How Sony is selling its latest Spider-Man villain spinoff.
Morbius should have come out two years ago. But, of course, a lot has happened in that time.
Jared Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, a scientist suffering from a rare blood-based disease. When he takes what he believes to be a cure for his condition he finds the side effects include a form of vampirism that gives him a taste for human blood. It’s then up to him to decide to put the powers that come with it to use for good or evil.
The movie is (maybe?) part of Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man Universe, which interestingly contains no Spider-Man movies but does have the two Venom movies to date. Matt Smith also stars as Michael’s brother Milo, who has the same condition and who also develops powers as a result of the experimental cure. Adria Arjona plays Michael’s coworker and fiancée Martine Bancroft while Tyrese Gibson plays FBI agent Simon Stroud, who’s hot on the trail of Morbius.
With all the delays and a general lack of focus, it’s sometimes been difficult to get a firm handle on the campaign, but let’s dive in and see what has transpired.
announcement and casting
Leto’s casting in the title role was announced in mid-2018, as was the involvement of director Daniel Espinosa. Arjona joined the cast in late 2018, as did Smith and others.
Leto shared a first teaser look at himself as the title character in early March of 2019 and another a month or so later.
the marketing campaign: 2020
The teaser trailer (21.3m YouTube views)released in early January 2020 presents a slightly ridiculous take on the comic hero genre. Morbious, we see, suffers from a chronic blood disease without a cure and his time is running short. So he tests an experimental cure on himself. It works, but with substantial side effects that have turned him into something not quite human, faster and stronger and with the abilities of a bat to fly and see things through echolocation. Oh, and he is driven to consume blood.
Two notable components make it clear that unlike Venom, this movie clearly takes place in the Holland-verse of Spider-Man movies, making it also part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 1) Morbious walks past a Spider-Man poster with “Murderer” spraypainted on it, and 2) Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes from Homecoming appears at the end, seeming to team up with Morbious on some new villainous endeavor.
At the end of March 2020, Sony announced it was shifting the movie’s release date by several months as theaters remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another delay was announced in January 2021, with the movie shifting from March to October and then, just days later, to January 2022 to stay out of James Bond’s way.
the marketing campaign: 2021
With little conversation or acknowledgement, there was then a pause in the campaign of over a year, spanning a solid year, restarting only slightly in January 2021.
In an interview, Leto talked about how it was difficult to play a character who’s a little closer to how he is in real life.
Claims went back and forth between Sony and Disney executives and stars about whether or not this was part of the Holland universe of films until Sony issued a statement in late June 2021 saying definitively that the movie does *not* connect with the MCU in any way.
Leto appeared in a Fandango-exclusive featurette released at the beginning of November, one meant to set the stage for a new trailer the next day.
That new trailer (17m YouTube views) touted the January release while hitting many of the same beats as the spots that had come out earlier.
In early December a new poster came out showing the two halves of Morbius’ personality while proclaiming “A new Marvel legend arrives”, which seems a bit hyperbolic as well as duplicative since it’s very similar to the tagline used for Shang-Chi last year.
An extended clip was released in early December of last year showing Morbius’ transformation into the vampiric beast aboard a ship and going on to decimate most of the crew.
A short while later Leto appeared at the red carpet premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home, furthering speculation that the two movies were in some way connected though it’s more likely this was just a publicity moment for the studio.
the marketing campaign: 2022
Another delay – this time to April 2022 – was announced in early January, reportedly to give Spider-Man: No Way Home some additional breathing room in theaters. That announcement came nearly two years to the day after the first trailer was released.
A short featurette was released in late February that had Leto introducing the character and explaining the super natural origins from the comics and how that’s being translated on-screen.
The final final final trailer (4.1m YouTube views) came out at the end of February. It starts with the same “hunt aboard the ship” scene that’s been featured several times previously. After that we see Michael fretting over the moral choice he now has to make in order to live followed by some advice from Adrian Toomes and a bit of posturing from Michael’s brother Milo. Overall it doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen repeatedly in previous trailers and clips.
In a first (at least as far as I’ve noticed), a Discord community was created for the movie involving a series of message boards and chat rooms where updates and other information was shared.
TV spots like this began airing in early March, each one offering a slightly different cutdown of the trailer footage focusing on Michael’s search for a cure and the resulting mayhem when he takes that cure.
Arjona and Leto appeared together at a fan screening of the movie in Mexico.
An interview with Leto had him talking about why he decided to take on this role, including how being the first to portray Morbius was attractive to him since he didn’t have to worry about comparisons to other actor’s performances.
Morbius’ head forms the outline for a spooky cave and dissolves into a swarm of bats on the IMAX poster. The character’s demonic side gets a very artistic representation on the Regal Cinemas poster, with a similar approach taken on the D Box poster.
Another featurette has Leto talking more about the history of the character, specifically calling out how this is part of the Marvel Multiverse, something that opens up lots of opportunities for new stories. In one more he expanded on being the first to play Morbius and why the character was interesting to him.
He talked about the movie and playing another comic character on “The Tonight Show.”
An AR app for various platforms let users transform themselves into the sinister Morbius.
Sony shared videos from the cast’s publicity tour stops in Mexico City, Berlin, Paris and Madrid.
G Fuel created a movie-branded package containing a themed energy drink as well as a collector’s cup.
NFL player Von Miller appeared in a TV commercial where his trainers, concerned he’s showing superhuman abilities, consult Dr. Morbius, who tells them not to worry about it.
Arjona finally got a profile of her own, talking about joining a big Marvel movie as a Latina actress, STEM representation and lots more.
Phew. A few thoughts in summary:
First, I don’t know that I’ve encountered a campaign that is so stop-and-start. Other campaigns over the last few years have had big gaps, but this one comes and goes with little acknowledgement of time having passed, essentially running the same handful of beats from the top each time a new phase starts.
Second, the gymnastics Sony has to jump through to try and explain whether or not this movie is connected to Venom much less the MCU-partnering Spider-Man films is worthy of solid Olympics judges consideration.
Third, this is being sold entirely as an anti-hero character study. The villain played by Matt Smith appears briefly in the first trailer and briefly in the final trailer and is otherwise completely absent. That’s an odd choice that may have been driven largely by how big a personality Leto is as well as the desire to introduce the character on his own.
Fourth, I forget what this one was.
Finally, Leto’s repeated insistence that this character was more like him personally so he didn’t have to go full method as he has on other films is just funny on, by my rough count, at least nine levels.