear on Moon Knight on Disney+ before Morbius even comes out.
But No Way Home did make an absurd amount of money, at least in part on the irresistible appeal of its “you’ve gotta see these three Spider-Mans” buzz. So it’s probably unwise to fully bet against the possibility of Sony sneaking a few surprises into the film—especially after the lengthy delay in its release. So we’ll have to wait and see how much Morbius follows in the footsteps of Sony’s Marvel films like the Spider-Man series and Venom.